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Our Fictional President | HuffPost

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As the pandemic and the election season of 2020 unfolded, I kept thinking back to a book I read in March, Elisa Gabbert’s eerily timely and thoughtful “The Unreality of Memory.” In several of her essays, Gabbert examines how we experience and consume disaster — as an intimate experience, as a distant spectacle, as a narrative event. “When a tsunami rises over a city, or a plane flies into a skyscraper, we say it’s ‘just like a movie,’” she writes. “This suggests that disaster movies help us process disaster — it’s the only exposure most of us get, outside of news clips, to deadly spectacles. There’s no script or template for a novel disaster.”

Gabbert is referring to Chernobyl, a novel disaster that, Nobel Prize-winning journalist Svetlana Alexievich found, its survivors struggled to put into words; they simply lacked reference points for what they’d experienced. Fiction offers us tidy narratives and images that we can fit our traumas into.

I think of this passage because while it is true, Donald Trump’s presidency has so often made me feel the converse: the bewilderment of finding yourself actually living through something you only dreamed of encountering in a story. The 2016 election marked the certain intrusion of the stranger-than-fictional into sober reality, and suddenly fiction seemed both wan by comparison and a comically insufficient tool for processing what was taking place.

The past four years left us with a confused relationship to fiction. During this time, we read fewer novels, but we did read enormous amounts of lies presented as truth, or truth condemned as lies: the news, presidential tweets, Reddit posts, QAnon memes. Nonfiction flourished, though mostly of the variety engineered to sell hundreds of thousands of copies to gullible partisans and then vanish from the conversation. Dozens upon dozens of exposés, manifestos, memoirs and diagnoses of Trump were published during his term. This fall, Washington Post critic Carlos Lozada published a book about all these Trump books, apparently discovering little worth taking away from them. Fiction, newly apt — witness the runaway sales of dystopian classics early in Trump’s term — risked seeming newly frivolous as well.

Immediately, great writers began trying to capture Trump in a novel. But somehow, again and again, they failed, or their success registered as flatly as failure. Trump seems to resist fictionalization; his appearance in a novel can be a jolting distraction or a thudding over-elaboration.

Trump, if anything, is too transparent to be fictionalized. He was relentlessly and, I think, quite accurately diagnosed by columnists and pundits; fictional accounts offered no fresh insight into his narcissism, his crudeness, his showmanship and his cruelty that could not be found on Twitter at any point during his term. He is all surface, all id; however much he might imagine they are, his corrupt business dealings aren’t especially secret, nor is his yearning admiration for brutal dictators, nor his frustrated desire to be accepted by the Manhattan elite.

Trump turned out to be nearly impossible to effectively satirize.

In the beginning, some novelists, like comedians and cable news moguls, were almost optimistic about their role in Trump’s America. “It’s an awful thing to say,” Salman Rushdie told Poets & Writers in 2017, “that this thing that is very bad for America is very good for the novel.” He had just come out with a book, “The Golden House,” set against the Obama presidency and the 2016 election, with Trump played by a flamboyant, chartreuse-haired real estate magnate nicknamed The Joker.

He was neither the first nor the last prominent novelist to address Trump. “Several authors,” wrote Washington Post critic Ron Charles in 2017, “told me they felt compelled on Nov. 9 to set aside their work and begin something that felt more relevant to our scorched political landscape.” Howard Jacobson, author of “The Finkler Question,” began work on a satirical fable about the president just four hours after the election was called and published it mere months later. Dave Eggers’ 2019 satire, “The Captain and the Glory,” took place on a massive ship whose passengers replace their venerable retiring captain with a vicious, ignorant grifter who sports a yellow feather on his head. Trump was featured in a Carl Hiaasen caper, “Squeeze Me,” and in Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Rodham,” a grindingly dull alternate history. Some novelists painted the real Trump into the background, like Jonathan Lethem in his “The Feral Detective,” in which the heroine leaves her job at The New York Times in the jarring aftermath of his election and throws herself into saving her friend’s daughter from a masculinity-worshiping cult.

In Trump, there’s self-evidently the allure of a particularly juicy character, prefab for any writer casting about for inspiration. But the Trump novels that emerged from his term were not merely entertainments, though Eggers literally subtitled his “An Entertainment.” They read as attempts to grapple with the anxiety of having been severed from normative reality and having to navigate a world more recognizable from fiction. The endless buffoonery, overt corruption and cascade of alarming news made it a cliché, during Trump’s term, to archly suggest that the writers room had really overdone it with this week’s twists. It seems fitting to address the unruly fictional creature of the president by writing him back into the controlled genres he embodies. If a monster is hunting you in your nightmares, you defend yourself in your dream world. If you find yourself in a speculative satire, shouldn’t you be able to battle it on that terrain? Protest art never seemed so called for.

Or so toothless. Trump turned out to be nearly impossible to effectively satirize. Political humor failed to meet the moment so profoundly that multiple investigations have been undertaken into what went wrong with late night comedy during his presidency. He’s too ridiculous to exaggerate into a caricature, too unpredictable to outflank in his absurd twists. If the jokes practically write themselves, what do we need comedy writers for?

The literary satires of the president tended to collapse on this front. The decision to attempt them seemed to arise not so much from the need to expose him with a lacerating pen, but from his superficial suitability to satire, and from the author’s desperate urge to do something. Both Jacobson and Eggers described their decisions to satirize the president as a personal act of catharsis. Jacobson immediately named his work in progress “Pussy,” over objections from his wife and agent. “My agent said, ‘People aren’t going to want to buy it, and shops aren’t going to want to stock it,’” he told The Atlantic.

Set in a mythical country called Urbs-Ludus, “Pussy” depicted the adventures of Prince Fracassus, the coarse, narcissistic heir to an oligarchical duchy. Jacobson directly satirized all of Trump’s most superficially ridiculous qualities: His blond pompadour; his obsessions with TV, Twitter and gleaming real estate developments; his limited vocabulary; his crude bigotry. “Pussy” was a #resistance Twitter reply-guy tweet, delivered as a 200-page fairy tale. Fracassus’ vicious ignorance often manifested as unprovoked strings of slurs he hurled at anyone nearby, a particularly dispiriting example of how satire of the president not only thudded ineffectually off of him, but risked simply multiplying the cruelty it intended to skewer, replicating slur-filled rants in a feeble attempt to show how wrong they are.

Rushdie’s “The Golden House,” an airless, overcrowded tale about Nero Golden, a mysterious, wealthy patriarch from Bombay, and his attempt to reinvent his life and family in a cloistered New York neighborhood, may not be centrally concerned with Trump. But his cartoonish depiction of the campaign, cloaked in ominous superhero-vs.-supervillain tropes, operates as an opportunity for Rushdie to wax broadly philosophical about American politics and cultural divides. (René, the handsome filmmaker who narrates the story, often thinks wistfully of the city as a “bubble” in which he has been protected.) These musings, as pompous and mournful as any Times op-ed on the topic of our political divisions, only serve to fracture the world of the novel so that Rushdie can openly gesture at how bad things are out here, in the real world.

Mark Doten’s 2019 “Trump Sky Alpha,” one of the more intriguing fictional takes on the president, framed a post-apocalyptic drama with a stylized portrayal of the president himself, delivering an addled monologue to the populace from a luxury zeppelin amid a hail of nuclear hellfire. Doten is a wonderful writer; in his opening section, 22 pages, he writes in tumbling, fluid clauses that resolve into just a handful of sentences, imbuing the arrival of nuclear calamity with a viscerally stomach-sinking, clattering momentum.

Like the clunkier satires, Doten’s book, though dazzlingly written, also tripped over the sheer closeness of the crisis, the difficulty of being fresh or original about the most-discussed person of the age. A “Trump Sky Alpha” scene in which Ivanka Trump, horrified by her father’s lurch into nuclear war, vomits down her silky blouse and cries out “no no no” while television cameras watch, smacks of liberal wish fulfillment colliding with lefty nihilism: We’re all going to die, but at least we’ll see those responsible humiliated.

Twenty pages of flawless Trump mimicry is just a showy writer’s exercise, as empty beneath the surface as his own words.

Later in the book, amid a lengthy speech by a Trump now flying toward Mar-a-Lago in a Trump Sky Alpha damaged by enemy fire, he upbraids his turncoat daughter: “I would say, Ivanka, read the polls, this is all so popular, and we can get out, too, get out of things that are failing, I am very good with getting out. Ivanka, look at yourself, your mouth and your hair, look at how beautiful you are. And I would say, What did I do? What did I do? Look at my mouth and my hair. Aren’t we the same? I loved you, you know?”

What has been more overexamined, in art and commentary, than Trump’s borderline-incestuous fascination with his elder daughter? The result, however pitch-perfectly delivered, would necessarily read as an easy allusion rather than a stroke of insight. Twenty pages of flawless Trump mimicry is just a showy writer’s exercise, as empty beneath the surface as his own words.

But perhaps the most depressing artistic cul-de-sac of the past four years was the yearning turn back toward a vanished present amid the ascendance of white, neoliberal feminist leadership: Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion,” and still more on the nose, Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Rodham,” a novel written as the memoirs of President Hillary Rodham in the present day. After a passionate courtship with Bill Clinton, Hillary becomes fed up with his infidelity (and the whispers of graver misconduct) and leaves him before they even get married. She goes on to have a sober, serious career as a law professor, becomes a senator for Illinois, and then runs for president in 2016 — against tech billionaire Bill Clinton, whose political career exploded before he could become president in the ’90s. Trump appears as a minor character, a possible spoiler in the race who instead chooses to publicly back Hillary Rodham.

“Rodham” is hundreds of pages of naked wish-fulfillment, written as blandly and self-servingly as a real presidential memoir. It’s a woozy reversal: The bizarre and outlandish presidential crisis is fact, and the somnolent working of bureaucracy is fiction. If fiction allows us to imagine a better world, it’s perhaps most heartbreaking of all that the horror of Trump’s presidency has induced these novelists to spend time imagining a world no more ambitious and radical than the reinstated pre-Trump norm.

But even if the presidency goes back to normal, the nation as it was before Trump is indeed now firmly in the realm of fantasy. This ripped-from-pulp-fiction president ushered us into a future that will be defined by crises long left to fester, hand-waved away, and relegated to speculative fiction: white supremacy, pandemics, climate change. Perhaps now that we’ve seen that truth can resemble the wildest fictions, we’ll be ready to imagine a more radical and beautiful way of fighting back.





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Anderson Cooper Made ‘Amazing’ Discovery In His Mom’s Possessions After She Died

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CNN’s Anderson Cooper said he found a pile of love letter telegrams that legendary crooner Frank Sinatra had sent to his fashion icon mother Gloria Vanderbilt while sorting through his late mom’s possessions.

The “amazing” discovery was among “boxes of stuff” from “her epic life” that Cooper went through following Vanderbilt’s death in 2019 because she “never threw anything away,” the news anchor told Stephen Colbert on Wednesday’s “Late Show.”

Many of the messages that Sinatra sent during his short-lived romance with Vanderbilt were dictated from airports or airplanes, Cooper revealed during a discussion about his new podcast about grief, titled “All There Is.”

One of the missives from Sinatra read: “Star. Coming to town. Your fella on the white horse. Ring-a-ding-ding.”

Another was along the lines of: “I’m in Melbourne. On my way to you star. I think of you more than I should. Call me. Crestview 475.”

They were “exactly what you would want a love telegram” from Sinatra to be like.

“I’m sitting there, like, ‘This is kind of amazing and what do I do with these things?’” Cooper admitted to Colbert.

Watch the interview here:





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‘Barney’ Docuseries Details Drug Rumors, Violent Backlash Over Beloved Children’s Show

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Peacock just released a trailer for its “Barney & Friends” documentary series, “I Love You, You Hate Me” — and it’s brutal.

“Barney & Friends,” a children’s television phenomenon that aired for 14 seasons, from 1992 to 2010, drew the attention of countless children who turned to the lovable purple dinosaur for such life lessons as forgiveness and sharing.

But now the darker side of the amiable Tyrannosaurus rex’s image, including death threats surrounding the show and how the character became a catalyst for hate, is being exposed.

“Why does the world love to hate?” the trailer asks before firing off examples of the visceral backlash against the costumed character over the years.

“Some of the rumors I heard: Barney hides drugs in his tail,” says one man in the promo.

Bob West, a performer who starred as Barney, revealed just how serious the rumors became, eventually leading to wildly unsettling death threats against his family.

“They were violent and explicit, death and dismemberment of my family,” he recalled. “They were going to come and find me, and they were going to kill me.”

The series was directed by Tommy Avallone of “The Bill Murray Stories,” who recently told People about the personal connection he has to the long-running TV dinosaur who captured the hearts of millions of children.

“Barney came out on television when I was just 10 years old, and I admittedly didn’t understand him. As a teenager, for one of my birthdays I asked my aunt to make me a Barney costume, so my friends and I could beat him up on camera,” he told People.

He added, “Several years later, creating this docuseries, it feels good to be on the other side and no longer a Barney hater. Now having children of my own, I understand all the love that went into making the purple dinosaur.”

“I Love You, You Hate Me” will premiere Oct. 12 on Peacock.





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‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ Rapper Coolio Dead At 59

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Rapper Coolio died on Wednesday in Los Angeles, according to reports. He was 59.

The Grammy winner was found dead in the bathroom of a friend’s house, TMZ reported.

According to TMZ, the rapper, record producer and actor, whose legal name was Artis Leon Ivey Jr., was visiting a friend Wednesday afternoon and went to the bathroom. After staying inside for an extended period, the friend went inside and found him on the floor.

Coolio’s manager, Jarez Posey, confirmed the rapper’s death to Rolling Stone but did not provide further details.

The friend reportedly called EMTs, who arrived and pronounced the musician dead on the scene from what they suspected was cardiac arrest. An official cause of death has not been stated.

A Los Angeles Police Department spokesperson said Wednesday evening that the department was conducting a death investigation at an address in the West Adams neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles but could not disclose the identity of the deceased.

The death did not appear suspicious, and the case was handed over to the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, the spokesperson said.

Coolio, a Los Angeles area native, is best known for his 1995 Grammy-winning hit, “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which topped the U.S. charts that year and remains one of the bestselling singles of all time. (Listen below).

The song was featured in the 1995 film “Dangerous Minds” but was not eligible for an Oscar nomination because of its use of sampling and reworked material. It won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance.

Notable Deaths In 2022





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Chloë Grace Moretz Became A ‘Recluse’ After Viral Body-Shaming ‘Family Guy’ Meme

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Few young actors have been as consistently booked and busy as Chloë Grace Moretz, who’s appeared in more than 50 films since her breakout role in the “Kick Ass” franchise.

But growing up in the public eye came with a major cost for the 25-year-old star, who said that a “horrific” viral meme comparing an edited paparazzi shot to a “Family Guy” character drove her to become a “recluse.”

“I’ve actually never really talked about this, but there was one meme that really affected me, of me walking into a hotel with a pizza box in my hand,” Moretz shared in a recent Hunger magazine profile. “And this photo got manipulated into a character from ‘Family Guy’ with the long legs and the short torso, and it was one of the most widespread memes at the time.”

Moretz, who’s opened up about being body-shamed throughout her career, said her pain was entirely dismissed by someone who told her to “shut the fuck up” when the meme first surfaced.

Chloë Grace Moretz attends a Louis Vuitton fashion show in 2022.

Emma McIntyre via Getty Images

“I just remember sitting there and thinking, my body is being used as a joke and it’s something that I can’t change about who I am, and it is being posted all over Instagram,” she continued. “To this day, when I see that meme, it’s something very hard for me to overcome.”

The experience left her feeling “super self-conscious” and “kind of sad,” especially when it came to going out for public appearances and red carpets.

While Moretz has continued to appear on-screen in recent years in a handful of projects, including “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising,” the 2018 “Suspiria” remake and the LGBTQ drama “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” she “basically became a recluse” in her own life.

“It was great because I got away from the photographers and I was able to be myself, and to have so many experiences that people didn’t photograph, but at the same time it made me severely anxious when I was photographed,” she told the outlet. “My heart rate would rise and I would hyperventilate.”

With therapy and a much-needed career break, Moretz has begun to process her own “self-loathing” and the “jarring shift in my consciousness” about the attention her body has received.

Back in 2016, Moretz dropped out of all her future film roles, including a live-action reimagining of “The Little Mermaid,” to “reassess who I am and find myself within my roles again,” she said at the time.

But she’s back on-screen in a major way with Amazon’s upcoming sci-fi series “The Peripheral” from “Westworld” creators Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.

“To say that these past two years have been transformative is an understatement, to say the least,” Moretz said about her new perspective. “I’m a very different girl than I was. I feel like a woman now.”





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Sarah Jessica Parker Shows Off Her Twin Daughters In Rare Family Appearance

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Marion Broderick and Tabitha Broderick, 13, made a somewhat rare public appearance with their famous parents at the premiere of Parker’s new film “Hocus Pocus 2” in New York Tuesday.

They appear to have inherited their mom’s flair for fashion, wearing heels from her SJP Collection for the event, E! noted.

Here’s one with just Mom.

The last time the girls made a major public appearance with their parents was for Parker and Broderick’s premiere of “Plaza Suite” on Broadway back in March. That time they showed up with their 19-year-old brother James Wilkie Broderick.

The “Sex and the City” star mostly keeps her family off her Instagram account, but remarked on her children and the passage of time last fall. In a personal, almost-poetic post, Parker shared backshots of her kids departing and wrote:

“In the span of 7 days. One crosses the threshold into his freshman year of college. The other 2 into 7th grade. The house is different. We are different. They need us more. And far less. So many know. Gutted at the time passed. Passing. Exhilarated by the possibilities that await them.
The love. The love. The love.”

Parker applied the same bittersweet perspective in 2019, with a shot of her son walking away from the camera as school began.

“11th grade,” she wrote. “No longer able to capture in the center of the frame. Because they are off. But always captures the center of my heart.”





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‘Chicago Med’ Star Marlyne Barrett Reveals Cancer After Football-Sized Tumor Removed

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Marlyne Barrett, who plays nurse Maggie Lockwood on the NBC drama “Chicago Med,” revealed she has cancer and is facing her third round of chemotherapy, People reported Tuesday.

The 44-year-old star said she’s determined to keep working and has had her costumes specially fitted to accommodate the mass in her abdomen.

“Work brings me a lot of joy right now,” Barrett told People. “It brings me a lot of reprieve to think about something other than, ‘When is my next chemo shift?’ and ‘How am I going to hug my children?’”

Marlyne Barrett (with Nick Gehlfuss) on “Chicago Med.”

Doctors in July found a football-sized tumor on Barrett’s uterus and left ovary. She underwent “aggressive” chemotherapy and a hysterectomy, the magazine noted.

The former “Wire” semi-regular, who’s married to the Rev. Gavin Barrett, said she preemptively shaved her head in front of her 11-month-old twins to strip the chemo of its negative power. (She posted an uncaptioned photo of herself without hair on Tuesday, along with a picture of the People article on Instagram.)

Marlyne Barrett attends the Monte Carlo TV Festival in June 2022.
Marlyne Barrett attends the Monte Carlo TV Festival in June 2022.

Stephane Cardinale – Corbis via Getty Images

Barrett has continued to work, telling People she starts an hour earlier, naps and takes days off when necessary.

Barrett, whose “Chicago Med” character faced breast cancer in the 2019 season, said her real-life illness has proved overwhelming at times.

“I have a wave of emotion that comes,” she said. “But it’s OK not to have it all together. You can’t tangibly hold onto fear. But I’m holding onto faith.”

HuffPost has reached out to “Chicago Med” and Barrett through the network’s publicity department for further comment.





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Ryan Reynolds Teases Hugh Jackman’s Return As Wolverine In ‘Deadpool 3’

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It’s official. Hugh Jackman is set to reprise his role as Wolverine in the upcoming “Deadpool 3” film.

In typical Ryan Reynolds fashion, the actor broke the internet with a snarky teaser video about the return of the rapid-healing mutant with a hot-tempered attitude in the third installment of the Deadpool franchise.

“Hey everyone, we’re extremely sad to have missed D23, but we’ve been working very hard on the next Deadpool film for a good long while now,” Reynolds says in the Instagram clip.

The 45-year-old then explains that, although they’ve been working on the film for a long time now, they’ve hit a snag and are completely out of ideas on how to invigorate the mercenary for the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

“I’ve had to really search my soul on this one. His first appearance in the MCU obviously needs to feel special. We need to stay true to the character, find new depth, motivation, meaning. Every Deadpool needs to stand out and stand apart.”

Reynolds adds, “It’s been an incredible challenge that has forced me to reach down deep inside. And I … I have nothing. Yeah, just completely empty up here. And terrifying. But we did have one idea.”

Jackman then appears in the background of the frame, snacking on what seems to be an apple.

“Hey, Hugh, you want to play Wolverine one more time?” Reynolds asks as Jackman walks by.

Jackman, 53, allegedly retired the Wolverine role with 2017′s “Logan,” the final film in the Wolverine trilogy, after playing the no-nonsense character several times throughout the X-Men franchise.

“Yeah, sure, Ryan,” he replies, walking upstairs.

Reynolds first starred as Wade Wilson (Deadpool) in the 2009 Fox/Marvel movie “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” in which he squared off against Jackman’s Wolverine character.

“Deadpool” is one of several comic-book properties that Disney acquired when it bought 20th Century Fox in 2019.

“Deadpool 3” is set to hit theaters on Sept. 6, 2024.

The R-rated franchise has seen massive success among fans. Both “Deadpool” and “Deadpool 2″ scored big at the box office, with the films raking in more than $780 million each globally.





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