Roger Stone, Nixon and the Age of Celebrity

I think that outward, deliberate assholishness, the kind that Roger Stone ostensibly displays in an attempt to shock an audience (Nixon tattoo?) and cement his ‘notoriety’ — a label that he’d wear with pride – really betrays some deep internal hurt and insecurity. In normal times, such need for attention, and as a way to deal with a trauma, would lead one to become an actor or a comedian. But being notorious and being talented are two different things. In today’s Hollywood a propensity for a wide-eyed affectation on camera will not cut it: it’s all about Method acting, and Method acting is hard in a way that it requires a degree of self-negation — an impossible demand in the age of celebrity.

But lo! Who needs Hollywood when there’s plenty of other venues that welcome the type. The B-rated actors wannabes can sharpen their showmanship skills in the world of TV punditry or in the current Administration. For a while it worked like magic: The affect and the histrionics of the talking head brought an audience in a win-win for both the platform and the actor. But as with any fad, the novelty shock value wore off and the audience became gradually immune to more and more outrage, even as the performance often veered into the grotesque in order to keep the eyeballs engaged. (Like, who will want to watch Kellyanne Conway now? At this point she’s just boring.)

And that is where it becomes scary for the performer. That future book, the twitter following, or a speaking tour on a conservative circuit becomes more problematic when the audience is not engaged anymore. One stares at the possibility of ending up old, alone and poor.

Roger Stone himself, while on the steps of the court, waving a Nixonian victory sign, acknowledged this sad fact, declaring that “the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.” That’s the main difference with the crooks of today and the crooks of old. In 1970s no one from Nixon’s entourage wanted the attention that Trump’s entourage craves; they wanted everything to be quiet.

And that encapsulates the desideratum of the modern right: it’s a business selling a product in need of salesmen. When the product – fear – doesn’t change in decades, the salesmen have to get more and more creative. And at this point we’ve seen everything: Tucker defending Nazis, Jeanine Pirro justifying getting stolen info from the Russians, Kellyanne outright lying about easily verifiable facts, Sarah Sanders tweeting a deliberately doctored video, Sam Nunberg showing up drunk for an interview, and Stone doing a Nixon (itself a pathetic parody, a second time farce).

But celebrity is also a sword by which one dies. Once they’ve run out of tricks, once the only avenue to hold everyone’s attention has been reduced to shitting on a carpet and Instagramming it, they will become a subject to a punishment that neither courts nor law enforcement can ever top: oblivion.

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2 thoughts on “Roger Stone, Nixon and the Age of Celebrity

  1. I’m pretty sure many of these people wouldn’t think of oblivion as a punishment – if only because the “oblivion” would usually mean a well-paid “consultant” or “advisor” position somewhere in the cash-rich universe of conservative think tanks and lobbying groups.

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