Using America's Political Train Wreck for Entertainment is the Definition of White Privilege

The majority of us will doubtlessly have had an exasperated discussion about America's current political situation at one point or other since the 2016 Presidential Election. Let's face it, very few of us could have imagined this outcome and the train of events this year. It has brought with it a sense of bewilderment — for some despair and for others even hysteria.

Naturally, we talk about it to try to make sense of it and come to terms with the international realm's new, unknown borders of reality. So far, no names have been mentioned, so putting cards on the table, Trump is the central focus of the world's – particularly the Western world's – scrutiny, derision and ridicule, and various entertainment outlets have been using the Trump presidency and everything surrounding it as a way to entertain and, of course, make money.

Many people feel that this demonstrates white privilege, male privilege and class privilege because those who are falling victim to this administration's mistakes don't find any of this funny at all.

While it can be amusing to mock the Trump administration, a lot of people are saying that giving someone like Sean Spicer, the former White House Press Secretary who made an appearance at the Emmy's, a chance to reboot his image was a bad move for the Emmy's. And they couldn’t be more right. The embrace of Spicer – an individual who many consider just as odious as Trump in more than one way – was shameful.

What the Emmy's communicated to the world through his invitation was that not only can we laugh about Spicer's sycophancy in the Trump White House, but that now he's very much invited to laugh along with us. Spicer went on to poke fun at the barefaced and frankly unforgivable lies he told during his time as Trump's press secretary, starting with his first conference. This blatant nod to his dishonesty to the American people also implies a far graver truth — his former boss's uncontrolled deceit and narcissistic sociopathy. And yet, we laugh.

Meanwhile, Saturday Night Live has reaped the rewards off the back of America's feelings of uncertainty as the running theme of their sketches have for so long been the mockery of Trump. And they're not that ingenious. In fact, the humour focuses on Trump's facial expressions, general aesthetics and word inflections. And while the audience thankfully is showing some intelligence, indicated by polls showing their weariness of the mindlessness, the fact that there remains a demand for this humour means that many of us feel comfortable enough in our places in the world to chuckle to ourselves as we wait for it all to blow over.

It's akin to laughing as you pass by a car crash, or a train wreck if you will. So what affords us this sadistic, media-fuelled sense of humour? Privilege, yes, but what type?

White privilege or not, Trump's nearest and dearest in the White House are typically all male, all white and all moneyed-up

The Random House Dictionary defines privilege as "a right, immunity or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most." And in 1988, academic and feminist Peggy McIntosh began the dialogue on white privilege, writing in her 1995 article, "White Privilege and Male Privilege" that those of us who are white usually believe that privileges are "conditions of daily experience universally available to everybody."

There may, however, be a few types of privilege at play here. Trump's attitudes about Latin America and his plans regarding restricting the movements of undocumented people in the US certainly means a period of great distress and worry for immigrants, people awaiting VISAs and those in South and Central America hoping to gain American citizenship. You could almost guarantee that they won't be laughing as hard as their white neighbours at SNL. 

However, early predictions suggest that the poor white demographic won't exactly have it easy either under the Trump presidency, so perhaps those with class privilege enjoy this type of entertainment more? And yet women are getting a pretty raw deal with Trump, just in principle. He has been outrageously sexist and misogynistic in the public eye as well as behind closed doors, and his stance — one that changed on the campaign trail — on abortion rights has been severely criticized.

Regardless of what type of privilege we're talking about, the media is proliferating its expression and is skewing what the core sentiments should be of people witnessing America's political mess. Instead of motivating further probing into the credibility of the Trump administration and perhaps inspiring some unity and grass-roots movements towards transparency when we need it the most, we reward the Spicers of the world for some laughs. We are, like Harvard, awarding fellowships to undeserving, unsightly politicians.

White privilege or not, Trump's nearest and dearest in the White House are typically all male, all white and all moneyed-up, and it's unlikely they'll ever be the target of whatever bill he gets away with in the future. They can sit pretty while much of the US and world beyond it is genuinely worried about the future, and finding it hard to crack a smile.

More about the author

About the author

Born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Kate Harveston is a recent college graduate and an aspiring journalist. She enjoys writing about social change and human rights issues, but she has written on a wide variety of other topics as well.

She blogs on social and cultural issues at  Only Slightly Biased.

Follow Kate on Twitter.

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