Last week, the world was an unstable place in need of serious attention from the US president. America’s proposed steel tariffs had become explosively controversial. Russia was under fire for “laundering” illicit North Korean coal exports. China’s National People’s Congress met to introduce a gigantic constitutional change permitting a Mao-style life presidency – and Donald Trump tweeted: “Lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY. Problem is, we don’t have Stars anymore – except your President (just kidding, of course)!”
That little faux-modest crack at the end: was that the president being cheerfully magnanimous in his zeitgeist victory? Could he simply be right? Is Donald J Trump, in all his gurning panto villainy and unrepentant, unbecoming enthusiasm for his own prestige, the modern world’s single authentic star? The celebrity-in-chief?
The Oscars’ audience-viewing figure of 26.5m was indeed a record low, down 20% on last year. As far as Donald sees it, all those woke stars just got the beaming smiles wiped off their faces – a bunch of complacent, overpublicised liberals irrelevant to the vast swathes of ordinary Americans who put him in the White House. Never mind Wall Street v Main Street – how about Rodeo Drive v Main Street?
Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel hit back hard with the obvious point: “Thanks, lowest rated President in HISTORY.” Trump has terrible poll numbers: approval ratings at the lowest level for any modern president at this point in his first term. Kimmel also made the point that ratings for big TV events generally are way down since the invention of Netflix, and perhaps since the internet itself. The idea of people all getting together and devotedly watching the Oscars is old-fashioned. Even the people watching would have been double-, even triple-screening, with their smartphones and tablets on the couch next to them: tweeting gags and checking everyone else’s. Or they didn’t have a TV on at all while it was happening. They read a panoply of blogs and vlogs and celebrity media that were unavailable 10 years ago. And people will be catching up on YouTube: Gary Oldman’s acceptance speech has got 1.2m views and counting.