Trumpo (Harry Johnson)

Trumpo SNL Trump Parody Example

In the excerpt ‘Juvenal’s Error’ from his book Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, Adorno gives a definition of irony: “[i]rony convicts its object by presenting it as what it purports to be; and without passing judgement, as if leaving a blank for the observing subject, measures it against its being-in-itself” (Adorno, 210). Any attempt to give an interpretation of the object of irony, for the “observing subject”, negates that irony. If this definition is true, then it is impossible to objectively depict President Donald Trump without irony.

Specifically, it is impossible to depict what Trump says about himself (such as his reassurance of his Twitter followers that he is “a very stable genius”), while also showing Trump himelf, without irony. So massive is the gulf between the image he tries to create of himself and objective reality, that simply showing both at once – the man and his words – is an ironic act. Many of the currently most-viewed political commentator – that is, late-night talk show hosts – like Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and the less overtly political Jimmies Kimmel and Fallon, depict Trump while also passing judgement and offering interpretation; according to Adorno, this negates any potential for their depictions of the President being ironic. Whenever Colbert plays a clip of Trump speaking (or simply displays and reads one of his tweets/declarations of new policy) and then goes on to offer interpretations of it, and pass judgement – no matter how amusing the quip which he proffers – he negates the irony inherent in whatever claim Trump has made.

Perhaps the closest to revealing the irony of the President’s wildest claims is Saturday Night Live; of the aforementioned commentators, they come closest to simply showing what Trump says. However, they do so through exaggerated portrayals of Trump himself, and what he says. This exaggeration moves SNL’s portrayals of Trump from satire to parody. Thus, the ironies of Trump himself, and his statements on himself, is lost in the exaggeration; rather than examining the chasm between Trump’s view of himself and who he actually is, SNL’s audience examines the exaggerated Trump. Indeed, Alec Baldwin’s portrayal of Trump has somewhat taken on a life of its own, becoming its own comic creation, inspired by Trump: a kind of psychotic mélange of Marx brothers – Trumpo.

Adorno writes that irony, at the time of his writing has died. This was because, he claims, of a pervasive seriousness (Adorno, 209-12). We live in a similar situation today, but, ironically, for the opposite reason: the political discourse has become so ridiculous that satirising it becomes almost self-defeating.


One comment

  1. It is an interesting view that “observing subject”, i.e. the object of irony, negates the irony in a situation. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea that analysing a joke kills it. Adorno’s writing fits well with observations about Trump. He unwittingly says a lot of ironic things, including his statement that he is a “stable genius”.

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