Why reality TV and the internet are to blame for Donald Trump

Large swathes of Americans asked themselves "what do I want to watch for the next four years", argues Droga5 London's chief creative officer.

America has spoken: Donald J Trump Esquire has been voted in as the US president-elect. 

But despite all the world expressing their "shock" today at the result, no one should really be surprised.

While protesters take to the streets in cities across the US, they are wasting their energy. 

This was never not going to happen.

What I find particularly striking in the post-mortem is how everyone seems to be getting the "why" wrong in an attempt to understand what could've been done differently.

Here's the thing:

Out-of-work proletariats don’t get Trump elected.

Racists don’t get Trump elected.

A shrinking white majority humbled after eight years of a black president don’t get Trump elected.

The reality is, this outcome was inevitable.

The reason Donald Trump did so well in spite of his shortcomings is down to one thing.

Large swathes of the American people – the same people who watch The Big Bang Theory, open an Avengers movie to the tune of $400m and record every permutation of The Real Housewives of XYZ –looked at their choices and asked themselves a simple question: "What do I want to watch for the next four years?"

So how did we get here?

I believe there was a cultural triangulation that laid the groundwork for this inevitable turn of events to happen. And when I say "inevitable" I only mean the result of the election was preordained based on the candidates chosen to represent both parties. 

1. British-born, LA-based TV producer Mark Burnett and the rise of reality TV

It’s easy to blame Mr  Burnett as he gave Trump a platform and a voice on The Apprentice and took him to the next level of fame, but his influence dates back even further.

In 1999, Burnett introduced Survivor to the American public and in doing so, created a phenomenon that spawned a thousand imitators and made reality television a viable force in home entertainment. 

What that consequently did was acclimatise people to the concept of real life as entertainment. Reality television, of course, isn’t reality, but a constructed version of reality. Nevertheless, it created an environment whereby we accepted behaviours and practices in our own reality as ‘normal’ when beforehand, we would have thought such behaviour surreal or bizarre. Things that may have once seemed absurd were normalised.

2. Around this time, the internet became a force to be reckoned with

Faster download speeds, better browsing experiences and entertainment on tap set the tone for the next decade.

We grew accustomed to constant distraction. Smart phones further served to keep us occupied without interruption, to the point that downtime became wasted time. Switching off became a cultural stigma. We keep our devices by our bedside and the world is filled with more content than we could possibly consume in several lifetimes. Life is entertainment.

3. Social media and the rise of curated content

In an attempt to optimise our entertainment experiences, algorithms determined what we liked to look at, read about, consume and who we liked to hear from. Instead of our purview being an amalgam of what we like and what the world randomly offers up to us, we became more siloed, our tastes and opinions being reinforced by more of the same and validated by like-minded individuals.

The world stops outside of our frame of vision.

I feel like this is why we are where we are. Sure, there are other circumstances at play but you don’t get close to 60 million votes because that many people are disenfranchised and mad at the system.

Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but an opponent with zero electoral experience or know-how doesn’t come within 200,000 votes unless they’ve got a selling point. He’s an entertainer. He knows how to entertain. It just so happens the role he chose to inhabit was that of  "political candidate".

One of the most truthful accurate things Trump said last week: "I didn’t have to bring J-Lo or Jay Z – the only way she [Clinton] gets anybody. I am here all by myself. Just me – no guitar, no piano, no nothing." And he's right. He's the show.

You don’t buy a ticket to a concert for the supporting acts.

David Kolbusz is the chief creative officer at Droga5 London.

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