I didn’t watch the debate last night. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stomach even 15 uninterrupted minutes of the person a friend calls The Only President We Have.
(“Uninterrupted.” Ironic word choice there, Leopold.)
Based on the ratings — the only yardstick The Only President approves of — it appears I wasn’t alone. The audience was big — about 65 million across eight channels — but that’s still substantially fewer people than the 76 million who watched the first debate between him and Hillary Clinton four years ago.
Still, the numbers may go up when other channels and the Internet are added in, and they’re still the highest for a television program in 2020 than anything outside the Super Bowl. And there’s a reason, beyond the fact that the future of what’s left of the free world depends on the outcome of this election, that debates featuring Mr. “Sir” President do so well: He’s outrageous. He’s his Twitter feed come to life.
He’s good television.
Maybe I should put that phrase in quotes, because “good television” seldom means good television. It means car-wreck television. It means that the so-called cool medium has become hot, and you can’t look away.
At its best — a rare occurrence — good television is immediate and meaningful, a live (or live-on-tape) event that crackles with the energy of live theater.
But usually, “good television” is the equivalent of bad pulp fiction, momentarily enjoyable but soul-suckingly, time-wastingly meaningless. Think your if-it-bleeds-it-leads local newscast. Think pro wrestling. Think reality shows.
Think of a person that term defines. He’s Lonesome Rhodes. He’s Diana Christensen. He’s television incarnate.
There’s nothing left in you that I can live with. You’re one of Howard’s humanoids. If I stay with you, I’ll be destroyed. Like Howard Beale was destroyed. Like Laureen Hobbs was destroyed. Like everything you and the institution of television touch is destroyed. You’re television incarnate, Diana: Indifferent to suffering; insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality. War, murder, death are all the same to you as bottles of beer. And the daily business of life is a corrupt comedy. You even shatter the sensations of time and space into split seconds and instant replays. You’re madness, Diana. Virulent madness. And everything you touch dies with you.
(Is it any coincidence that former GOP strategist Rick Wilson likes to say, “Everything Trump touches dies“?)
I hope the networks — particularly the cable news folks — are happy about the guy who’s given them spectacular profits. Sure, the profits may be Pyrrhic in the long run, what with the state of the country, the world and all.
But, hey, it’s “good television.” In the meantime, we’ll just keep amusing ourselves to death.