Tomi Lahren, Trevor Noah, And The Futility Of Modern Discourse
In an article on the Ringer about the future of football, writers Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell talked about what they called the “second conversation” of sports. The generic conversation about a sport deals with the basics, such as which teams won the other night or which player should win MVP, but the second conversation is more nuanced and doesn’t necessitate being a sports fan to engage in. For example, what is the future of football now that we know so much about concussions? This theory of the “second conversation” can be expanded to pretty much any topic: for movies, it may be the painful and incessant torrential downpour of sequels, remakes, and superhero movies. For music, when will EDP mercifully go away?
For social media, the second conversation has morphed rapidly as we have tried to understand it and its effects on us. The current one that seems to be popular now is the issue of fake news and the effects of “social media bubbles” on the 2016 election. Mark Zuckerberg and the engineers of Facebook clearly had no clue as to what the consequences would be when they first began their venture, and still to this day naively believe there are none. The fact is that social media has become a far more effective propaganda tool than cable television ever could be. Algorithms that determine what you see on your news feed curate it based on websites you’ve visited or posts you’ve liked. Even Google, which most people assume looks the same for everyone, indulges in personalized searches. The end result is a great medium for selling products, as well as the emergence of dangerously polarized online communities. Before if you were extreme in your views, it wouldn’t take long to be tempered by the people you interact with. Now, we all suddenly have access to a literally endless whirlpool of self-validation and positive reinforcement that is making us more hard-lined in our views than ever before. Think O’Reilly is being too soft on the Black Lives Matter movement? No problem! You’re just a few taps away from crazed bloggers who will type tirelessly to reassure you that you aren’t crazy. Why rethink your values and opinions when it’s so much easier to just find people who agree with the ones you already have?
Different worlds of the holy Interweb do occasionally meet in person though, and the latest example that took us by storm was the Trevor Noah interview with Tomi Lahren. Lahren, a fiercely right-wing political commentator with undeniable media talent, began hosting her immensely popular show Tomi when she was only 22 years old. On Facebook, her monologues regularly get well over a million views, with some reaching as high as 60 million. In terms of sheer numbers, it’s safe to say she is torching many of her peers on cable TV, and yet, the fact that I never even knew she existed until Noah himself covered her in a segment two months ago only underscores yet again how dangerously polarized the Internet has become.
However, what matters to me isn’t the interview itself, but the response. The headlines flooded the news feeds immediately with a familiar trope that political discourse in the modern technological age seems to inspire. Trevor Noah destroys Tomi Lahren. Tomi Lahren destroys Trevor Noah. Clips of the interview were purposefully selected depending on which side you represented. Some developed their own completely arbitrary scoring systems and then pretended like their self-appointed winner was not the same person they had planned it to be before even watching the interview itself. Honestly, how did we manage to turn what was supposed to be an honest conversation into SportsCenter? Sports used to be an escape for simplicity to a world that appealed to our youthful narratives of heroes and villains, a place where there was a winner and a loser, and the final say was determined by a score, nothing else (well, at least most of the time). A dialogue does not belong in this same realm, no matter how hard we are currently trying to make it be.
I agreed with everything Noah said in the interview, but this was no victory. Winning was never even part of the original question; Lahren’s vitriolic dismissiveness towards the struggles of minorities made sure of that. The stakes were much higher than “winning” or “losing”, yet in the minds of everyone watching the interview, that’s what it was reduced to. Lahren did not flinch in the slightest after making her repugnantly ignorant comparisons of the Black Lives Matter movement with the KKK, no matter how well constructed Noah’s counterarguments were. To consider the other side’s perspective for even a second was to give an inch, and that was unacceptable because inches can lose you the Super Bowl, dammit.
Afterwards, Noah and Lahren took all the steps to convince us that what took place was the genuine dialogue that we would never allow it to be. They tweeted some nice things to each other, and told us to be nice also. They were even spotted that same night having drinks at a hotel bar together, and it was captured in a hopeful photograph that illustrated a world where maybe, no matter what we all believe, we all have the capacity to set our differences aside and only then reach some possible understanding.
On her show the next day, Lahren began her infamous Final Thoughts segment by congratulating herself for having “the balls” to go to the Daily Show. She casually says Noah is a good guy, and then immediately undercuts her own compliment by blasting him for likening her to a “racist uncle” before the interview. She spent the rest of the video lashing out against what she viewed as the hypocrisy of liberal media and lamenting how unfairly depicted she is because of her views. It is a thoroughly depressing video to experience for the person who believed in the farce of this honest dialogue. The first natural instinct for any human being hoping for optimism may be, “So none of that affected her at all?” To those people,I say it’s possible it did. I also say that it doesn’t matter. Lahren has tapped into a narrative that her people are hungry for, and to feed them anything but that would be to toss them to the desert to starve, and they will gladly abandon her to find another if that time ever comes. Lahren will walk into the studio tomorrow and get angry again about something, it doesn’t matter what, then her starving supporters will get angry and her starving opposers will get angry. Hey Tomi, you just won the Super Bowl! What are you going to do next?