Friday, November 11, 2016

The Aftershow

Yesterday I participated in an aftershow to the reality TV series Survivor: Election 2016.

I live in a blue state on the East Coast. I also work in a sector of American society that actually has the word "liberal" in its masthead, a small and elite and highly-selective boutique residential "liberal arts college" which costs over a quarter of a million dollars for 4 years of undergraduate education. I live and work within a bubble inside the bubble. Liberal arts for the One Percent.

On Wednesday, as at many institutions of a similar ilk, the President of my college and the Dean of the Faculty wrote to us of the pain many students are experiencing from the outcome of the election. The Dean of Students office arranged two opportunities "to reflect and to tend to each other." The Dean wrote: "Some members of our community may feel particularly threatened by the actual outcome given the policy promises that have been made. I am writing to ask you to, where appropriate, find space in your classrooms for respectful discussion of the election and the result. Students should feel able to articulate their views and treat each other with respect as part of a democratic process. I hope and trust that you can help to facilitate these important discussions during this difficult time."

The cynic in me had to simply roll my eyes at this reaction. Would there have been support groups arranged for the losers had the election gone the other way? Of course not. Not in the bubble within the bubble. These were first-time voters who had been told by the interwebs that their choice for American Idol was a sure thing. And she lost to a crude man, a racist and a xenophobe! How can this be? What a crushing disappointment!

Hey kids, how about being on the losing side 6 out of 12 times? That's my track record. That's how elections work. It's even the second time in my lifetime that my chosen one garnered the popular vote but lost the electoral college. How about a grief counseling session for poor, poor pitiful me?

I knew I had to go to one of these events just to let the pain wash over me, and I spent both of my classes yesterday looking at the election - not to salve the hurt feelings of the losing side, but to teach. In one class on the Jewish tradition, we looked at exit polling data and talked about American Jewish politics and nativist anti-Semitism; in the other class on Middle Eastern affairs, we talked about how a Trump presidency would impact the Middle East.

My bet is that the fairly engaged student body, a group of educated, largely upper-class millennials voting in their first US presidential election, were 60-40 in favor of Clinton, and that was reflected in the discussions in my classroom. Maybe half of them actually voted. But at the "tending" session, the pain of the losers was quite clear to me. People of color, immigrants, first-generation Americans, women, LGBT were all devastated.

I intended not to speak at the "tending" session, but somehow I got in the last word, being prompted by the college Chaplain with a wink and nod that I, supposedly a wise old man, ought to say something. I'll tell you what I said in a moment.

I realized within minutes after the grief session began that I was attending what reality show programmers call an "Aftershow." If you are familiar with the aftershow phenomenon in reality show television programming, you know what this is all about. Think of "After Paradise" that comes at the end of a season of "Bachelor in Paradise" or "Big Brother After Show" at the end of a season of "Big Brother." After spending a season becoming emotionally attached to the contestants - whatever the outcome - producers discovered that the audience wanted to vent their elation and their grief over the contestants that had won or lost. For reality show producers, it is one last way to milk an extra episode out of the emotional outcome that the recently concluded results show had produced.

OK, this was more like an aftershow after a particularly jarring episode of "The Walking Dead" when one of the lead multi-season characters gets eaten by a zombie or beaten to death by Negan. Think of Chris Hardwick gently empathizing with the devastated audience. The aftershow I attended was prepared only for those who needed to grieve the loss of their standard bearer. There were no Negan fans or zombie advocates in the room. But it had all the trappings of an aftershow - in this case the therapeutic and indulgent self-reflection of the disappointed side, filled with caring professionals who are paid to deal with student trauma and to provide grief counseling.

So after an interminable hour of grief counseling, here is what I blurted out.

"There is a silver lining to this election day. In Massachusetts, Question 4 passed. Starting January 1, 2018, I will be only 35 minutes away from a recreational cannabis dispensary. I'll be able to choose my strain, pick out my edibles, and as long as I can get back across the state border safely, I'll be perfectly fine."

It was the only laugh of the aftershow. I waited for the laughter to subside, and then I continued, ever so carefully:

"We live in a blue state. Blue states won't go along with the Trump agenda. California, Maine, and Nevada all passed laws permitting recreational cannabis. It's not just marijuana - blue states are places where the majority of citizens share your values. We will be living in an age in which the clarion call of states' rights - the default position of Republicans in defiance of the "encroachments" of a liberal Supreme Court - can now be used by progressives to fend off the de-engineering of the social compact of the former 5-4 court which will be attempted by the soon-to-become 6-3 or 7-2 conservative Supreme Court of the Republicans. We can use the state's rights position to keep marriage equality, to keep abortion rights, to keep all of it intact, at least on a regional scale. This a country of regions. Pick carefully where you decide to live. When you graduate, find a job in a blue state. We need to learn from the conservatives how to strategically keep our accomplishments intact."

Afterwards, a colleague who had shared her grief to the group and with whom I have zero contact approached to tell me that what I had said was the first encouraging thing she had heard in two days. I was her aftershow catharsis.

As the TV series Survivor: Election 2016 comes to a close, we must remember who produced it. Comcast-NBCUniversal may not get an Emmy, but deserves all the credit. Comcast-NBCUniveral created Donald Trump. And there was money to be made from this shitshow, enough to go around to all the tiny associate producers. As Les Moonves, a lesser competitor from CBS, said of the Trump campaign in February this year: "It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS...bring it on, Donald. Keep going." 

I think I am done with this reality show metaphor and analysis. I will henceforth return to standard blogiating. But I really encourage you to read my entire series:

Part I: The Star of the 2016 Election (honestly, I think this was my best, and it is full of pertinent links to videos)
Part II: The Season Finale of Survivor: Election 2016
Part III: Survivor: Election 2016 - The results show
Part IV: The Aftershow - you just read it

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