I bet I can. What if it all started like that? We’ve all heard this argument: “I bet you can’t” versus “I bet I can.” Right?
So let’s not make any more of this than what it really is. Somewhere, not too long ago, maybe on a private jet, or maybe over a fancy steak dinner, or maybe in an elevator rising to an opulent penthouse residence on the 66th floor of arguably the best known skyscraper in Manhattan, or more likely in the back of a limo, a man claimed he had an idea for the biggest reality show to ever hit the airwaves.
It could be done with a simple script outline and for virtually no money. It would require minimal casting, very limited preproduction or production. No director. He’d be able to get airtime for free. In fact, he brashly stated he could get the show on every network, every social media platform and get coverage in every newspaper every day across America. The viewing audience would be staggering. Virtually every citizen in the country would watch it.
His driver said, “No way.” To which the passenger replied, “I bet I can.”
The concept is simple. A contest where the winner gets to be president of the United States. And the creator is betting on himself.
Here’s how it works: A person can pretty much say anything he wants. Freedom of speech says so. And a lot of Americans embrace that notion way more than they embrace facts. Facts, schmacts. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story or a punch line? The more outrageous, disturbing and offensive your statements, the more they become “news,” which is key. This will be the driving force behind the success of the show.
Episode 1: “The Pilot”
Let’s say the lead character of our show is a well-known businessman known mainly for conceit and arrogance but considered by many the epitome of success. He recognizes the country is ripe for an economic boost as it’s still inching its way out of a financial collapse that rippled throughout the entire global community thanks to fraudulent investments in real estate designed by giant investment banks.
He says he might run for president because our country is slipping, and he claims he can use his business acumen to negotiate deals that will make it great again because he’s a winner and everyone else in politics is a loser – including a former POW, presidential candidate.
The media and pundits jump all over him. He creates some buzz and begins to get some news coverage. But is it enough to commit? A perfect cliffhanger with which to end Episode 1.
Episode 2: “The Wall”
The pilot set the stage and even made some fur fly. But not enough to get the kind of coverage and viewership the show needs to become self-sufficient. It needs an emotional appeal. Time to unleash the real creative force – political correctness. Code for, well, many things. No more Mr. Nice Guy. Not if we’re going to make America great. So our lead character starts by going after illegal immigrants, and it really works. He gets lots of support. He decides to drive the nail home by leveraging his experience as a developer and claiming he’ll build a giant wall on our Southern border with a spectacular door through which only the chosen may pass. Because he really does know how to build stuff. And, oh yeah, he’s going to get someone else to pay for it.
People love it. He latches on the energy and begins his anti-political correctness speak. Soon he can say anything he wants. The less politically correct and the more offensive, the more support he gets from people. They’re angry and they don’t care if what he says is true. They just like to be angry and they’re thrilled someone is giving them permission. In fact, it makes them more American. The media are a little baffled and begin to question his tactics. A strategy that will backfire. Soon.
Episode 3: “The Debate”
This is a key episode. One of the debate moderators, a woman, asks our hero about some derogatory remarks he’s made about females. His response: “Look, I said what I said. If anyone doesn’t like it, too bad!”
The crowd goes crazy. People love it. They worship him for speaking his mind. It doesn’t matter if he says something harmful, hateful, thoughtless, disrespectful or just plain inaccurate. His fans just love to hear him speak. His opponents hate what he says. In a final twist, he declares war on the media. Now they’re in the fight.
Episode 4: “No Muslims”
This is the coup de grâce. After a shameful attack during a holiday party perpetrated by a fanatical lone-wolf couple claiming allegiance to a gang of zealots known as ISIS, our hero capitalizes on a moment of reactionary rage. Since the terrorist group ISIS is comprised of the most disaffected, distorted and demented group of Islamic extremists ever known to man, he suggests a temporary ban on all Muslims entering the country. Because if ISIS is all Muslims, then all Muslims must be ISIS.
He’s got pretty much everyone foaming at the mouth now. The coverage is unprecedented. He can’t even take a day off without more coverage and commentary. The show is a huge success and completely self-sufficient.
Summary: “Media Enablers”
He builds a love-hate relationship that touches everyone – media, pundits and general public. It’s like a train wreck. No one can turn away. People can’t wait to hear what he’ll say next so they can slam or support him. And all media serve it up. They become great enablers; the engine driving the show.
The coverage legitimizes every action and every word our hero does and says. And he can do and say anything he wants – although, outside of the occasional bizarre comment, he rarely says anything beyond how great he is, how many people like him, how many awards he’s won and how well he’s doing in the polls.
And by the way, it’s on every network, every social media platform and in every publication in America. Every day. All for free. Viewership is indeed staggering. And that’s the reality of it.
The ultimate question is, did you “bet he can’t” or “bet he can?”
Chris King resides in Western New York and is an independent producer-director of TV commercials.