On Saturday April 28, 2018 comedian Michelle Wolf delievered the annual stand-up comedy routine for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
For those of you lucky enough to be unaware of the tradition, the White House Correspondents’ Dinner is an annual event designed to raise funds for scholarships in journalism, put on by the WHCA (White House Correspondent’s Association).
The central event of the night is the comedy roast.
It’s what you would expect it to be. A dinner with journalists, celebrities, and politicians—an unholy trinity of sorts—where apparently important things are supposed to be expressed, “truth spoken to power,” and all that, from people with a little less power, or just a different kind of power, than those they are supposedly “roasting.”
And just as every other non-event in 2018, Michelle Wolf’s recent comedy roast has drawn much attention and comment from just about everyone. Even the WHCA, who issued this statement:
Here you go. Watch and make up your own mind.
Now this is an important moment to stop and take stock, because what is about to unfold is a very proto-typical moment in current day pseudo-controversy.
Here are the typical steps:
- Somebody famous says something (celebrity, journalist, politician) usually with a note of exaggeration or of an inflammatory character, to promote something they are selling or a piece of entertainment that has recently been released, or a piece of journalism, or a piece of legislation. Controversy is key. Without it, nobody will watch.
- The media react to the inflammatory thing—usually on some supposed moral grounds, although they never clearly state exactly what moral grounds these are beyond very vague political positions. The key here is two camps are defined. Either for or against.
- A bunch of articles come out with some words in them and randomly pasted tweets from celebrities and journalists.
4. Now that you know what the famous & rich people think, I, the supposed journalist doing some very deep digging into a very important issue, will give you my two cents about who is right and who is tanking Western civilization as we speak. I have to choose either for or against
a. If I am a super smart snooty journalist I will create one or two issues of sub-points in which I still take a side but with subtlety and many confusing statistics with the help of Nate Silver, and a brief history of the Roman Empire.
5. But first there must be a very juicy and headline-worthy title. I cannot simply release this very content-rich article without click bait, so:
a. Michelle Wolf, Female Comedian, Eviscerates Elites at WHCD & Donates All Revenues Attributed to Increased Viewership of Upcoming Netflix Special to Starved Orphans in North Korea.
b. Supposedly Feminist Comedian Mocks WHPS’s Eye shadow!
c. A Very Woke & Lovely Comedian Single-Handedly Tears Down White Male Patriarchy & Conservative Media Hegemony, at the Same Time!
d. This Woman’s Monologue was SO Outrageous that I Threw Up!
e. Media Elites’ Heads are so Far up Own Asses, Trump sure to Win Second Term
f. If You Didn’t Like Michelle Wolf’s Monologue, You Suck.
g. If You Did Like Michelle Wolf’s Monologue, You Suck
6. Also before article posts, ads must be placed in and around the article so that a certain percentage of people click the ad and buy the product advertised (baby wipes, beer, Pop Tarts, etc). The money from these people goes to the company that makes baby wipes, beer, etc. whose shareholders decide what % of that money should go back to these same media companies in the form of advertising dollars so the media companies can pay writers like me to write even more articles for you to look at with very important information that is very pertinent to your life alongside very subtle ads for these same products, and so on and so on. (This includes mentions within the article itself to entertainers with development deals with Disney or any other big media company that also owns one or multiple news stations).
7. Article posts. Hopefully millions upon millions click it. Doesn’t matter what their opinion is, only that a certain % click on that ad or subscribe to the publication (ha!)
8. Now begins the counter-article phase whereby articles about the original articles, normally called think pieces, or spicy hot takes, react to the reaction, in hopes of getting some bottom feeder secondary clicks. (Also known as leeches). Many sources are cited in these style articles and usually there is a narrative or a very artsy form mean to inculcate a certain intellectualism and cultured flair.
9. Rinse and repeat. Depending on how controversial a given event is, steps 1-8 could happen up to 7 times.
10. Eventually interest is lost and focuses on another burning issue.
It’s important to highlight this 10 step backdrop it’s the subtext for every instance of reportage in the modern world. Without understanding this dynamic you might make the unfortunate mistake that a) any of these people actually care about you and/or your opinion or b) that these events are reported in an earnest search for truth.
Here’s the real kicker: people are promoted within these organizations if you, reader, viewer, etc. look at what they produce. All you have to do is change the channel or click their article, and bear witness to advertisements. It doesn’t matter what you think or feel. It’s not a new model, but one that has become so totalizing and omnipresent that it would be a mistake to pretend that Michelle Wolf, or anybody else, is just some regular funny person walking in off the street. Their checks come from Viacom, Bertelsmann, Comcast, 21st Century Fox, etc. The people who give us the news (the supposed “watchdog” of American politics) are the same people that entertain us, and this co-mingling of frivolity and fact should be unsettling since the terminus of this obscene logic has led to Donald Trump. No wonder the media react in a more or less unanimous fashion to the Trump phenomenon. Trump did not come from some wheat field in the Midwest. He came from Manhattan where all these people milk their own udders.
Michelle Wolf herself says it better than I ever could, at the very end of her set:
I think what no one in this room wants to admit is that Trump has helped all of you. He couldn’t sell steaks, or Vodka, or water, or college, or ties, or Eric [pause for laughs]… But he has helped you. He’s helped you sell your papers and your books and your TV. You helped create this monster and now you’re profiting off of him…
If you want to see the most lightweight cream puffy White House Correspondent’s Dinner comedy routines, watch all eight under President Obama. Jeez. Then there were even more celebrities in attendance. Clooney, Spielberg, and even Trump himself. You’ve probably already forgotten about them—as they are articles of a bygone era, part of the wasteland we leave behind of opinions once dearly held, and then lost as new opinions are manufactured and shoved down our throats like Twinkies, for which it seems we have a hearty appetite.