Lady and the Trump (Or Trump Up the Sham) – Donald Muck and the Dysfunctional (American’t) Dream

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Living in Great Britain, it is easy to become so preoccupied with politics on our own pond that we neglect the caustic campaigns and repellent rallies produced by our simpatico states. Over here, we’ve had David Cameron nervously shredding anything remotely to do with Panama (including a real waste of a summer hat), Jeremy Corbyn working through a steadfast setlist for Glastonbury (we pray his time slot doesn’t clash with Clegg’s acoustic set) and Iain Duncan Smith weeping like Kate Winslet on William Hill. Over there, though, it’s slightly different.

We’re all aware of Donald Trump’s tumultuous campaign to become the next US President, in a move so concerning some people are beginning to remember the salad days of Mitt Romney. Not since World War II has there been such an unpopular candidate as Trump, who is currently behind Hilary Clinton in double digits and his recent loss in Wisconsin revealing even his alleged target voters, white people with college degrees, have turned their backs on him. He is deflating quicker than his fringe in a fridge, and yet here’s the rub – 26 per cent would still vote for him. And to allow your gasp to permeate further, that 26 per cent is of women.

With his campaign running out of puff, the only way he can hope to keep the cubic clout he’s amassed as a “political heavyweight” is that he falls short of winning the 1,237 delegates necessary to clinch the nomination. With that, he can return to his other hobbies, namely The Apprentice and getting married.

At present, though, Trump is far from spent, and he’ll spend to avoid such a pitfall. Not in monetary terms, though, but in women, Muslims, Latinos and even some Americans. His current plan is to build a wall separating Mexico and the United States, but to rub further salsa into the wounds, he is also asking Mexico to pay for it. It’s almost like when a gang of youths come and wash your car, despite it being scrubbed diligently by Sainsbury’s own the evening before, and then cheekily say since they’ve done it, they deserve something to show for it. “Ring the door after, not before” should be Trump’s motto.

The whole hare-brained scenario brings to mind an episode of The Simpsons (I’m sure I am not the only one who has to align most cultural calamities to this show), when Homer proposes a similar barricade. “Like the one in Berlin?” Marge gasps. “Yeah, we can call them and get the guys they used,” Homer innocently, yet offensively, remarks. You can almost imagine Trump and his tribe feverishly fingering through the Yellow Pages to find a contractor with less than liberal beliefs. Building the “Trump Wall” will allegedly right all the wrongs that have strangled the United States over the years, but Trump himself has already built a wall, one that is surrounding and choking his vision, blocking out the multi-cultural, modern eclecticism that is the United States.

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Women have been a target for Trump, and not in terms of voting – Carly Fiorina, Megyn Kelly and even his own daughter Ivanka have been playthings to be pilloried (or disconcertingly worse in Ivanka’s case…methinks Trump has read between the lines of Girl, Interrupted), resulting in such vitriol he makes Todd Akin look like Tim Allen. He claims to have hired and fired thousands of women over the years – and he’s married and divorced just as many – so how can be labelled sexist? However, what Trump fails to coagulate is he should be championing the cultural clout, dignity and diligence of the women he’s namedropping, as opposed to their faces and menstrual cycles.

Despite it being 2016, the topic of abortion continues to divide America. Opposition continues to grow in certain areas of the country, where evangelists reign with an iron cross. The correlation between the Republican Party and anti-abortion began all the way back in 1976, with the Party’s policy platform proposing a ban on abortion. Forty years later and Trump is doing everything he can to fan that fragile flame, saying those who have an abortion will need to have “some kind of punishment,” though he has yet to decide which.

Since Roe v Wade in the ‘70s, hard-working and intelligent women have long lobbied for the Supreme Court and politicians in general to keep their noses out of such a sensitive issue, but Trump’s remarks have once again reared the ugly head of vapid, rich white men with all the power but no premonition.

“Let’s make America great again,” Trump has offered, but that has become more and more of a caveat as time has gone on. He won’t win, but the fact he has been entertained has been bad enough.

 

‘The Burns Cage’ – The Real Jail is the One Surrounding the Writers

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Recently I made what I think is a salient, if trite, point about The Simpsons’ legacy. Like R.E.M., the show has made the protracted prance long into the noughties, but most people stopped giving a solid after about 1998. However, unlike the Athens trio, our yellow youths have continued to plough on right into 2016, and thus, particularly with Season 27, they are trying to stay relevant with ‘challenging’ plots.

The only issue is the writers, whether they be well-established wordsmiths or fairly fresh recruits, can’t masterfully skewer and satirise like The Simpsons could in its pop culture-baiting heyday. The season started with Homer and Marge allegedly splitting up and discovering new relationships, which was particularly plausible considering how unilateral Homer has become. However, that proved something of a red herring, as it was only a dream. Then we had Apu facing changes from Jamshed and, to a lesser extent, Patty and Selma deciding to give up smoking. However, every time this season, the writers have had a hovering hand descending over the ‘reset’ button. The show was once transcendent. Now it’s toothless.

On Sunday, one of the show’s most promoted episode in a long time aired, The Burns Cage, which was billed as the episode where Waylon Smithers told everyone the worst-kept secret – he’s gay. At first, it was met with cyber sighs and begrudging “whys” – as the show has become more and more blatant in its badinage, Smithers has transcended from a “young bootlick” into someone adorning rainbow suspenders and rollerblades, so what’s the point in letting him come out? We all know, anyway. It’d be like Ted Nugent selling his own bear traps.

However, despite my original reservations, I was swayed to change my mind after reading the touching interview with the episode’s writer, Rob LaZebnik, in which he explained the episode was inspired after his own son came out to him while the latter was in college. This sweet premise reminded me of one of my favourite scenes from another progressive show, Modern Family, in which Mitch discusses the time he came out to his insular father, Jay. “He used to ring me every Saturday, and I think it was in my second year when I finally decided to tell him,” Mitch explained, before leaving a crackling pause. “I pretty much spoke to my mom after that.” It was handled beautifully, with just the right amount of pathos.

With that in mind, here in this Simpsons episode, the patriarchal role of Jay is switched for the no-less close-minded malevolence of Mr. Burns. I sat down to watch and like many was hopeful this moment would be handled with the bittersweet bathos of The Simpsons of old. However, just like the many previous attempts at validity, the writers hurriedly slammed the car into reverse – in short, the moment never came. Smithers never uttered the words “I’m gay”. Did he need to? Not necessarily, but to hear those words would not have only allowed a collective sigh of relief from the slew of fans still watching, but it would have been a flagship moment of emotional release for a character that’s got nothing outside of his boss (even Principal Skinner has been given some character over the years).

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Of course, if Smithers announcing his sexuality would stop the flow, then LaZebnik was right in omitting it. However, as the rest of the episode unfolded, I felt the same disappointment and short change that I’ve felt ever since Maude Flanders was killed. Attempts at poignancy and growth are often swiftly dashed in favour of a quick crude joke, the show’s erstwhile erudite attempts at satire are now blunt and brutish (their knowledge of Grindr is that, well, it exists) and even the show’s ‘happy ending’ felt, as old Sideshow Bob would say, “tacked on.”

The Simpsons continues to face a cultural quandary – it strives to remain relevant and aligned to the times. In its glory days, this was something it not only did well, but rallied against. Think back to another episode focusing on homosexuality, Homer’s Phobia, in which the script salaciously threw away peacekeeping with the aggressive, anti-gay stance of Homer. There, the gay character in question, John (John Waters), was camp but quirky and clever, and the ending felt totally earned. Go further back and we had one of our finest one-off characters, the gravelly Karl. Fast-forward to 2016 and, sadly, the show just cannot create coherent homosexual characters – the writers’ lack of imagination leads to Smithers falling for none other than Julio, who must rank up there with the Crazy Cat Lady and Booberella for most annoying regular character.

While it may make sense Julio is in the show (due to the episode title’s Birdcage homage), it’s regressive to the show’s cultural clout that they cannot create a homosexual character that is not a fiery Latino bartender that would be better suited fighting with Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex. Harvey Fierstein must be spinning in his grave.

Smithers may have gotten what he always wanted in this episode – approval from Mr. Burns – but the show once again demonstrates that the writers currently at the helm will not, or cannot, challenge the characters, themselves and, more importantly, the viewers. Where before the show was inspired, now it just seems tired.