Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bill Simmons & Jon Favreau on Trump as a performer and American Politics as Pro-Wrestling

I came up with the American Politics is pro-wrestling analogy in 2007, finding commonality in the showmanship and psychology in both.
I primarily made comparisons in the world of punditry where similarities were more ripe. Personalities were larger and less constrained, the hours of daily TV and radio time providing a forum for feuds and angles to develop. Politicians cut their promos on the senate floor and on cable news shows, election season being the political equivalent of the run-up to Wrestlemania.

In the near decade since starting the blog, I've tracked instances where the media has used the analogy. For a time former wrestler and Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura was the perfect representation of the meme. This election cycle, the politics as wrestling analogy has turned into conventional wisdom as Donald Trump rampages his way to the GOP nomination. A WWE Hall-of-Famer, reality TV star and political influencer, Trump as Presidential candidate has distilled the meme into a winning formula for ratings and votes.

The Bill Simmons Podcast | Ep. 75: Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer
JON FAVREAU: (10m 24s) My theory on Trump is, he's basically what you'd get if you had someone who just watched cable news all day, specifically FOX and listening to right wing radio
BILL SIMMONS: Like if TV created a candidate or had a baby
FAVREAU: He knows just enough. Because its all surface level, its all bad news. Its all about how everyone in Washington on both parties are a bunch of crooks and liars. Its all punditry. Its all talking about poll numbers. This is what he does. He's better at political punditry and reciting poll numbers and reciting who's up and who's down and all that kind of stuff than he is talking about issues. And you could see like in the debate last night, every time you press him past... He's like an inch deep and a mile wide on knowledge on just about everything. So you press him more than 5 or 10 seconds on any given issue. He can't, cos he doesn't know.
'Sports Guy' Bill Simmons is a wrestling fan with the privilege of recording the first podcast with a sitting U.S. President (Maron later recorded the first long-form podcast). In conversation with fellow Holy Cross alumni Jon Favreau, former director of speechwriting for President Obama they illustrate the politics as wrestling analogy and how Trump perfectly embodies it.

Bill Simmons at SummerSlam 2015,
with President Obama recording a podcast in the White House.
BILL SIMMONS: (20m 15s) I'm not positive what the debates are supposed to accomplish because its a totally unnatural interaction and somebody like Trump who's a performer, he's such a better performer than anyone else on stage and he's just blowing everyone away in these debates until they finally started coming back at him. But in the first couple of ones, he was just being a bully and it worked
JON FAVREAU: Trump has realised what most candidates, including my old boss Barack Obama never realised which is that they are complete performances, these debates. Obama was terrible in debates for a long time. He got better during the primary the more he did them...

SIMMONS: Why was he terrible? Was he overthinking it?
FAVREAU: Because he thought they were on the level. And he told us that. I though you get up there and debate issues with other people
SIMMONS: ...And it's pro-wrestling
FAVREAU: *agreeing* And it's pro-wrestling
SIMMONS: You're grabbing the mic and you're yelling at Stephanie McMahon, getting the crowd going
FAVREAU: and the way you have to, the way you're taught to answer a question in the debate is soundbite first, main message and then you sort of go backwards. So its not like you answer a real question where you build a logical argument from beginning to end which is what Obama does. He's a professor, a lawyer. In a debate you yell, scream, you ignore the question. It's WWF.
SIMMONS: *imitating Trump* "That's why Marco, that's why you're losing". Its like your opener. "That's why Ted Cruz is a liar". This is my point on that.
FAVREAU: That's like Trump the pundit again too right? The best moments in the debate is when he just says what everyone on cable has been saying anyway. "You're at the end of the stage Jeb because you suck".

SIMMONS: That's one of the few defensible things about what Trump's done these last few months. The debates are ludicrous anyway. They are pro-wrestling and everybody kinda danced around it and Trump was the first one that was like - This IS pro-wrestling!
FAVREAU: Right, I'm just gonna go with it.
SIMMONS: Insulting everyone and that's how you win this. His messages are basically just this big, black and white headline. This, that, this. You're a liar, You're a jerk. You're losing
FAVREAU: Low energy
SIMMONS: You're low energy. Its really tough. Poor Jeb Bush he just didn't know what to do
FAVREAU: Well Jeb is just -- he looked like a candidate from another era... the last time he had campaigned was a decade ago maybe. So he had been out Politics for so long he hadn't realised how much it had changed. So he still thought that people were having debates like they used to back in the day. He was so not prepared for what Trump was...
Donald Trump has been welcomed by some as Frankenstein's monster revealing what the GOP has become. In a similar vein, Trump's rise has also laid bare the values of News Entertainment. The Presidential Donald persona birthed from the resentments of the Tea Party and the bombast of cable news. Both astutely manipulated by Trump as an apparatus to deliver him to the White House.

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