This week, New Girl creator Liz Meriwether will be in Cleveland covering the Republican National Convention for Vulture.
I look like Hillary Clinton. It’s not a big deal — it’s just something about me. I stopped going to this pizza place in college because every time I went in, the guy behind the counter would yell out: “Hey! You look like Hillary Clinton!” I wasn’t insulted. I just prefer to buy pizza in a quiet, sort of tragic, anonymous cloud. When Vulture asked me to go to Cleveland this week to cover the Republican National Convention, I should have remembered that I look like Hillary Clinton and said no. I said yes immediately.
This is a bad idea for many reasons. I am not a reporter. I created a situation-comedy called New Girl. It’s not a show that anyone would describe as “political,” although once, we got a letter from the White House requesting we send the most recent episodes for Sasha and Malia Obama to watch on a long flight. (Which was a highlight of my life.) (They probably ask all the shows.) As I said, I am not a reporter. I am not good at talking to strangers. I’m a socially awkward coward. People who meet me describe me as “the mean daughter on Roseanne.”
I’m also a Democrat. My grandfather, Nelson, played a game with me: He would hold out his hand to shake my hand and say, “Are you a Republican or a Democrat?” If I said “Republican,” he would refuse to shake my hand. That was the whole game. From an early age, I learned that saying I was a Republican would mean losing the love and affection of my own grandfather. Thanks to Nelson, I’ve been a proud Democrat my whole life. It was by listening to Bill Clinton’s impeachment hearings on NPR that I learned what a blow job was. Now I can’t have sex unless NPR is on. My husband has learned to live with it. It’s sort of a killing-two-birds situation.
I don’t like crowds of people, and I really don’t like crowds of earnest people. Throw singing or chanting into the mix, and I have a small, internal seizure like every patient has exactly halfway through an episode of House. That’s why I’ve never been to a music festival. Burning Man scares me in a way that’s difficult to talk about. I’m also terrified of balloon drops. If I end up standing in a crowd of drunk Republicans while balloons are falling from the ceiling, I’m going to have an anxiety attack so bad that an ambulance will have to be called and everyone will be like, “Why is Hillary Clinton getting taken away on a stretcher screaming, ‘Get the balloons away from me!’”
Another thing that’s possibly problematic: I’m a woman. That means, in Trump’s words, sometimes I bleed out of my “wherever.” My wherever is okay. It’s been pretty loyal over the years, and in return, I’ve let it get into some trouble. Most nights me and my wherever are just chilling at home, maybe watching something like Hemingway & Gellhorn on HBO. What I’m really hoping is that Donald Trump sees me and scores my appearance on a scale of one to ten. I know I’m a one. Compared to Melania Trump, I’m like a melting snowman that somehow also has leg hair. If I were a contestant in the Miss USA pageant, where Trump famously made the “bathing suits smaller and the heels higher,” I’d be eliminated pretty early due to the fact that my breasts sometimes shoot lasers and speak in the voice of the Great and Powerful Oz. “Step forward, Tin Man!”
I don’t even know what to pack. What do Republicans wear? I looked up Ivanka Trump’s line of clothing at Nordstrom’s. All her dresses are high-neck and sleeveless and made in China. The only women who can wear high-neck/sleeveless dresses are women who exercise, and unfortunately, that rules me out. Do Republicans wear jeans? In the West Wing, Republicans always wore what I would describe as “evil business-casual.” I don’t have any business-casual. Female television writers usually dress like we are about to get on an overnight flight. I don’t know. Some people will be wearing guns on their belts. During the convention, the city of Cleveland has banned tents, large pieces of wood, plastic tubing, coolers, and tennis balls, but it will allow open-carry guns. I went to Amazon and bought a belt with a pocket hanging down. I’ll be wearing that with two tennis balls inside.
(This is unrelated, but how do you say the name Reince Priebus and not sound like Gollum?)
So, to paraphrase the end of The Breakfast Club, I’m a Democrat, a woman, a Hillary Clinton look-alike, and a coward. Why am I going to Republican-Burning-Man-meets-whatever-Eyes-Wide-Shut-would-look-like-if-it-had-been-shot-in-Cleveland? I’m supposed to be making television.
My show is on Tuesdays, and all year, we were up against primary coverage. I know how impossible it is to get viewers to look away from Trump. As Samantha Bee recently pointed out, the media has given Trump what amounts to “three billion dollars in free advertising.” Can we blame television? Of course. You can always blame television, because television is always to blame. (Please Google Fox’s 2005 reality show Who’s Your Daddy? for reference.)
But television is, ultimately, a business, and the business has never been worse. Chasing the television audience right now is like trying to get the attention of a toddler who is running away from you screaming, “I hate you! Leave me alone!” One answer to the ratings problem is “event television” — coverage of live events that forces audiences to sit through commercials. “We need event television!” can be heard anywhere in Los Angeles over the sound of thousands of people paying $10 for juice. Trump has achieved event-television status. According to an article in Fortune, CNN was able to charge 40 times its usual amount for a 30-second spot during the GOP primary debate in September, and Fox News averaged about 18-million viewers per GOP debate during the primary season. (My show is not event television. It’s what you watch after all the other events are done, you’ve washed the dishes, had sex, and you still can’t go to sleep.)
We can blame the networks for giving Trump the airtime, but then we also have to blame ourselves for watching in record numbers. There’s an old piece of theater wisdom: Never put a dog or a baby onstage, or the audience will stop paying attention to the actors. The dog or the baby is unrehearsed and out of control, and people — reasonable people who know better — will find themselves riveted by what the dog or the baby will do next.
Now, this man will be on prime-time again all next week, and what are we supposed to do, just collectively look away? Stop feeding his need for attention? It’s too late. Somewhere in Cleveland, according to a thrilling video I watched on the GOP convention Facebook page, a crew is in the process of building a LED screen with 10 million individual pixels for Donald Trump to stand in front of and accept the nomination to be the Republican candidate for president. In case you’re wondering, the large rectangles on either side of the stage will be in the shape of blades, which isn’t ominous at all.
So, I’m leaving my network show for the week to watch Trump produce his. If it’s too late to ignore the story he’s telling, then maybe in Cleveland I’ll try to tell a different story from what you see on television, even if I end up mostly writing about how I got lost in the Quicken Loans Arena and then hid for hours in the bathroom. Maybe I will be arrested for openly carrying tennis balls. Maybe Ivanka will see me from across the room and call out: “Cool high-neck/sleeveless dress!” Maybe I will defy my grandfather and finally shake a Republican’s hand. Maybe I can start to figure out what’s happening in this country.
When I told a friend of mine I was going, he said: “Whatever you write, you’re just going to end up preaching to the choir.” That’s probably true. You’re probably the choir. But this year, in this election, we need the choir to sing. Sing like you just bit into a piece of Patti LaBelle pie. Sing out. Sing a different story. Keep singing.
(To anyone who is thinking about trolling me, hear me out: I’m not worth it. And if it makes you feel any better, I troll myself every morning when I look in the mirror. “You think you’re funny, fat girl?” I’ll say to myself while I’m brushing my teeth. I get that you’re angry, and you want to go after someone, preferably a woman. What about someone dead — like what about Betsy Ross? Maybe you can tell Betsy Ross you’re going to come to her house and kill her? And after Trump is elected president, and the glaciers keep melting, and we are fighting the first of the many Fresh Water Wars that are to come, I hope that you will protect me. My children and I will be wearing animal-skin loincloths and living in a rock cave that we’ve carved out of the San Andreas fault, and I will be trying to sell jokes to anyone who walks by who isn’t actively being a cannibal. I hope, by then, you’ll have forgotten I ever wrote this, and reach out your hand and let me have some water.)