Audience of One: Donald Trump, Television, and the Fracturing of America

James Poniewozik. Liveright, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-63149-442-0
Epochal shifts in entertainment media have driven the derangement of American politics, according to this caustic, scintillating cultural history. New York Times television critic Poniewozik sets Donald Trump’s political rise against American television’s evolution, from a three-network monopoly broadcasting inoffensive, common denominator fare to a fragmented cable and internet spectrum of isolated niche channels, a world where liberals watched Mad Men while conservatives watched Duck Dynasty. That polarization, he argues, bred new televisual genres that incubated the Trumpian worldview: antihero dramas where ugly violence is needed to defeat even darker forces, reality shows where life is a cutthroat, zero-sum struggle between amoral operators, and cable news shows that portray the world as a chaos of noisy, flashy dogfights where perceptions of truth are dictated by tribal allegiance. Meanwhile, Trump’s own media persona—“the blunt, impolite apex predator” on The Apprentice, the trash-talking bully in pro-wrestling cameos, the birther conspiracy theorist on Fox News guest spots—shaped his political style and then subsumed him entirely: Trump became “a cable news channel in human form: loud, short of attention span, and addicted to conflict,” Poniewozik writes. “TV became president.” Poniewozik’s trenchant, brilliantly witty critique of the cultural archetypes percolating into American politics is one of the best analyses yet of the Trump era. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/04/2019
Release date: 09/10/2019
Genre: Nonfiction
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