If you’ve been paying attention this year (and like it or not, it’s been really hard to avoid the news), you know that this is a presidential election year in the United States. And because of that fact, this summer the world has been foisted upon it the spectacles of the two major United States political parties hold their conventions (one party just held theirs last week, the other in the week to come). It is at these conventions that the parties, formally select their nominations for president and vice-president, approve the policy platforms on which they will run, and generate a lot of hot air through one speech after another after another.
I’ll have fun with one of those speeches later, but I want to note something great about life in the year 2016: There are so many diversion options out there these days that it’s become rather easy to not pay attention to the conventions, and I’m not just talking getting out of that stuffy house and doing, well, whatever you want. Which is a good thing. Let me start my explanation with this: Time was that the only original programming on network television every four summers (outside the Olympics, of course) were these political conventions. And in most locales, including where I grew up, the only channels you could pick up with that trusty TV antenna were carrying the conventions for two weeks (sure wish we had a UHF antenna). So we had to make due.
Having to watch the conventions felt like a lot of white noise from that glowing box in the living room. Yeah, I didn’t hang onto every word of every speech at every convention. Good heavens, I would’ve been driven nuts had I done so. It did help that I was far from being of voting age (I was far from being 18 yet). Looking back on it, the only thing I got out of watching these conventions wasn’t any type of civics lesson; anything said from the podium went through one ear and out the other (I didn’t think much about school in the summertime). What struck me was the visual spectacle of these events, with my thoughts gravitating toward this while watching:
“Oh, look at the big stage they’ve set up!”
“Dig all those fancy TV booths; it’s like they’re in the rafters!”
“Amazing how many people they could stuff inside that hall/arena/stadium/whatever; they’re like sardines in a can!”
“Wow, that speaker at the podium is on a tirade; his face looks like beets in our garden. (Dude! Relax!)”
Now that I have been of voting age for several, uh, decades, and now that there are so many TV channels and other more meaningful diversions indoors and out, it actually feels good to not “hang onto” every word from every convention every four years. Oh, I do make my voting decisions more carefully than I did before, and I’m not dismissing the likelihood that very important things may happen at these events. It’s just that these conventions have become (or have always been?) highly choreographed spectacles. Yeah, I said “choreographed” because even if you agree (or disagree) with what’s being said and done at these events, it’s clear that what is being said and done at these events are telegraphed from a galaxy away. So if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to ignore the 4-day infomercials and do your political due diligence away from the television set.
That doesn’t mean some who don’t watch/pay attention to/care for the political conventions can’t get a kick out of them. And with that, I want to a highlight a comical highlight (or lowlight, if you’re of that persuasion) from the political convention we had to suffer through last week. (No, not that one. Not that one, either.) I won’t single out the political party who held this convention, nor will I mention the last name of the candidate who was nominated. (Yeah, as if I would ever give the guy more publicity than he need; beside, his name is on everything he owns.) I will, since I have to for reference sake, mention his wife’s first name, Melania. Last Monday night, Melania gave a speech to the party faithful telling about keeping your word, life lessons, and all that jazz. The thing was (and credit this guy for getting the scoop), Melania cribbed… okay, plagiarized noticeably significant portions of her speech from one that a certain current first lady gave to another convention eight years ago.
Needless to say, the press, social media, and especially the late night folks had a field day with Melania’s speech. Perhaps my favorite late night reaction (and the backstory behind it) came from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in which the titular host had “Melania” come on to defend herself. I use “Melania” in quotes since it wasn’t, of course, the actual Melania. Rather, it was the actress Laura Benanti, who, in addition to portraying country singers or comic book villains on TV or just plain ol’ acting on Broadway, bears a bit of resemblance to Melania, as Stephen Colbert noted and Benanti concurred when she appeared on Late Show in March. Seriously, watch this moment from that March episode and you’ll notice the clear resemblance (it almost looks like one of those “you are the father” comparisons from The Maury Povich Show).
The morning after Melania did her cribbing… okay, plagiarizing, someone from CBS contacted Laura Benanti and asked if she could appear on Late Show that evening. Even though she was at a family get-together (as she noted here and here), she jumped at the chance to venture back to New York City, head to the Ed Sullivan Theater, and… well, let’s just say the result of her quick trip was pure comedy gold:
First off, you can’t help but admire the work Laura Benanti must have put into crafting her Melania impression on such short notice (and doing it while traveling, no less). For starters, there’s getting the voice down pat; it’s doesn’t seem to be mocking Melania in any sense, and Laura does give some dignity to it. More than the voice, though, is the mannerisms; Melania was once a model, so Laura laces her impression with glamorous actions, including that kiss-kiss with Stephen Colbert and that “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” type of stare. Of course, the impression can’t work without effective writing, and the Late Show writers provide that with… well, more plagiarizing, my favorite being “Melania’s” note about her upbringing “in West Philadelphia…” (Oh, come on, every TV fan knows where that line comes from.)
Watching Laura Benanti’s performance as “Melania” was a real hoot. It’s almost inspiring, in a sense; I get a kick out of a performance’s creation process, whether it be an actor crafting an impression or… I’ll go ahead and say it, a person dressing up as the opposite gender. (That’s not to dismiss any trans people, of course; finding your true self in another gender’s clothing could be considered a character builder.) So, if you haven’t watched the above video by now, hit “play.” It could make you want to watch the next political convention for the sheer anticipation of unintended humor. Well, almost make you want to.