On February 20th, Donald Trump held a rally in Colorado Springs where he complained about the new best picture winner, Parasite. Parasite was the first film ever to win both the foreign language Oscar and Best Picture, and it was the perfect target for Trump — foreign, acknowledged as “art,” beloved by Hollyweird, and something that requires reading. Bashing Parasite at a Trump rally is like ragging on vegans at a cattlemen’s association convention.
Despite being an eccentric germophobe man-child billionaire, Trump’s most relatable quality is that he spends the majority of his life watching TV and the majority of his conversations complaining about it. The transcript of the section in question is worth including here. It’s absurd comedy better than anything Armando Iannucci or Tim and Eric could’ve written.
“By the way, how bad were the Academy Awards this year? Did you see it? And the winner is… a movie from South Korea. What the hell was that all about? We got enough problems with South Korea with trade, on top of it they give them the best movie of the year. Was it good? I don’t know. You know I’m looking for like, w– let’s get Gone with the Wind. Can we get like Gone with the Wind back, please? Sunset Boulevard. So many great movies. The winner is from South Korea! I thought it was best foreign film, right? Best foreign movie. No, it was the– Did this ever happen before?”
Trump’s rallies are kind of like a cross between pro wrestling promos and a comedian doing 60 minutes of crowd work, and in that sense, it’s hard not to come away impressed. Clearly he’s connecting with his audience. He can somehow do the world’s least relatable commentary on dishwashers and still get thousands of people to participate in a call-and-response bit just by loudly saying the word “toilets!”
"You don't get any water!" — POTUS transitions from complaining about dishwashers to complaining about sinks, toilets, and showers. He then starts bragging about his hair. pic.twitter.com/o4nHUBkGSc
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 15, 2020
Misunderstanding Parasite, meanwhile, has become practically its own cottage industry among media types. Chappelle Show co-creator Neal Brennan famously wondered whether the “central metaphor” in Parasite “didn’t actually work” because the rich people were too nice to be, um, “the parasite,” I guess.
Who is the parasite? The rich or the poor? With that in mind, explain the 3rd act to me.
— Neal Brennan (@nealbrennan) February 10, 2020
Which is still probably better than Maureen Dowd (a Pulitzer Prize winner!) revealing in her lede in the New York Times her own casual misunderstanding of the movie’s title. “It’s funny that Donald Trump doesn’t like a movie about con artists who invade an elegant house and wreak chaos,” Dowd wrote. “He should empathize with parasites.”
Empathize with materialism? Ah, no, Dowd thought the poor people were “the parasite.” Trump, as we’ve already noted, avoided getting into the weeds of that particular “who is the real parasite” debate by simply performatively not seeing the movie. He spent the rest of his Parasite speech reliving his victory over Hillary, doing callbacks to Rosie O’Donnell, and name-checking seemingly every obscure Fox News personality in existence. It should be clear by now that Trumpism is a kind of fan-fiction.
Here’s another transcript section from the speech, just because I can’t resist:
I tell you, Fox doesn’t treat us the way they used to. But we have the great Sean Hannity, we do, and we have Laura and Tucker. And we have in the morning Fox and Friends, Steve and Ainsley, and Brian’s gotten much better, he’s moving up. And we have the great Lou Dobbs. Lou Dobbs says he’s the greatest president ever. The great Lou Dobbs. He says, Lou Dobbs a year and a half, two years ago he said, “He’s the greatest since Reagan.” Then he said about six months ago, “He’s better than Reagan.” And then he said a few nights ago, “He’s the greatest we’ve ever had.” I said, “Does that include Lincoln and George Washington?” He said, “That includes them all.” That’s Lou Dobbs. The great Lou Dobbs. And you’ve got Hegseth and you’ve got Jesse Waters. How about Jesse? And Judge Jeanine and even Greg Gutfeld. Greg hated us, right? But now he says, “Look, whether I like him or not, he gets it done. It’s all about getting it done.” We’re getting it done. Nobody’s ever done what we’ve done. No, but Fox says, and I don’t know, it’s different. It was different. In the old days, it was better for us. It was better for us. But it’s okay, we’ll win anyway. No, but they had this woman on. Neil Cavuto, doesn’t treat us good. Neil Cavuto, he’s not too good…
It goes on like this for a full four more minutes. Then he plays the hits, Hillary And The Emails, Everyone Underestimated Me, Etc. In any case, it was the Parasite part that inspired the most coverage. “Trump denounces Parasite while praising Gone With The Wind” was the standard headline. Most never mentioned Sunset Boulevard, which doesn’t fit so neatly into an ideology.
As always, we were left to wonder how deliberate was this as a comparison. Was it a calculated move, comparing Parasite, a movie about how materialism degrades us all, to Gone With The Wind, an openly racist elegy to an aristocracy and second only maybe to Birth Of A Nation in the annals of cinematic Lost Cause propaganda? Or was it just a name check of a movie that just sounds synonymous with “great American epic,” that the woke-scolds won’t let us enjoy anymore?
At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s impossible to imagine Donald Trump, a guy who famously made his dumbest son stand near the VCR on their plane so that he could fast forward through the boring parts of Bloodsport, sitting through Gone With The Wind, a four-hour epic about a bratty woman. Let alone trying to understand its themes. You could tie yourself into knots trying to distill the ideology of Gone With The Wind (which I watched for the first time over the weekend) which both openly yearns for the antebellum south while also blaming southern arrogance for the Civil War, adds a white guy to the Birth Of A Nation black rapist scene, and whitewashes Rhett Butler and Ashley Wilkes’ participation in a retaliatory KKK raid (described as such in the novel) as “a political meeting.” And maybe that’s the point, to exhaust the fact-checkers, to troll the libs, the entire raison d’etre of the Trump movement…
Trump getting us to spend hours analyzing something he probably thought about for three nanoseconds is his version of the Joker getting caught on purpose. He’s an idiot, but also an idiot savant. At least when it comes to pandering to the lowest common denominator (Toilets! Am I right?).
Nonetheless, Gone With The Wind did feature in a few culture war-stoking news pieces — mostly tied to the news that a Memphis theater had canceled its annual Gone With The Wind screenings in 2017. The story was covered in The National Review and discussed extensively on Fox News. Here’s Todd Starnes (known to the extremely online as Mama’s Pee Drinking Good Boy and also the author of a book whose cover features tennis shoes filled with gravy) railing against it on Fox News Radio, calling it part of a “cultural cleansing of America” and comparing it to tearing down Confederate monuments and whatnot.
Thus in name-checking Gone With The Wind, Trump didn’t need to understand its themes (yearning openly for a social order defined by whites) nor see it as a foil to whatever he imagines happened in Parasite. He only had to do what he always does — complain about TV and regurgitate things he saw on Fox News.
The most important part of Trump’s mini-Oscars critique is the most neglected. If Gone With The Wind was calculated (or at least instinctual) pandering, Sunset Boulevard was the real mask-off moment. Trump would love to present as a hero to those who still lionize the old south, but deep down he’s much more like the characters in Sunset Boulevard (Billy Wilder’s film noir about a faded star of silent film played by Gloria Swanson) — a product of the entertainment industry, deeply invested in old-fashioned ideas of Glitz and Glam and Prestige, a guy who can’t stop beefing with the people he perceives as having kept him out of high society. He’s a guy who can’t stop bitching about Graydon Carter to crowds of people who’ve never opened a Vanity Fair.
Toilets though. They’ll always have the toilets.