I’m not sure I’m ready for this: The media now refers to Donald Trump, not just as a person, but as a brand. As such, the Trump brand has now infected politics as well as pop culture.
The interesting question: Will there be pushback to the lewd-and-rude style that he represents? At this point, signals are mixed. The Trump brand is leaving its imprint, but there is also an increased awareness of the cost of our growing incivility, on both interpersonal and cultural levels.
In Hollywood, for example the prevalence of the lewd and rude mindset — and the mixed reception it’s been getting — is perhaps best represented by the surfeit of hard R-rated pictures in theaters this summer. Films like “Ted 2,” “Spy,” “Entourage” and “Vacation” have disappointed at the box office. Even the well reviewed “Trainwreck,” from Amy Schumer and Judd Apatow, has not been the breakout hit some predicted.
While the Donald talks insistently about his business achievements, a number of studies have focused on the impact of the lewd-and-rude ethic on the workplace. The considerable rise of “rudeness and bad behavior,” according to one study, has resulted in a plague of cardiovascular problems among employees, as well as poor performance. “People working in an environment of incivility are no longer able to process information that is right in front of them,” notes Christine Porath, a Georgetown professor who has studied the trend.
A report from the U. of Florida contends that the rudeness bug spreads like a virus at the office. “When employees encounter rude behavior, they in turn are ruder to others,” observes Trevor Foulk, author of the study.
In Hollywood, the talent agency business is an intriguing microcosm of these behaviors. Agents as a class tend to veer sharply between the heights of ingratiation and the depths of dismissive rudeness, but agent excess has been tamed by the infusion of private equity, the hiring of corporate CFOs and restrictions on perqs and expense accounts. Doug Ellin, who created “Entourage,” complains that it’s become increasingly difficult to write comedic scripts about agenting, because agency life has become “more corporate.” Still, a Trump-like aggressiveness remains the tactical mandate.
The conflict between what’s cool and what’s smarmy is especially evident on the Web, where the trend toward compulsive sharing has become a need for compulsive shouting. Some media critics argue that the noise level of the Internet is also giving birth to a level of political correctness that’s equally perverse in its militancy to the Donald’s intolerance.
At the U. of California, this has taken the form of sensitivity training for students and faculty as a means to combat “micro-aggressions.” The training has resulted in a long list of banned words and expressions. Academicians are instructed they should never say, “I believe the most qualified candidate should get the job,” because minority students might interpret that as a form of intolerance. “Trigger warnings” are being instituted at several colleges, warning hyper-sensitive students about material that they might find “disturbing.”
All this makes me wary; with the Trump brand taking over much of the national conversation, I might find myself welcoming some trigger warnings. It’s going to be a very long campaign.