I’m an awards-show geek who usually spends the morning after the Emmys or Oscars nattering about who was unjustly robbed, who was unwisely dressed and whether it’s a felony in Hollywood to consume more than 300 calories a meal, because it sure looks that way.
But that’s not my banter or my mood today, because what I and anyone else who tuned in to Hollywood’s latest self-congratulatory orgy on Sunday saw wasn’t good fun. It was bad news – a ringing, stinging confirmation that fame truly is its own reward and celebrity really does trump everything and redeem everyone.
Object of ridicule or object of reverence: Is there a difference? Not if you’re a household name, not if you’re a proven agent of ratings and not if you’re likely to deliver more of them. Our commander in chief took that crude philosophy to heart and rode it all the way to the White House. Sean Spicer took a page from the president and then a bow on the Emmys stage.
Not exactly a bow, and there are Emmys production folks and television industry figures who are telling themselves that during his fleeting appearance at the ceremony, Spicer was being slyly demeaned, not sanitized.
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What bunk. The message of his presence was not only that we can all laugh at his service and sycophancy in the Trump administration, but that he’s welcome to laugh with us.
What an adventure you had, Sean! What a hoot you were! Here’s your invitation to the after-party. Or courseit’s a plus-one. You’re Spicey!
For anyone who missed the show or hasn’t caught wind of the brouhaha since, Spicer came onto the stage behind the kind of podium that Melissa McCarthy used in her impersonations of him and told the Emmys host, Stephen Colbert, “This will be the largest audience to witness an Emmys, period – both in person and around the world.”
His words alluded, obviously, to his fictitious claim – at his very first news conference as the White House press secretary – about the crowds for Trump’s inauguration. But that claim wasn’t merely ludicrous. It was precisely and perfectly emblematic of Trump’s all-out, continuing assault on facts and on truth itself. And it signaled Spicer’s full collaboration in that war, which is arguably the most dangerous facet of Trump’s politics, with the most far-reaching, long-lasting consequences.
Reportedly, Colbert himself had the idea to include Spicer in the Emmys, and that’s especially rich, as the Brits like to say. On his late-night talk show, Colbert has flamboyantly mined his ostensible contempt for Trump and outrage over the president’s misdeeds to find a spark that was missing from the program and a viewership that had eluded it.
On top of which, it was Colbert, years ago, who coined the term “truthiness,” pointedly exposing – and skewering – politicians’ self-servingly cavalier relationship with reality.
Truthiness was a pale, wan forebear of Trump’s pathology, distilled in Spicer’s inauguration boast. But at the Emmys, Colbert abetted Spicer’s image overhaul and probably upped Spicer’s speaking fees by letting him demonstrate what a self-effacing sport he could be. The moment went viral, and I suppose that’s the point. You grab the eyeballs however you can. Trump taught America that, too.
This is bigger than any one awards show, as many outraged observers have smartly tweeted and as I examined in a recent column about the hasty and successful gold rush by people who have earned renown or notoriety – I’m not sure those nouns are so distinct from each other anymore – as a result of their time with Trump.
More than ever, someone who arouses curiosity or makes you gape can monetize that as easily as someone who inspires admiration can profit from your genuine regard. Fascination comes in many shades, and at this morally addled moment in America, the bright ones and the dark ones are almost equally lucrative.
So Spicer and Anthony Scaramucci and Corey Lewandowski are all graduating to greater recognition and riches, never mind that they willingly promoted, ignored or sugarcoated actions and pronouncements by Trump that went well beyond the established norms of partisan politics.
Spicer and Lewandowski will be fellows at Harvard, never mind their volitional submission to someone whose lack of character, grace and basic maturity was just affirmed anew by his retweet of a video of him hitting a golf ball into Hillary Clinton and knocking her over.
By teaming with Trump, they stood at the apex of the government, in an intense spotlight. By surviving him, they’re reaping the same dividends accorded the former aides of far nobler politicians. There’s no discernment, not at Harvard and not in the entertainment world, where self-conscious liberalism and promulgations of virtue routinely take a back seat to any storyline, casting decision or gag that’s guaranteed to seize attention.
Both Harvard and Hollywood are probably trying to shed the tag of elitism, and Harvard is no doubt reasoning that to close itself off from this president’s enablers is to forfeit an opportunity to understand why so many Americans voted for Trump.
But there are other, better ways to make that gesture and explore that phenomenon, ways that don’t play down and pretty up the ugliness of Trump’s ascent, ways that don’t bestow rewards on operatives who stomached stuff and peddled wares that no responsible patriot, regardless of his or her political leanings, should.
The embrace of Trump’s alumni says that finagling proximity to power, getting your face on TV and having your name trend on Twitter are accomplishments in and of themselves and will always pay off. Sure, some catcalls will come your way. But that’s nothing compared with a cameo at the Emmys.