Kavanaugh, Kanye, Beyoncé, ‘Black Panther’: Washington on Pop Culture in 2018 | Modern Society of USA

Kavanaugh, Kanye, Beyoncé, ‘Black Panther’: Washington on Pop Culture in 2018

Kavanaugh, Kanye, Beyoncé, ‘Black Panther’: Washington on Pop Culture in 2018

WASHINGTON — What pop culture moments of 2018 revealed deeper truths about political life in America?

After a year covering politics, President Trump and Washington, we recently shared our takes with Patrick Healy, the Politics editor and a former deputy Culture editor.

Katie Rogers As someone who is ensconced in the All-Trump-All-the-Time orbit as a White House reporter, I think 2018 was the “reality-is-stranger-than-fiction” year. Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process — and the “S.N.L.” bit that followed — and Kanye West’s visit to the Oval Office were two huge moments where I couldn’t tell where reality ended and a cultural dialogue began.

Matt Flegenheimer The Matt Damon-as-Kavanaugh sketch — one of the few “S.N.L.” bits to draw much blood in D.C. this year — speaks to the challenge of comedy in this moment, right? There was objectively very little that was funny about the Ford-Kavanaugh testimony. I was in the hearing room. It was wrenching / heartbreaking / generally miserable. But getting emotional about 36-year-old calendars, as Kavanaugh did, is a little funny.

Herndon I think people actually glossed over what Kanye said in the Oval Office — that supporting Trump made him feel like a superhero. It spoke to that sense of male grievance we saw in the Kavanaugh hearing. Kanye actually mentioned the many women in his family, and said supporting Trump felt like it helped him reclaim masculinity, in so many words. And I found that pretty revealing, considering I had talked to Trump-supporting men throughout the year who said similar things

Flegenheimer I wonder if part of it — for Kanye and other Trump fans who think like him, to Astead’s point — is just how subversive it can feel to support the guy. You’re not supposed to like Trump, they’re told.

Rogers It makes people dig their heels in.

Flegenheimer And Trump and Kanye are two prolific diggers of heels.

Herndon Another thing on Kanye, the theater of it all was just incredible. I’m from the Chicago area where Kanye was so revered for speaking up for social justice — the area that defended him when he interrupted Taylor Swift or whined about awards. People loved it. But many hometown people have disavowed him now — and it speaks to how people see Trump as a unique red line.

Healy Katie, did you learn anything new about Trump and pop culture in 2018 on the White House beat?

Rogers Trump played loud music on his campaign plane so I know he enjoys music. He clearly has a reverence for musicians of a certain era, like inviting a Beach Boy to the White House and playing Elvis during a medal ceremony. The idea that the president enjoys music and the degree to which musicians interact with him — even to distance themselves — is fascinating.

Flegenheimer Trump’s rally playlist is amazing.

Rogers Yes. Elton John is forever ruined for me. Trump loves, loves Elton.

Herndon I think there’s a uniqueness to this cultural moment and we’ve seen politicians who recognize that be really successful. Beto and his Facebook lives. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Instagram. It’s a time for disrupters. And it kind of seems like politicians are behaving more on social media like influencers? Rather than typical elected officials.

Flegenheimer And vice versa! It just speaks to how much politics and pop culture are merging, right? Beyoncé and LeBron going in for Beto, Taylor Swift getting off the sidelines for a local race when she wouldn’t do the same for Hillary Clinton … and a president who tweets a video from his Emmys appearance while signing a Farm Bill.

Herndon The inverse of the Trump screwing-things-up phenomenon is that it creates this weird low bar, where he’s praised by Washington for doing things that are pretty normal.

Rogers Yes, like not causing a scene at a former president’s funeral.

Herndon Or going like two days without tweeting about Dr. Ford.

Flegenheimer Mike Huckabee defended Trump nearly ruining the illusion of Santa Claus for a 7-year-old by noting that he did not boil her rabbit.

Herndon I’d say Washington’s deference to civility and decorum is putting it at increasing odds with the rest of the country, which is more partisan and enraged

Rogers Oh, I think it’s safe to say Washington is also partisan and enraged. It’s just that people in Washington have the levers.

Flegenheimer It can be hard to tell if Trump is a symptom or a cause of the lack of decorum — to say nothing of the weird politics / culture synergy. On the one hand, the celebri-fication of politics predates him. On the other, he made porn industry reporting an essential part of the beat!

Flegenheimer Political stories this year took me to a strip club in Greenville, S.C., to see Stormy Daniels; a basketball gym in Houston to watch Ted Cruz and Jimmy Kimmel settle a feud by sweating on each other for charity; and the living room of a former “Sex and the City” star running for governor of New York. Read that sentence! America!

Rogers Yesterday it was crazy to see Stormy’s memoir sitting next to Michelle Obama’s in the airport bookstore.

Herndon That relates to the authenticity point we were discussing earlier. The idea that both women are living out their truths in a society that has tried to stifle it

Healy I read “Becoming” on vacation. The first two sections — “Becoming Me” about Michelle Obama’s childhood, and “Becoming Us” about her and Barack — were absorbing. She was a deeply driven perfectionist, and her views on assimilation (it’s always minorities under pressure to assimilate) and about constraining herself in predominantly white power structures were a reminder (among other things) that it’s so hard to be an individual in politics. That’s part of what interests me about Ocasio-Cortez. She is doing it her way, for better or for worse.

Flegenheimer Sinatra-Ocasio-Cortez 2020.

Herndon The thing about Michelle Obama, and Ocasio-Cortez, also, is that there’s a working-class background most minorities can relate to. There’s a reason you have moments like the little black girl who posed with Michelle Obama’s National Portrait Gallery painting.

Rogers There’s a freshness, an edginess and a sense of disruption on the left in its candidates and leaders like the Obamas, from memoirs to those portraits. What stands out about the right, which is where I focus most of my attention, is conservatives’ commitment to treat that edginess as an assault on a specific idea of the American Dream.

Herndon I agree with Katie. You have historically marginalized voices asserting themselves and demanding to be heard in pop culture and Washington. But you also have a conservative universe that’s using these new voices as proof that the country’s direction is being lost. Something’s gotta give.

Rogers 2018: Something’s Gotta Give is an excellent theme.

Flegenheimer Happy New Year!

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