The president of the United States — the leader of the free world, arguably the most powerful person on the planet — has contracted a dangerous virus, and I’m not sure how I should act.
Oh, I know very well what I’m supposed to do. I must choose a side and root for my team from the sidelines. But how boisterous or subdued should I be, how enthusiastic or fretful?
The problem, I realize, is that I’m missing the prompting I’ve gotten used to. I need a cheerleader to give me the proper cues.
Like the ones I got when I briefly revisited the world of televised professional sports, after symbolically boycotting them for the intrusion of politics then actually missing them a little when they were adjourned sine die by the Trump-thumping virus.
Instead of making me endure the empty stadiums and eerie silence, the game enablers provided me with cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands and played recorded crowd noises. It helped me pretend I was watching something important that other people cared about rather than wasting my precious time on a frivolous, meaningless expenditure of testosterone.
And then there is the canned laughter that has been so instrumental in my enjoyment of situation comedies. I have never had to risk being wrong when I decided something was funny enough to be amusing. The chuckle machine showed me the way.
I notice the same laugh track has made an appearance at the return of “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy!” from their COVID-19 hiatus. I do not think an audience is there, since there are no longer panned shots of people applauding. But it sure sounds present and accounted for, snickering or guffawing at the hosts’ witticisms.
The people who are not there. Like the sounds that really aren’t there in the movies I watch on Netflix that I once would have left the house for. The click of high heels on linoleum. The whoosh of wind in the trees. The crackle of flames in the fireplace.
They’re called Foley effects, invented for radio dramas to tickle the imagination. Sound-effects specialists would make bone-injury noises with frozen romaine lettuce, horse-hoof sounds with coconut shells, thunder with thin metal sheets, creaking doors with, well, creaking doors. When sound movies came along, so did the Foley artists to add depth and immediacy to the audio quality.
Reality enhanced. Reality augmented. Reality intensified. We could use that right now.
Donald Trump is, after all, the former reality show star, the first game show host ever elected to the highest office in the land. If we’re all just trapped inside the ultimate reality show, shouldn’t we demand the ultimate thrill ride until the next commercial break?
Trump’s opponents shouldn’t have to settle for merely listening to the talking heads at CNN and MSNBC excoriating the president as a fool and a knave and a heartless, incompetent dictator who should just die as soon as possible, drooling and babbling in a virus-induced fever. There should be angry mob noises at the mere sound of his name, shouts and jeers and taunts and the Foley-created sounds of torches being lit and chains being rattled.
And his supporters shouldn’t be content with just watching Fox News or listening to Rush Limbaugh to hear that Trump is the best president ever, achieving historic, world-shaking successes despite the obstructionist tactics of his evil, unpatriotic opponents who are little better than treasonous scum. There should be the sounds of champagne corks popping and the majestic strains of “Hail to the Chief” as the adoring multitudes prayerfully chant his name.
In the radio show of my mind, I can hear the teeth gnashing, see the hair pulling, feel the cynicism building to a boiling point. Just pick a side, my fans are shouting; tell us who you think is right and wrong. You’re not fooling anyone, my critics are sneering; we know which side you’re really on when you’re not pretending otherwise.
But, gentle readers, during such a grave moment, a potential turning point in our history, shouldn’t we be able to bridge the partisan divide and unite to work together as one great American people on a common purpose with courage and understanding?
Cue wild applause, whistles, stomping of feet, heartfelt laughter and tears of joy, shouts of “Way to go, champ!” and “Atta boy, Leo” as “America the Beautiful” begins to play. Fade to commercial.