So it’s Super Bowl Sunday, the official unofficial winter holiday of the USA and this year’s first crack at a super spreader event. It’s tempting to go on about The Kid versus The Old Man or the meaning of sports events at a time of limited fan participation, but I’d like to talk about television and Donald Trump.
What, more words?! Just stay with me.
In the before times I worked in the Hospitality Industry, specifically the Destination Management end of the Hospitality Industry. If those phrases don’t mean anything to you don’t worry. Most people’s eyes glaze over when I use them. Then I explain that it means I’m a tour guide for Northern California and I work primarily with large corporate groups who come in for meetings and “incentive” travel. Generally I then get a “oh cool, that sounds like a fun job” and I will nod and say it certainly is an interesting occupation.
I am an independent contractor. Since no one Destination Management company (DMC) could possibly have full time work for me and those like me we all end up working for many companies. Last year I listed 17 of them on my tax return. TurboTax nearly exploded entering in all that data. In any program there will be the Sponsoring Company (the company the attendees work for or the one footing the bill for the trip), the Client (a planning company hired by the sponsoring company), the local DMC (hired by the Client), and then me (hired by the DMC). I’m the low man on the totem pole, but just like the bottom face on the pole, it all falls over if I don’t do my job right. Part of doing my job right is blending into the background, not being noticeable until needed. Which means I get to hear a lot of conversation.
In 2016 the Super Bowl was held in San Francisco, by which I mean the game was played forty miles away at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Pretty much every attendee was staying in The City since pretty much all the parties were being held there. That week I worked for a DMC who had been hired by a Client who had been engaged by…. well let’s just say a major television network. It was my job to take care of many of the executives of that network, pick them up at the airport, get them to their hotels, to the dinners and parties they were invited to, get them to the game itself and back, then get them back to the airport on Monday morning.
Super Bowl week was the first week of February in 2016. Most of my charges were arriving on the heels of the Iowa Caucuses. I’m sure you’ll remember, and if you say you do there’s a 90% chance you’re lying, the winner of that bizarre Midwest beauty pageant that year was Ted Cruz. But nobody I was working with was talking about Ted Cruz.
Everyone was talking about Donald Trump. And ratings.
The Republican primary debates for that election cycle had been gangbusters for the television news divisions. TV ratings for primary debates usually are somewhere between depressing and drive an executive to suicide, but this year they had actually been decent. Every time Trump opened his mouth another bizarre utterance would emerge and the needle on the ratings meter would tick up another point. He had single handedly taken a moribund format full of arcane policy debates and stiff performances and turned it into must see TV. The ultimate reality show.
My executives were trying to figure out how long it was going to keep on going. They liked their ratings going up, they liked the extra dollars they could charge advertisers, and they knew that to keep it going they were going to have to keep Donald Trump in the race. People may not have wanted to vote for him, but they sure didn’t mind tuning in to see him talk about the size of his penis or a woman’s menstrual period.
But let me make this clear: Not a one of them thought he would win the nomination. Cruz or Marco Rubio, maybe Jeb Bush, were the consensus opinions. Even though Trump was the frontrunner they talked about how he had all the voters he was going to get and once the smaller fish got out of the way (remember there were another 14 vying for the nomination) all those votes would go to either Cruz, Bush, or Rubio leaving Trump a distant memory. It would have been their wet dream for Trump to win the nomination.
So there was a lot of conversation about how much airtime to give Trump both on the evening news and on the Sunday political shows. Right now it was easy, he was the frontrunner. Later on, when things were shaking out and one of the “real” candidates took over the lead, that was when they were going to have to get creative.
We know what happened. Television gave him lots of time. The more time television gave to Trump the more he won Republican voters over. In my opinion I think it was the fact that Cruz and Rubio and especially Jeb Bush were horrible candidates. They inspired nothing, they delivered nothing, and they always seemed afraid of saying something that would put them in the crosshairs of Trump’s vitriolic temper. Trump said ridiculous things and his opponents never fired back at him (a lesson Joe Biden learned from). Trump seemed to be unafraid of what the reaction would be. And if Republican voters were honest with themselves, they knew who ever was nominated was little more than a sacrificial lamb to be slaughtered by the Hillary juggernaut. Why not Trump, at least he was entertaining.
So now it’s four years later. News ratings are at an all time high. Even nontraditional news times have been given over to news. Remember soap operas? They’re pretty much gone, replaced with cheery light news shows because Erika versus Kendall can’t compete with Donald versus Bobby Three Sticks. Instead of sitting down to laugh at Archie Bunker, millions are sitting down to nod in agreement with Tucker Carlson (substitute Maude and Rachel Maddow if you like). Information flows on a constant basis, an addiction that needs to be fed. And take your choice, what version of reality do you want to hear? Conservatives opt for Fox, Liberals for MSNBC, moderates for CNN. Even the crazy QAnons have their own news channels if they can find them. Just sit your ass down in front of the tube and consume. Get angry if you want, the tube likes it when you’re angry cause you need to feed on that which makes you angry. It makes you bolder. You want to do something. You want to smash something. There’s a rally in DC and a march on the Capitol? Yes, feed me. Run through those gates, pound in the doors, search for the congresspeople who the tube has told you are bad. Have no fear, the great TV God Trump will protect you….
It was a great game. It got a 46 rating and a 72 share, one of the highest in Super Bowl history. Oh and the Broncos beat the Panthers.