Thirty-five years ago there was only one real soap-opera in town, only one soap that was being talking about: Dallas.
Dallas was the story of a bad boy oilman – JR Ewing, played with roguish charm by Larry Hagman, and even though he shafted every single person he came across, from wife to lovers and family, we were always gagging to know what happened next.
When JR got shot in 1980 it seemed to be front page news for weeks. Around the world, millions of people were pondering the exact same question – who killed JR?
Though it may just be my misty memory, every week JR seemed to come up with some new dastardliness which took your breath away for sheer chutzpah – and somehow, somehow, he always managed to get away with it.
A great glorious soap opera where the kingpin was a demented slimeball.
Just exactly like the Trump presidency – which, at least for us Brits, has become this most incredible soap opera, complete with its powered-crazed star, its huge dysfunctional family and a coterie of creepy hangers-on.
I guess it’s different if you’re an American. For the third of Americans who actually possess a passport, Trump is a national embarrassment. How I love to chafe my American friends by talking about “your president” who “YOU voted for”.
For the rest of us, the Trump soap is a source of huge global merriment,
True, Trump may just spark a nuclear holocaust after pressing his big red button, but I’ve always found this idea most unlikely. When Trump actually decides to press his big button, one of the nurses will step in.
Besides – not much we can do about it either way in the UK. We may be able to prevent Trump visiting Britain. (Wouldn’t that have been a protest march worth watching? Would have topped Trump’s inauguration - easily.) But that is about the full extent of our “special relationship”. Our clout is zero.
I know plenty of people who get terribly vexed about Trump’s bad behaviour. Why? They might as well be peeved at JR Ewing or any other cartoon bad-boy.
Easier by far to treat Trump’s freak show as this most fantastical soap. I used to love “House of Cards” but gave up halfway through the most recent series. Doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing.
These days when I get up in the morning, I tune in to the World Service for the latest crazy episode in soap Trump. Without fail, Trumpy always delivers. Even a few months back, I was thinking I’d heard it all. I didn’t think there was anything left that could surprise me.
But surprise me he does – week in, week out. His plot twists are jaw-dropping!
American news was never like this when Barack Obama or George W Bush were in charge. These two presidents only really made the news when they were reacting to events. The rest of the time, Obama and Bush were “steady as she goes”. What a lousy recipe for a soap!
Trumpy is different. Trump doesn’t just react to events. Most of the time he’s making the news. Making the news in outlandish ways which even the hoariest of old hacks had never considered possible.
There is one small point to remember, however, about the very best soaps: if you have a super-villain, then you can’t just kill him off at the end of the first series. You’ve got to milk him. We don’t mind our super-baddies falling flat on their face every now and then. But you only kill them off after years of teasing.
In 1980, JR Ewing may have been shot, but he certainly wasn’t killed. He continued backstabbing for another decade and when Dallas finally ended in 1991, JR was the only character to have appeared in every episode.
Ditto President Trumpy. Of course we want him to come a cropper! We want him to have a spectacular fall from grace – couldn’t care less whether it’s the Russian shenanigans that do for him, or some sexual harassment skeleton. (Just please don’t let him be assassinated, otherwise within the year he’ll have been turned into a saint and we’ll never hear the end of it.)
But because it’s a soap, Trump’s demise can only happen at the very end of his presidency. It also has to come from so far out of the left field that no-one ever, ever saw it coming. (Obviously.)
When Trumpy goes, that’s the end of the soap. Vice-president Mike Pence may be a right-wing zealot, but there’s not a hope in hell of his presidency ever becoming a soap opera – so where’s the fun in that?