Osama Bin Laden is a great villain. For one, he’s a Hollywood villain – in the truest sense of the word. He does/did really awful things like mass murdering 3000 people at a time (and that’s only in the American version), in a creative way (getting others to fly planes into buildings), to fulfill his nefarious agenda (bringing America/the infidels to its knees). He also looks the part. He has/had a really, really, really long beard (and it’s graying), dresses in foreign garb (long white robes and a turban) and speaks in a foreign language with a weird accent (well, whatever it is, it’s not English, right?). Finally, he’s filthy rich – a man of seemingly unlimited means (millions? billions?), who communicates with a terrified public (the world) in unusual ways (taped messages) and does it all despite great and obvious physical limitations (kidney dialysis) that seem to make him even more unstoppable than would seem humanly possible. Even when he is finally discovered after years of eluding the law, it’s the quintessential film coda. It turns out he’s hiding in plain sight in the most clever of places (a mansion-like compound, at least by Pakistani standards) right before our/their eyes.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, is a punch line because, let’s face it, he looks like a punch line. The bad hair weave (or dead Fox on his head, as Jon Stewart puts it); the heavy, almost working class New York accent despite a lifetime of NY society privilege; and the laughing all the way to the bank persona of a television reality show star. Though Trump is rich and presumably doesn’t have to, he joyfully presides over a place (his show) where people scream, fight and pull hair (all under his watchful auspices) until he finally gets to repeat ad nausea his infernal catchphrase, (Dyn-O-Mite) “You’re fired!” year in and year out, for the rest of eternity. Add to this the gaudy, Vegas-like, new money tackiness of his hotels, apartment buildings and, well, pretty much anything else he touches, which, despite his punch line status, comforts the rest of us even further because we know that no matter who much real gold, diamonds and gazillions of dollars he spends on something, his punch line life ensures it all looks and feels to as if it could easily be transplanted into a 1960’s Flamingo Hotel by way of a really bad version of the Dubai or even Hanoi Hilton. Of course, punch lines don’t quite feel that way about themselves, and Trump is no exception. They usually believe they have great taste of which everyone else is envious. Which is, indeed, what makes them punch lines in the first place. Rich ones, but still, punch lines nonetheless.
And then, finally, there’s the hero. Some would even say – the dreaded hero. Barrack Obama is central casting for, well, probably the most boring role in this scenario. Ask a room full of actors and they will tell you – playing the hero is a lot less fun and a lot more difficult than being the villain. Or even the comic relief (nee punch line). Writers innately understand this after penning a few screenplays, TV shows (pilots or episodes) or plays. Because our heroes (traditional ones, at least) must thanklessly carry the burden of the entire story and stay on some sort of moral compass while villains and punch lines and all the rest of the cast are allowed to misbehave outrageously or make us laugh to ridiculous measures. Obama can’t swear, he can’t misspeak, he can barely even sweat (assuming he, indeed, does) or joke around the way he probably wants to. This is because our heroes are tasked with trying to save the world over and over and over again (especially when they star in more than one film, ask Bruce Willis), ensuring their even-handed approach to all of this eventually just gets to be – well – a drag, or at least wearing or grating, even to their most devoted fans. Even when they manage to man up and get it right in a new and exciting chapter (like killing the villain Bin Laden), there are a sizeable number of people/viewers who resent him/them for always somehow coming out of a situation smelling like a rose (how believable is that?) while still vanquishing the fortunes of the (infidels) evildoers, keeping other enemies at bay, and still managing to get the girl (his devoted wife) and remain rich, comfortable and happy (yes, there are his daughters, the press and all those book residuals). Heroes do sometimes fail and get scandalized, but in true Hollywood hero fashion, none of these misfortunes ever seem to really stick (ask Ronald Reagan or his heirs) because the very nature of heroes is that they/he are so damned charming/smart/manipulative, that he/they have the majority, or at least plurality, of the audience forever and perpetually snowed.
Are you still wondering why big, Hollywood movies seem corny or cliché? Well, the next time you do, look around you and consider – does life really imitate art or, as Carrie Fisher’s alter ego Suzanna Vail so ably pondered in “Postcards from the Edge,” is it that you “want life to BE art.”
For just as it’s written people get the governments they deserve, perhaps right now we are getting the art (TV, plays, movies) we deserve – heroes, villains, punch lines and all.