It’s not the first time it’s happened, but it has to be the most bizarre.
Have you ever been scrolling through Facebook or flipping through the channels and see something that makes you stop and ask: “Is that real?”
And then think, “that can’t be real.”
In the era of President Donald Trump, Russian misinformation and Twitter bots spewing volumes of toxic fake facts, it’s good policy to be skeptical of what you see and hear. The satirical newspaper, The Onion – a great source for laughs – has trouble competing with reality.
If you see a headline, “Trump goes after Pelosi’s teeth as the House gears up for impeachment vote,” and it doesn’t make you do a double take, you might be too cynical even for your own good.
Turns out that one’s real and joins the long list of crazy stuff the president says and does. Maybe we’ve reached the point in the Trump administration when there is nothing so outlandish as to not be real.
And that brings me to “Trumpy Bear” and two ideas: parody is dead and nothing is so outlandish that it can’t be true.
If you haven’t seen the TV ads for Trumpy Bear, you’ve really missed out.
Trumpy Bear is a stuffed bear – it’s stuffed with a removable American flag blanket (really) – with the famous quaffed hairstyle of President Trump.
The commercial tells you to find the secret zipper and pull out the blanket. “Then wrap yourself in the red, white in blue.” It appeals to the consumer to show your patriotism and display Trumpy Bear on Flag Day or other American holidays.
A senior, cuddling with the toy, says, “God bless America, and God bless Trumpy Bear.”
Trumpy Bear rides a motorcycle with a former Marine. Another Trumpy Bear fan takes the bear to the golf course with him. “When I ride with Trumpy Bear, he makes my golf game great again.”
For just two payments of $19.95, Trumpy Bear can be yours and just in time for Christmas.
I saw the ad on late night TV on a channel in the triple digits – far from prime time and the typical channels where you would expect a political ad. I was convinced that it was a joke. It was over-the-top crazy and had to be a parody aimed squarely at Trump and his most ardent supporters.
It is not. Trumpy Bear is real.
Snopes.com, the fact check website, dug in: “We have received several enquiries from readers about whether Trumpy Bear is a real product or — as one reader described it — just ‘great satire.’ Trumpy Bear is real. The commercial is real, not a spoof.”
Trumpy Bear is the first and won’t be the last bizarro product that’s advertised direct to consumers on TV. And let’s not read too much into a company that dreamed up a great gimmick.
But this particular product leads me to a larger point. Two people can look at the two-minute ad for Trumpy Bear and see entirely different things. I see a joke, an effort to make fun of the president and poke at his most ardent supporters who seem to believe every lie that comes out of his mouth. For at least some Trump supporters who have purchased the toy, they’re happy to spend $40 on a bear that lets them literally wrap themselves in the American flag.
As we move toward the impeachment of the president and the 2020 election year, America is not simply divided, though that’s true. We cannot agree even on the things that we see with our very own eyes. We see what we want to see.
As Jon Allsop wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review talking about the dynamic of the media coverage of impeachment, “Democrats, for the most part, are engaging with the factual record; Republicans, for the most part, are not. These positions are manifestly not equivalent. Treating them as such does not serve any useful concept of fairness; instead, it rebounds clearly to the advantage of the one side (Republicans) for whom nonsense being taken seriously is a victory in itself.”
Our politics has become unmoored from reality. The entire country is being gaslit by the Republican Party and by a president who are content to destroy the very notion of truth in pursuit of political power.
And on many people, it’s working.
I see Trumpy Bear as an over the top joke. But across America, that bear with the blond hair, the American flag stuffed inside is going to be under a lot of Christmas trees with no irony intended.
Political parody is dead, buried in 2019. Rest in peace. Will democracy follow?