From the outside looking in, and looking back through history, you could suggest that a lot of things will ultimately be the legacy of the American empire. Some might think of freedom, but this is just an easy line. Much of U.S. history occurred in an era of slavery, and as was pointed out so brilliantly in Aaron Sorkin’s show The Newsroom, in a rant about America not being the greatest country in the world anymore, plenty of other countries have freedom – you know, including Canada. Others might think of wealth, or military might, or international meddling, for better or worse. But there’s also an argument to be made that the true legacy of the U.S. is going to be the entertainment and culture it has produced.
That means music, film, television, pop literature, internet commentary, sports, and even the modern celebrity icon. But it seems that this list is also expanding to include politics.
This is not a trend that began with Donald Trump either, as much as some might want to look at it that way. American presidents have long been looked at as celebrity figures, more than perhaps any other ruling or elected leaders in the world, save the queen of England. John F. Kennedy was about as Hollywood as it gets in politics; Ronald Reagan was literally an actor first and a politician second; George W. Bush’s curious and often apparently dim way of conducting himself essentially revolutionized late night comedy as a place for politically-inspired satire; and Barack Obama was a genuine rock star in every possible sense of the word save that he didn’t play an instrument. It’s true that Trump is different because he had no political background – but in the sense of blending the presidency with celebrity, he is actually not unique by any stretch.
What may have changed most is that in our current era we follow celebrities as a form of entertainment like never before – and few have bigger platforms in the modern 24-hour news cycle than politicians (even beyond Trump). Just consider some of these trends.
News Coverage – Digiday wrote a fascinating article about a year ago about politics being the new pop culture. It wasn’t just a theory, but rather cited efforts by various media companies – particularly younger, millennial-geared sites – to hire more political commentators and blend political and cultural coverage. In other words, they’re keeping up with demand for political commentary and making it entertaining at the same time. This is something we’re seeing everywhere from a brand new American sports/culture platform like The Ringer all the way up to CNN.com and the Washington Post.
Betting Markets – This isn’t necessarily new, but it’s certainly an idea that appears to have expanded. You might know that online betting can cover a broad swath of events, beyond sports and including anything that could reasonably be wagered on. Accordingly, people are actually placing bets on political bills and candidates as if it’s some kind of sport. And in the U.S. we’ve even seen the rise of more easily legalized political betting site, like Predict It, which basically allows people to buy shares in prospective outcomes.
Twitter Follows – The U.S. produced Twitter, and with it some of the platform’s busiest and most influential users. Those have included numerous presidential candidates and high-ranking government officials, and you’ll find many who believe that Twitter more or less got Trump elected. This trend now extends beyond the U.S. though, such that the most followed world leaders number in the millions of followers and tweet at a very high rate. Make no mistake: followers engaging in this kind of social media interaction are on some level looking to be entertained.
We know that things have been a little bit crazy south of the border for a few years now. What we may think when we look back on this time, however, is that the period between 2015 and 2020 was when the U.S. added political intrigue to its seemingly inexhaustible supply of entertainment, for better or worse.