“Catnip for reporters.” That’s how Metallica fan and Democratic newcomer Danica Roem described her winning campaign in Virginia’s 13th District last November. She is, after all, the transgender woman who defeated the anti-LGBT incumbent Bob Marshall.
Nevermind that her platform was all about lines of stalled traffic and not lines outside bathroom stalls. The simple narrative of vindication, course correction, redemption—whatever you want to call it—proved irresistible to many observing that race. Good vs. evil, progress vs. tradition, insider vs. outsider, rebel vs. authority? Those are fun stories to write.
Such was the undercurrent for Nikuyah Walker’s visit to “The View,” too. Nazis and Klansmen march on Charlottesville and just a few months later a black woman is named mayor? Why that’s enough to get Whoopi and the gals feeling better about the state of the world. Enjoy the buzz, viewers at home, and meanwhile let’s sidestep the part about how mayor is a ceremonial post in this town.
Yep, there’s no shortage of simple narratives, and their appeal crosses every divide.
A couple of weeks ago, I worked security for one of the women’s marches, and doing so put me directly up against a reporting crew from Alex Jones’ Infowars. Positioning my body between InfoWarriors and the marchers as per non-violent training protocols, I heard nearly an hour of nonstop right-wing commentary from behind me.
The terms reporter Owen Shroyer used to describe the scene didn’t match the assembly I saw before me, yet his vocabulary was familiar. At first I recognized his talk of things that were the “greatest” or the “best” as being the lexicon of the 45th president.
Indeed, when he wasn’t comparing the marchers to Satan and decrying their obviously slavish devotion to fake news, he was talking about the “massive success” of the administration, with “record high” thises and “record low” thats. Bestest, worstest, beautiful… Sounding like nothing so much as Donald Trump himself when he’s dishing the base a simplistic world view that’s two parts stimulant and three parts red meat, Shroyer could have been a “Daily Show” regular from the Jon Stewart days.
Yet his schtick was more comic book than comical. These days, it’s Marvel’s world, we just live in it. And pay for the privilege while we’re at it. Six of the top 10 highest grossing movies in the U.S. last year were superhero fantasies, earning a tremendous sum of $2.29 billion in box office receipts. We’re desperate to live in these simply drawn stories, eager to watch a powerful guardian—no! the most powerful guardian of all!—rise from the rubble and set things right. After the credits roll, we hope we’ll find her or him out in the parking lot kicking ass and taking names. But as Roxane Gay has put it so bluntly, in truth no one is coming to save us.
Not Oprah. Not Mark Warner. Not Elizabeth Guzman, the new Virginia delegate who was tapped to give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address in Spanish, not Robert Mueller, Devin Nunes nor any of the folks at the Riverside who want to oust three Charlottesville City Councilors.
It’s time to remind each other that when we get high off simple delicious rhetoric, we can’t do the painstaking work that lies ahead. As a great master named Ben Kenobi once put it, “The truth is often what we make of it; you heard what you wanted to hear, believed what you wanted to believe.” In other words, mind the catnip, Padawan.
Yes, Virginia is a monthly opinion column.