This week witnessed a meeting of the minds the likes of which the world has never seen. Fault can be placed on either side: one man is a buffoon, the other a total monster. And though their interaction was brief, the ramifications of it will most likely be felt for decades. I am, of course, talking about the confrontation between David and Jordan on The Bachelorette.
At the end of that clip, Kimmel wonders what the NBA finals would be like if they proceeded more in the style of The Bachelorette. But more late-night hosts are comparing Trump to the long-standing reality franchise. Colbert imagined Trump helming a show called The Pardoner last week after his flurry of pardons. And Fallon restyled the summit in Singapore to be a little rosier.
Bachelorette riffs fit into a larger genre in topical humor, what I keep thinking of as either a manatee gag or Lego comedy: Current events are discrete modules that can be stacked together to form unique constructions. Each cultural moment is interchangeable, leading to potentially infinite combinations of the same rough materials. Certain topics will be more Zeitgeisty, however, and thus get used more often.
In Lego comedy, jokes aren’t written, they’re built. Event + Event = Joke, and we can all call it a day. Paste’s Seth Simons points out that Saturday Night Live’s political humor has become something of a listicle: “So much of the show’s approach to satire … is just to mention one or two things that happened during the previous week without really saying anything about them. These naked references will get a laugh of recognition — yes, they did happen, I remember that!” he writes. The “joke” in many of these sketches is in putting the bricks together. Robert Mueller + Meet the Parents lie-detector scene = Cold Open.
This is almost always a bad take, but what if social media is to blame? Chunks of culture are presented to us without context, and our brains can’t help but try to make patterns of the noise. We connect the disparate data with bits of red string. It all fits together somehow, we just know it!
Look, I’m not a monster. Juxtaposition is a necessary comedic tool. Jokes play on our expectations, and we don’t expect geopolitics to be like a reality dating show. But when a reality-TV star gets elected president, anything (terrible) is possible. And it’s not like the ABC franchise and Trump have nothing in common: Both are plagued by accusations of racism and sexual assault, and both owe a lot to Mark Burnett. The issue with Lego comedy isn’t the practice, it’s the lack of rigor. What are we saying when we put two things together? Meaning does spring forth, even if the joke is built almost without intention. When Desus & Mero compared The Bachelorette to a Trina video, it was to point out the laziness of Becca’s revenge-fantasy date. When Trump is compared to The Bachelorette, aren’t we kind of making a gay joke? Haha, wouldn’t it be funny if Trump and Kim Jong-un got engaged for ratings, what if they kissed, haha.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise is a femme-coded soap-opera world. When jokes are made that imply the serious, masculine world of politics is now girly and melodramatic, it’s at the expense of serious political women. This isn’t how a president should act, these jokes imply, it’s too girly. But if more people were comfortable with a girly president, maybe geopolitics would be less ridiculous right now.