Wednesday, October 21, 2015
You're on TV! Don Pablo, El Chapo, The Donald
Never a doubt in 1974: Drugs were on the rise; so were high rises. And Don Pablo knew his world, as did The Donald. But all the time the third actor was opaque, waiting in the wings. Somewhere between the illegal Columbian marijuana fields and behind the towering building glass of New York City, the young upstart took his seat at every meeting, every table, every cocaine tent. The television tube had become a common bond, redacted from view but yet wholly visible by virtue of a corporate wand, and especially so if you had color coming from the tube. In that great undefined space between Medellin, Columbia and New York City, New York, United States, pretty much all of the rest of the masses of livelihoods of western humanity were residing outside the matrix. Finally, unknowingly, they accepted the fact slow learners might be the dream audience for all future shock. Surely it was to come.
Two thousand four hundred miles south of New York City in Medellin, Columbia – about the same distance from New York City where Santana and The Eagles were playing out west, Pablo Escobar was gazing out beyond the mountains of his native Medellin. The world looked like his pretty nickel, and that seemed too easy for the narco-genius who had studied the new traffic and the traffickers, too. On the scale of future business, marijuana was just too heavy, and the return was far too light. The answer, he found, was cocaine. And with it came a whole new class of criminals. He learned about it all with the same fervor that young missionaries study the Bible. And as expected, and so reads the story, his mother loved him so much, so unconditionally. That helped a lot in Catholic Columbia. And at first, so did the "gracias" of many people he favored in Medellin and beyond. In the early days, bandito Don Pablo Escobar gave a lot away, without compunction, almost like his northern counterpart, developer The Donald Trump.
Standing by the door from the back of his fancy 1976 Cadillac limo which sported the NY plate “DJT”, the young Donald Trump – photographed for the New York Times - was definitely on the move. He was learning the game, and armed with the gospel three-line rectitudes from Norman Vincent Peales’ Power of Positive Thinking, he knew it wouldn't take long to be the master at it. Whatever that meant for him or for New York City, he was determined the future would happen his way. He knew building, and buildings. His father had taught him that. Everyone, sometimes, needs somebody.
Like the young Escobar, young Trump loved to throw his money around, as he still does. The finest form of corporate largesse rule the Trump tower suites, as donations to politicians like Bill and Hilary Clinton and the family “foundation” would roll in for decades – this one ostensibly in exchange for a wedding invitation. And yet, in the 1970s, just for banking some cash from either, what lesser developer or politician might have thought it best to measure out exactly what might be extracted for the gifts?
Neither an astute politician nor criminal had to dream much beyond the latest project – a new building, a new drug route, because the new world of instant communications had not yet reared its head. Most politics was still truly local, and the internet was still just an emergency BBS board for ham operators. Who could really make sense of Nixon’s historic resignation, when it created such mass political confusion even as everyone seemed to be simultaneously exhaling and exalting his exit? Most of the political class was mired in the aftermath of Watergate, and not much was made sense from the rest, whether counted from the ranks of Nixon’s silent majority or among Spiro Agnew’s “radic-libs”. Even the boomer musicians had to argue Watergate in song. Neil Young belted out Southern Man and Lynyrd Skynyrd bellowed a harmonious, impious and irresistible chorus of Sweet Home Alabama. Most of the illicit generation, now referred to as "the boomers", (the one which of course followed "the greatest generation") acknowledged they were both pretty damn good songs when accompanied by a joint and a beer.
Back south in Columbia, Pablo Escobar was hard at work, unknowingly pushing himself into history books. He was just that big. By the latter days of his life, saints had already been begotten in holy ceremony in street side capillas and home altars for the recompense of his efforts. Verily, he was a narco who had to have others bury - literally dig and dump - tons of cash to keep it from the government. In a predictable conclusion, Don Pablo could not devise a tunnel or an army of pigeon carriers to take it with him, and his “vida loca” and his place in history books closed abruptly with a forgettable footnote about his violent death.
In a way, as I now look at it from a point southwest of New York erudition and argument, like mountain-dwelling criminals who dream big and never earn more than a lead bullet before any silver shows forth, these high rise developers who start with big visions rarely see their dreams last for long. Most developers forget their dreams hold expiration dates usually made real by courtroom visits, and they die a graceful slow death, but The Donald, the “The Great Exception”, the one who, by a certain belief system, may have inadvertently given a second true face to the current mythology dubbed “American Exceptionalism”, lived on. He lived not only through the 1970s and 1980s; he thrived well beyond it and continues to push himself forward with tweets from his office suite - this time perhaps with a reach far beyond a building (remember, they sometimes fall), right into venerable and sturdy rooms, ones weathered against time, the ones containing the history of American presidential politics. As a multi-billionaire, and even just as one of us, what more could Donald J. Trump ask for?
Even now, it isn't necessary to breathe in the Trump persona to understand what many still regard as just another over-played bit-part courier of historical footnotes. The real interest for now, if only for now, is in the unscripted, off-screen reality show he drags along to the camera and interview - the one I've been waiting for since Jack Kennedy died. In 1962, to ravenous eyes focused on a strange-looking black and white cathode ray tube of not much bigger than an iPad, the “Camelot” President was larger than life.
Also incubated in television’s developing years, Kennedy was a natural born user of it, and the symbiotic growth came concurrent with instructions that few needed to learn (aside from pesky antenna adjustments). But the potency of the tube was not lost on television executives who furiously set to define a new and important psychic numerology behind the new glass curtain of OZ: TV can control the politicians and make money at the same time.
Who would have known it would take over fifty years for the public to figure that out? After all, writer and ex-ad hawker, Jerry Manders had tried to advance a case to scrap television altogether in his 1973 book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, but his comprehensive work missed the elusive targets he intended. The masses of Americans, and by perfectly reasonable extension, humanity itself, were tube-bound. Who would want to think about turning it off when it had just come on? Come on.
The table was set for public consumption for the next half century, and the victuals were served like medicine to the masses. Until 2015. In spite of the nearly biblical proportion of change in the world of communications - perhaps even as fast as a rocket might divert off a set course from an expected trajectory – the control by some Master at OZ-making, that Hollywood airport controller who fell asleep at the switch, allowed the missile to veer off course, again. The event, if we might call it that, has, as if it had a conscious of its own, unwittingly graced Donald with the public with a fond thank you.
So even in spite of the dominatrix in the television debate sets, The Donald has loosened the chains and managed to make the rest of the politicians look like six-inch puppets at the county fair. They look like they’re dancing in the ruins of the American Realm as they debate on the always-on news channels. Trump is jerking the puppet strings at the same time he’s stuffing the Citizens United decision right up the place where the sun will not shine – sitting just above the stool where the puppets scurry-jump to scoop up their campaign cash.
So, 2015, it should be told, has been a bellwether year for Trump, Don Pablo and his contemporary Mexican boxing partner, Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman, but above all, for television and the fourth estate. The biggest challenge for all the aforementioned, minus Pablo of course, remains dead ahead - but not yet to be seen - as it were.
The one-way, no-clicks allowed television industry has already survived a half century of challenges from two-way radio and the internet, so the future may be bright. If new actors of the old cathode ray can play a way to remake the county fair puppets into real life characters once again after the months of Trump destruction, well, politicians and even drug dealers will once again appear a little more like the rest of humanity, with useful ideas of greatness and misfortune and the like.
Perhaps the puppets in pixels will all be mixed, manipulated and melded together for the betterment of all humanity. Who knows? One thing's certain: it's the not so distant challenge which beckons the television executives. They are furiously scratching at the walls right now. It will not be an easy invention, but once done, it will not be the kind you can rush down to the Patent Office.
To be continued.....