Colson: Culture wars lose an icon, gain a martyr

John Colson
Hit & Run

Though I hadn’t seen her groundbreaking show in years, I was saddened when I heard last week that one of our culture war’s feminist icons, Mary Tyler Moore, had died at the age of 80.

Not that her age is causing me any distress — by the time we reach 80, lots of us are ready to lay down the mantle of being human and try something new.

Instead, my sorrow was sparked by recollections of the wacky combination of characters and plots on the show that sometimes left me — young and impressionable as I was — breathless with laughter. I was taken comedic prisoner by the situations the show’s writers came up with, the verve with which the cast carried them off and the show’s charmingly biting social commentary on a whole host of issues.

Interestingly, one of the show’s least lovable characters, that of Ted Baxter (played by Ted Knight), came back to haunt me over the weekend, as I watched a few of the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” episodes on the Sundance channel’s tribute to her and the show.

The haunting started when I realized how prescient was Knight’s portrayal of a supremely self-involved ignoramus, wanna-be elitist and seriously insecure fool, which instantly brought to mind our current president.

His vanity, his shallowness, his mistreatment of women, his blatant lack of knowledge about even the most mundane things, all were mind-blowingly similar to the worst attributes of Donald J. Trump.

As I watched, I began to suspect that Trump must have watched the same shows back in the early 1970s, and at some point fixated on Ted Baxter as his favorite character and role model.

How else to explain Trump’s determination to make his ignorance into a weapon, and to use insults, slurs of all sorts and declarations of obvious falsehoods to make a point, not to mention his obvious lack of consideration or empathy for anyone?

Ted and The Donald even look somewhat alike, with the mane of white hair (at least since The Donald stopped using orange dye for its shock value) and the jowly, often angry expressions that adorn their faces.

In addition, both Ted Baxter (fictionally) and The Donald (politically and in reality) climbed the ladder of success based not on ability or intelligence, but on clownish and aggressive behavior that seemed to somehow be in sync with attitudes of equally uninformed, shallow and antagonistic members of the public.

A final note of similarity is the dismissive attitude that Baxter’s character, and our current presidential character, hold toward the unfortunate shadow of “political correctness” that has long loomed over our national consciousness. Both personalities ignored any such conventions — flaunted them, in fact — and were rewarded for it.

I recall that, in the show’s final episode (which I missed over the weekend), it was Ted Baxter who was retained when new owners cleaned house at the fictional TV station where Mary Richards, Lou Grant and the other characters had worked — a snarky jab at the shallow, insecure nebbishes who inhabit the upper tiers of far too many news organizations.

Yep, it was an amazing body of work, the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and it is a testament to its predictive ability that life is now imitating art in at least one, rather goofy arena.

And another thing …

Wait a minute.

Did I read that right?

Did “Saturday Night Live” suspend Katie Rich for poking fun at Barron Trump, the 10-year-old son of our current Ridiculer in Chief?

In a tweet on Inauguration Day, Rich observed Barron as he stood stolidly, frowningly, unhappily on the steps of the Capitol and concluded, “Barron will be this country’s first homeschool shooter,” and almost immediately joined the world’s roster of cultural martyrs.

Granted, Barron (what’s with that name?) cannot be held responsible for his father’s insanity, but he sure gave every indication that he was there because someone made him do it and he was royally pissed off.

And Rich’s remark was inarguably within the bounds of our new norm in political discourse, where spite, satire and political commentary blend together to create outrageous utterances scarcely to be believed.

It seems a bit of a leap to suspend her indefinitely from her job for something that pales in comparison to the lying, belittling and generally offensive remarks that came out daily from Trump’s mouth, his Twitter account, his campaign and many of his supporters over the past year and a half.

I recall one instance, in early 2016, when commenters on a Fox News story about Malia Obama’s choice of Harvard as her college of choice went into racist overdrive, actually calling her out by the N-word before Fox managed to pull down its commenting function.

Rich was simply resorting to a fairly tame version of the kind of treatment Trump and his ilk spent 18 months spewing at the rest of us.

And the plain truth is, Barron was giving a very good impression of a youngster with an attitude problem as he stood there on the steps of the Capitol on Inauguration Day.

In fact, I turned to my wife after watching him for a couple of minutes and said something like, “That kid looks like trouble in the making.”

I thought it then, I think it now, and I’ll be watching to see if he proves us (Katie and me) right.

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