Column: Culture, or lack of it, in the age of Trump

Tom Long
The Detroit News

This week it was revealed that no marching band from the Washington, D.C., area wants to participate in Donald Trump’s inauguration.

An area marching band has performed in each of the past five inaugurations. Now suddenly all the local marching bands are planning head colds for Jan. 20.

Right after that revelation came another: The showbiz website The Wrap reported Trump representatives had offered jobs in the administration and even ambassador positions to talent bookers who could come up with big name artists to perform at the inauguration.

So far, no takers.

Welcome to culture in the Trump era. It’s hard to know which way things will break.

Take this year’s Oscar race, for example. By most accounts there are three very different front runners for the Best Picture award. One is “Manchester by the Sea,” a mostly somber account of a tragedy featuring a virtually all-white cast. Another is “Moonlight,” a completely somber story about a young gay man that features a virtually all-black cast.

And then there’s “La La Land,” a spirited old-school musical romance done in bright colors revolving around two lovely white people.

All three films are excellent. But which one best reflects the time we live in? Do we just want to forget about the replenished swamp and sing our cares away? Or do we want to face the misery? Further more, do we want to face the misery to come for minorities of all stripes?

But it’s not just movies. Consider pop music. Will the next big boy band consist of five Aryan types dressed in matching brown military outfits? Or will politically charged punk come raging back, screaming outrage at the outrageous?

You can be sure there are promoters laying down their bets right now on which way things will blow.

And how about television? Will “Homeland” become more isolationist? Will the rebooted “24” have more or fewer ethnic villains? Will “Shameless” become even more shameless, or will it finally find remorse?

In the days following the 9/11 attacks pundits and producers alike predicted violence as we had known it on screen was dead. It was just too close to home. Then came “Training Day,” the original “24” and “The Shield.” It turned out violence in the media wasn’t dead. It was a means of dealing with a horrific world. It still is.

But whether that violence comes packaged in shiny superhero fantasies or shove-it-in-your-face realism has yet to be determined in the Trump era. Whether we will want to confront our troubles or look as far away from them as possible is a question not yet answered.

For now, though, Hollywood and popular culture at large is turning its back on Trump. Sure there are some supporters — notably Michigan’s own Kid Rock and Ted Nugent — but they are in a tiny minority (imagine that; white males in a minority).

Then again, a whole lot of Republicans turned away from Trump only to turn back once he (sort of) won the presidency. Sooner or later some prime-time entertainer or cultural figure will bow and kiss the ring. You could say Kanye West already did this week, but jeez the guy just got out of a psych ward. Let’s wait until somebody who appears sane does it.

And that will be the beginning of... something. Either the normalization of what was once considered preposterous, or the permanent staining of a pop-culture figure who will likely never recover.

The staining would be sad. But the normalization will be far sadder.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.