A Slap from Our Ruling Class
For the past month, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the day when something displaces the media’s obsessive, jingoistic coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war, which is being used by the Biden administration to distract from its massive failures on the home front while propagandizing already struggling Americans into being willing to pay still more for gasoline and to send many billions in military and other aid to escalate a foreign conflict and risk World War III. Never did I imagine, however, that the news item that would manage to elbow Ukraine coverage aside for a good week would be a tawdry tale of two boors, one telling a distasteful joke about the other’s balding spouse and the other responding with a public slap—and with this entire unsavory scene unfolding at an insular celebrity awards show fewer and fewer of us care to watch.
Some days later, during a discussion featuring “Iron Mike” Tyson and “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair, whom many consider the greatest pro wrestler of all time, Flair opined that the slap was “a work,” the pro wrestling term for wrestlers engaging in staged, for-profit conflict and violence, as opposed to their real-life analogues. Flair’s reasoning, befitting a prime mover in a mode of entertainment in which all conflict was resolved through ritualized violence, was that a man truly aggrieved by a slight leveled at a spouse dishes out a punch, not a slap. Tyson, who likewise knows a thing or two about punches, added that it would be more than one punch too, though I could not imagine that, after a first punch connects, Tyson would ever need a follow-up. The obvious motive for any fakery in the delivery of “the Slap,” of course, would be a desire to drive up the Oscars’ sagging ratings.
Here is the irony: While contemporary pro wrestling bears little resemblance to its glory days, when many of us took it at face value, the rest of our society bears more and more of a resemblance to old-time pro wrestling. Everyone today knows that pro wrestling is “a work.” But when it comes to the rest of our social and political existence in 2022, the antics of these Hollywood hooligans included, fewer and fewer of us can be sure of anything. While Will Smith’s persona, until his recent foray into fisticuffs, was that of a suave, smiling, nice-guy everyman, we should not forget that he got his start in the world of hip hop, a culture in which, for many performers (albeit not his particular duo), the line between violent lyrics and real-life violence is often crossed. Beyond hip hop, celebrities as a class often straddle the boundary between fantasy and reality. They adopt larger-than-life personas—increasingly those of superheroes—on screen, but they also behave like larger-than-life or, at least, holier-than-thou characters in their off-screen lives.
Back in the days when the fact that pro wrestling worked off of pre-written storylines and fixed outcomes was not widely known, wrestlers, unlike contemporary celebrities, at least had the excuse of needing to keep up appearances. Thus, in order to avoid cluing in the general public, in-ring heroes, even in their private lives, were never to be seen in the company of in-ring villains, combatants had to be genuinely tough enough to hold their own against incensed fans who got carried away, and it made sense for a flashy, self-proclaimed “limousine-riding, jet-flying, kiss-stealing, wheelin’ n’ dealin’ son of a gun” like Ric Flair to portray a character who was just an extension of his real-life self. Unlike those pro wrestlers of yore, who were relieved of the burden of living out their fictions by social media’s ability to expose every behind-the-scenes moment, Hollywood celebrities, as a result of those same forces, began to feel added pressure to live up to the hype. Reality T.V. had already blurred the line between real and fictional, between public and private, but social media took it all to a whole new level.
Even as their every action became the subject of public scrutiny, celebrities let the attention go to their heads. They concluded that the fact that they had gotten to the top of their profession—even if often largely by virtue of their looks and their connections—meant, for some reason, that not only their antics, their garments, their exposed flesh, and their sundry hitchings, un-hitchings, feuds, faux pas and foibles, but also their generally naïve, ill-informed, and herd-minded political prejudices were important and of intense interest to the masses, in a way they would never be if they were the views of those who had gotten to the top of other professions, such as accounting or engineering. The celebrities were wrong to believe we were interested in their political pronouncements, of course. There are many reasons why we typically gravitate to the stars, but their intellects are nowhere near the top of that list. As such, when awards shows increasingly got hijacked and turned into showcases for celebrities to shriek their shrill and out-of-touch conceptions of social justice at the rest of us, we tuned out. What we wanted from these people was a bit of entertainment and escapism from our daily grinds, not political screeching and preaching.
The simultaneous all-too-realness and utter unreality of the Slap and its aftermath—the surreal standing ovation for the perpetrator by the same people who purport to serve as our barometers of appropriate political actions and reactions, the behind-the-scenes gossip about who said what to whom after the Slap went down and so on—pushed highfalutin politics aside and gave us back the kind of primal “dumpster fire” mode of entertainment we are now accustomed to expect when a bunch of big celebrity egos pack a room. When the black tie Oscars gala turned into something midway between an old no-holds-barred episode of Jerry Springer and pro wrestling, we got to confirm that, tuxes, evening gowns, big mouths, and big bank accounts notwithstanding, these clowns are exactly who we thought they were and no better—and possibly, on account of their preening and pretensions, even worse—than the rest of us.
But, more than all that, the Slap also captured our larger loss of trust in the unmediated reality of our everyday lives—whether, that is, anything and everything we are seeing is just someone’s “work,” a scripted drama deployed in our midst to serve some powerful actor’s more or less Machiavellian purposes. With technologies available to doctor any image or video to generate “deepfakes” barely distinguishable from depictions of real events, getting to the bottom of things is and will continue to be a whole lot harder than exposing second-rate con jobs by the Jussie Smollets of this world. Where media sources were once seen as objective and reliable, our current media, as though determined to make President Trump’s charge of “fake news” stick, appear to have foresworn any pretense to objectivity. We’ve noticed. Only 7 percent of us trust the media today. When the very publications that wish to portray themselves as trustworthy voices of authority omit all mention of the infamous Hunter Biden laptop story during a pivotal moment in the 2020 presidential election or baselessly call it “Russian disinformation” but, a year and a half down the road, admit it was actually real after all, or when we are told by these same organizations that the Covid lab leak story is a crazy conspiracy theory, only for them to acknowledge, much later, that the theory is far more credible than originally believed, we begin to entertain doubts, some possibly sensible and others truly nutty, upon any number of pertinent questions confronting us today:
- Was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine intentionally provoked by the Biden administration because Europe had become too dependent on Russian oil, so the U.S. first baited Putin to invade by crossing his red-line of drawing Ukraine into NATO and then led the way in imposing a flurry of massive and unprecedented sanctions to get Europe to end its dependence on Russian gas and come to buy oil from the U.S. instead?
- Was the January 6 storming of the Capitol a false flag operation, in which the Capitol was intentionally left virtually undefended so that the insurrectionists could have easy access and so that these events could then be heralded by “Deep State” and Democrat Party operatives as constituting a viable threat to democracy that required full-scale mobilization against and demonization of former President Donald Trump and his disruptive populist movement?
- Was the Covid virus accidentally leaked from a lab? Was it, more than that, a full-on “plandemic” under cover of which could be set the stage for the installment of a social credit system and the reassertion of greater control over populaces that were beginning to take matters into their own hands and undermining the power-and-wealth-hoarding agendas of global elites? Are the vaccines causing a massive number of serious side effects that are being concealed or ignored by governments, the media and the scientific establishment, all of which are in league with or profiting directly or indirectly from Big Pharma?
- Did Big Media and Big Tech do everything in their power to ensure that Joe Biden won the 2020 Presidential election? Was the news that the Covid vaccine had been successfully developed as a result of President Trump’s “Operation Warp Speed” deliberately withheld until just after the voting in the election was over and done with? Was the election, in fact, stolen as a result of widespread voter fraud?
- Are we living in a nation shot through to the root with white supremacy, and are nearly all our most powerful institutions perpetuators of systemic racism that continues to be the principal cause of black Americans’ comparative underachievement in so many walks of life?
- Is there anything to the various claims of QAnon?
This, of course, is just a small sampling of some of the theories circulating widely in our midst, some, as I said, credible, and others outlandish. Among these, I would venture to say, the view that the Slap was a staged, desperate bid for ratings is neither the most believable nor the most plainly delusional. What it is, however, is emblematic of our current moment. It is a parable that points to our larger inability to communicate with one another in a manner that is constructive, compelling, or even civilized. Our social elites stand exposed as a culture of trashy celebrities and strident political hacks using mantles like “progress,” “social justice,” “science,” or “truth” in attempts to bludgeon or gaslight us into submission. They talk at us in screeds, taunt each other with grade-school insults, respond to provocations with violence, rise in rousing applause for perpetrators, and then expect us to nod along with deference and admiration.
But when we are presented with a society that increasingly resembles a pro wrestling contest writ large, we will not nod along. We will do, rather, exactly what the audience for old-time wrestling always did: cheer and jeer, boo, hoot and holler, chant slogans and imprecations, hoist up crass placards and, on occasion, jump the barricades separating combatants from spectators in the stands to get in on the action ourselves.
Whether the Slap is a “work” or a genuine public unraveling is beside the point. Either way, it is a slap in the face for all of us, a wake-up call confronting us with the stark reality of the grotesque clown show our society has become. America, this is your ruling class!, that wake-up call goes. Sooner or later, they will slap enough of us out of our stupor that we will no longer be content to turn the other cheek. We will rise up and reclaim our truth, our beauty, our culture, and our nation.
Alexander Zubatov is a practicing attorney specializing in general commercial litigation. He is also a practicing writer specializing in general non-commercial poetry, fiction, essays, and polemics that have been featured in a wide variety of publications. He lives in the belly of the beast in New York, New York. He can be found on Twitter @Zoobahtov.