Divining Stars, Enshrining Celebrities

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Amidst all the tumult of democratic, electoral politics, a prince descended from his high tower to usurp a place in world history.

No, not a prince, at least not one determined by nobility or any hereditary title associated with, say, aristocracy. A prince, rather, of plutocratic ilk. A prince who the feudal Florentine philosopher, Niccolo Machiavelli, had foretold – or perhaps forewarned about – in his book, “The Prince,” in the 16th century. Now the 21st century stands to witness Machiavelli’s text being literally dramatized on the global stage by the prince of geopolitical chaos, Donald J. Trump.

The short film, Trump’s Lobby, directed by Alex Winter, captures a sinister story on par with “The Prince,” now in a live action, US post-election version. (Its world premiere was timed to coincide with Trump’s inauguration.) The 7-minute short consists of a succession of still images, each flashing by from one to the next, making real through their relentless accretion the ominous future of a crony-ridden Trump administration. One by one, the images display the star-studded coterie of invitees meeting in secret with Trump in his Manhattan Tower on Fifth Avenue. All are illuminated in these stills, framed and awash in gold. Every invitee, every guest – from Mitt Romney to Wolf Blitzer, from Peter Thiel to Kanye West – who graces the splendorous imperial halls of Trump Tower, becomes a spectacle in their own right. But this celebrity line up possesses dubious star power in the world at large…

Each photo op reminds us of the starry-eyed media firestorm that has leaned towards ever inflating Trump’s media-loving egomaniacal persona. Just as media coverage cemented his presidency, so too it drives the highly dramatic political form of the cult of personality surrounding Trump, epitomized through each guest worshipping at his shrine. The provocation, the inscrutability of it all, in every instance, is effected by the closing elevators. If the obfuscation began in the lobby, it ends with those doors. And it hits home with the unnerving double entendre of just what the lobbying was about. Beneath the seemingly conciliatory exchange between Trump and his guests, each of whom he promises to work with, to dissolve partisan boundaries, lies the disruption of the moral world of politics.

The cinematic effect makes it devastatingly clear: Trump’s campaign platform to “drain the swamp,” his realpolitik to dispense with procedural compunction, and Washington orthodoxy, will collapse sense-making. It has already begun. A political melee seems to boil over with every caprice of the petulant President. If Trump had a world of his own, it would be a world, as per Lewis Carroll, where “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would.” The guests, without fear of ignominy, met with the prince in his high tower, where they likely pondered neither the questions of the stars nor those of democracy’s progenitors. The secrecy of their meetings reveals a salient political style. In the Machiavellian sense, they avail themselves of the intelligence of their great, fairer kin – a plutocratic order, with a prince, clad in the beauty of a thousand stars, whose rule, limited by temperament, is measured by those who display fealty to him. Meanwhile, in the Carrollian sense, his supplicants shudder with the recognition that this prince may be more like an impetuous Red Queen inspiring fear at the possibility that at any moment the Queen’s decree might be issued, “Off with her head!”

If what is visibly apparent in the lobby is that nothing makes sense anymore, then sense, too, no longer makes anything. What is left is the stream of images capturing our eyes while eschewing meaning. As in Machiavelli’s The Prince, and Carrol’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the world oscillates between truth and fiction, as if farcical, or the stuff of outlandish film or television. It’s a distinction which Trump no longer appears to make. At the inaugural lunch, he praised “his” General Mattis with proclamation that if he made a movie, he would cast Mattis as its lead. Our social imaginary is rupturing, too. Anxiety abounds in this current crisis of meaning, most aptly in the poetics of our critiques. Our crisis is neither new nor old. It transports us and our time-honored language, between now and the Italian Renaissance, or a Third Reich Germany, between this world and an Orwellian, fictitious world of the novel 1984. Trumpian political realism, it seems, adds a perverse twist to an already self-centered US national psyche bound within the drama of our own politics. Only divination might attribute meaning to this cascade of sparkle seemingly so far, far away.

As if staring into the abyss of space, where the meaning deciphered from stars is to be had, we will witness twilight, in this portentous reign of stars, falling upon brighter days. A twilight that needn’t have fallen, when we still have a sun by which to see.

So: tear these stars from the sky in haste lest their celestial glory become ever more mystified in our minds.

Inspired by Marc Lamont Hill, Matt Taibbi, and Rachel Maddow, I aspire to become a political-cultural journalist/critic. I graduated from Brown University with a degree in “Geopolitical Epistemologies,” and possess extensive training in geopolitics of Asia/Pacific, political economy, and media studies. My experiences in both the non-profit/private sectors encompass work across various media platforms.

My name is Bee Vang and I have engaged the mainstream through self-initiated & collaborative activities, from public speaking to authoring critical think pieces, from film/video production to alternative media. I have been a contributing writer at Reappropriate, The Feminist Wire, and Pioneer Press, as well as a correspondent at The Economist Group; my work has been featured on New America Media and The Atlantic, as well.

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Published on: March 17, 2017

Filed Under: Articles, Essays & Poems, Non-Fiction/Memoir

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