No news is good news. So naturally there's a lot of news about Donald Trump.
That's hardly noteworthy, for this hurricane of chutzpah has been adept at scoring headlines for decades. What's remarkable now is how strongly his campaign for the Presidency is resonating with the public, and what that says about the power of marketing.
His quest seemed, at least initially, to be merely a self-promotion scheme, more about refreshing his own brand, making it, rather than the country, "great again." And this dealmaker extraordinaire has, shrewdly, done it on the cheap -- hey, why bother with a super PAC when you’ve got eager media companies footing the bill.
Trump is a past master at this game. “One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better,” Trump said in “The Art of the Deal,” the bestseller that first brought him to national attention. “The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”
Trump takes pride in manipulating more than just the media. “I play to people’s fantasies," his book states. “People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do... People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular."
Spewing insults and making wild, unsupported assertions may demand immediate attention, but did Trump really start his campaign thinking he could govern this way, should he make it to the end? Perhaps he thinks he can simply disavow his incendiary statements later and repackage himself. Certainly social media has eroded the absolute power of corporate media and has allowed any of us to market our own truth. But it seems almost delusional to think that life operates like an advertising campaign where reality is whatever you say it is. After all, the democratization of media works both ways -- it's both freeing and confining; we can't escape our past deeds and words.
In the meantime, Trump has been able to market himself as toughness personified, the avatar of politically incorrect truths: No-More-Mr.-Nice-Guy Goes to Washington. His followers don't demand details about how exactly he would deliver on his promises.
If it's surprising how well this has played, it shouldn't be. Trumpism is a force because our political marketplace has been warped by years of extreme legislative obstructionism and cynical encouragement of conspiratorial irrationality (“birtherism" or science denial, anyone?) that have left much of the electorate bitter, marginalized, and looking for a strongman fixer who pretends to be as an angry as they are. The mistrusted insiders -- the GOP establishment of corporatists, legislators, pundits, moralizers, and donors -- can't control the populist fury they helped stoke in order to stymie the hated Democrats. And opportunists, smelling a good deal for themselves, will seek to reap the benefit.
Schmaltz is a Yiddish term for rendered chicken fat. It doesn’t sound all that appetizing, so calling something “schmaltzy” (or its goy cousin, “cheesy”) is hardly a compliment. It means gooey sentimentalism, laid on thick.
But don’t turn up your nose too quickly -- smeared around on the right occasion, schmaltz can make life more tasty. Case in point, Barry Manilow (né Pincus). The strobe-light glitz of his shows, his gauzy tours down memory lane, his “dream duets” with recorded dead celebrities: all orchestrated to provide comfort to his aging Fanilows. They eat it up, then beg for more with their frantically waving glow sticks.
And why shouldn’t they? Manilow may not write the songs that make the whole world sing, but close enough. He is one of those singular talents who by dint of vision, ferocious will, and perseverance have made their own world and populated it with admirers. Manilow has stayed true to his brand (himself) and respects what his customers want; that's integrity.
Yet cultural critics often dismiss Manilow for reheating the same old schtick, something you won't often hear directed toward such senior performers as Mick Jagger (like Manilow, 71 years young) or Tony Bennett (88 and still in good voice). Note that Mick, like Barry, also no longer writes hits, and Tony was never a songwriter.
Manilow soldiers on, moving onstage like a stiff-legged metronome on his 'farewell’ tour dubbed “One Last Time” (yeah, sure…). But maybe he means it; maybe he won’t perform live again in large live venues. His followers certainly weren’t going to take the chance and headed this week to L.A.’s Staples Center to hear the master once again resuscitate such classics as “Even Now” and “Mandy.”
I didn’t grow up a Manilow fan; as far as the ’70s go, I’m more of a Led Zeppelin guy. Yet to my surprise I’ve now been to two of his concerts in the last couple of years (to keep my wife happy -- honestly!). To my greater surprise, I had fun both times.
Manilow was an acquired taste for me, but it’s an undeniable pleasure to be among his devotees and give oneself over to the sing-a-long familiarity he whips up. Like his music or not, you have to admit he's a total pro.
There will always be those who can't stomach an act like Manilow's. I say ignore the churls and cynics and freely make up your own mind, in all matters. If nothing else, embrace people who are authentically themselves, especially if their purpose is to give joy to others. A little schmaltz can be delicious... What could it hurt? Spread the love.