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What have Boris Johnson & Donald Trump’s regimes done for culture?

Back in 2021, in the aftermath of a tragic death on the set of the Alec Baldwin movie Rust, the world was fooled by the following statement apparently by Donald Trump: “A great president (me) once said ‘I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.’ Now Alec Baldwin, a total loser, has taken his impression of me to a new low by testing out this theory. Alec, you aren’t me! Now you’re going to prison, as you should have because of that awful, terrible job you did on SNL (which I have hosted).”

As it happens, that statement was a hoax, but it says an awful lot that the vast majority of people found it so plausible that they believed the parody – of the former President of the United States of America no less – was, in fact, a genuine statement. This twisted reality is almost a meta paradigm for the concept of fake news which Trump himself was so ardent about. And further proof of that paradigm comes from the fact that, indeed, Donald Trump Jr genuinely did start selling t-shirts branded with the message: “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people.”

These are strange times that we are living in and the behaviours of two fair-haired fellows have safely thrown cultural chakras well out of whack. Thus, with Boris Johnson resigning to a chorus of the Benny Hill theme tune a few days ago, it seems pertinent to wonder, just what impact have the two fallen leaders of the free world had on culture? Well, much like their impact on politics itself, it’s complicated. 

In fact, Donald Trump’s endless bashing of SNL is the perfect place to start. On paper, a show that prides itself on encapsulating and ridiculing the trends of American culture should’ve thrived when people were so actively engaged in the day-to-day episodes of politics and the President was providing such constant fodder. However, after the initial boom, the roasting of Trump saw viewing figures slowly wane, them’s the breaks. 

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Why was this? Had people grown apathetic? Did his policies sway the SNL-viewing folks towards sympathy? Absolutely not. A great many publications and outlets were secretly very sorry to see the back of him. He printed papers and politically engaged a generation more fervently than any time for decades. But Tina Fey’s prediction that it was “great for comedy” when he topped the polls back in 2008, turned out to falter. 

The reason for this is because he was funnier than any parodies offered up, and that isn’t even that much of a glib thing to say. Alongside even the most ardent hatred of the man, you find people howling in equal measure. He was a leader too laughable to parody, and too wild to caricature. He rendered conventional political comedy as redundant as English language remakes of foreign films—just watch the real original, rather than seeing the same thing unfurl from different faces and without the sincerity. 

However, politics couldn’t just be self-parodied out the arts through its own absurdity. These are highly dissident times, and that has to be reflected in culture. Music is the realm where the filtering through has been best reflected.  Amid the deluge of disillusioning politics, music has, for the most part, avoided wading into the nitty-gritty of the fractious and often-frivolous debates and tried to offer up a distant virtuous approach and offered up reasons to be cheerful. 

As Tim Burgess said recently: “Politicians used to be outraged about the behaviour of musicians. The tables have well and truly turned.” Burgess heralded from the 1990s era where anarchic hellraising was part and parcel for rock stars unburdened by the rules of society, now, as he declares the shoe seems to be on the other foot and much of the music of today extolls a noble and sagacious approach where an alternative voice of hope can be heard. 

On May 5th, 2020, at the height of lockdown, Fontaines D.C. unleashed a message that resonated with illuminating levity: “Life ain’t always empty.” It rattled through the malaise like the ding of the takeaway delivery doorbell on a hungover Sunday. Life, indeed, is not always empty and amid an ocean of bullshit, music can help you sail on a coracle of unimpeachable, hope, exultation, and a soundscape that brightens dull days like the sticker at the end of the dental appointment. 

This message didn’t start with ‘A Hero’s Death’ and it certainly hasn’t ended with it either, but “Life ain’t always empty” certainly seems to be a mantra that is reverberating through the scene. And not to put too fine a point on it, but the reason why that is the case is that there is actually a scene to start with. There is real collectivism in modern music with few hatchets launched like the brattish times of old and this has provided alternative music with a coherent and collected voice—one that is subversive in a more general sense as opposed to tackling matters head-on. 

This sense of reflecting things from afar has also occurred in what we watch on our screens. There is so much drama in politics that when you sit down some mild escapism is what many of us crave at the end of the day. In the last week in the UK we have been endlessly inundated with the soap opera of modern politics that the culture we so often crave is something to take us away from this batty shitstorm of chaos. 

As the dust settles more will be revealed but amid these mad times culture has been a cognisant place of relative calm where some aspects have waxed and others have waned, all touched with a lingering air of the daily unspooling mayhem.  

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