By Hannah Onstad
Sarah Cooper is a keen observer of the artifice that passes for knowledge in our culture. As a comedian, she’s provided a besieged country with much needed comic relief by posting Trump parodies which simultaneously expose the vapidness of his speech, his white-male entitlement, and the country's systemic racism and sexism. Plus, she’s managed to do all that and hit more than 10M views on YouTube, while shooting a low-budget production at home—at a time when much of late night television struggles to stay fresh during lockdown.
Inspired by and delivered first on TikTok, Cooper lip syncs to Trump speaking, which works viscerally by showing us how we would normally judge Trump’s statements coming out of any other person's mouth. The comic impact of the joke is in the disconnect between hearing the supposed leader of the free world’s bewildering speech while watching a woman deliver the words with false bravado—like he often does.
Cooper manages to amplify how ridiculous Trump sounds—something traditional reporting and transcribing has tried and failed to do, instead only amplifying his message. Reporters have written about the challenge of reporting on Trump’s speech and have certainly detailed how linguistically challenged he is. Yet, as a comedian, Cooper helps us hear Trump's incoherence by stripping away his carefully crafted image, supplanting it with her own, and thereby creating just enough distance to force us to scrutinize his words in a fresh new way, exposing them as thoughtless and even dangerous. With a country facing a pandemic, widespread systemic racial injustice, and economic uncertainty, Cooper proves that Trump is as fit for the presidency as a cymbal-banging monkey.
Through watching Cooper’s clips, we also learn more about how Trump maintains his illusion of authority—through gesture, posturing, and self-aggrandisement. She emphasizes, rather poetically, how he masks his empty words with the gumption of his delivery. It is through her imitation of this hubris that the facade of Trump’s leadership-schtick cracks and falls away completely.
This is not Cooper’s first parody and she has honed a keen eye for calling bullshit in the corporate world, (she is a former Google employee), pairing searing insights with inspired graphics as in 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings which turned into a bestselling book 100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings.
In a recent appearance on The Ellen Show, Cooper said in reference to Trump, “The stuff he gets away with saying, I could never get away with saying.” And she’s right: Trump couldn’t make it past HR in most corporate settings. He’s so isolated from reality, so insular, he hasn’t been able to adapt to the changes and advancements society has made.
Increasingly, as more voices speak out—black people, immigrants, women—they are forcing Americans to reckon with how white males often get away with doing things the rest of us could never get away with doing. Trump’s sloppy elocution shows just how devoid of ideas he is, yet his racism and sexism comes through loud and clear. From his creepy comment about being able to assault women to his even more disturbing rumination about being able to stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, to his cavalier use of force against peaceful protestors. Without white male entitlement to prop him up on Trump would just be an angry, creepy Grandpa shouting at a television.
From the horrific murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and so many others, to the sexual predation of Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, and scores of Roman Catholic priests, to the wave of young disaffected men who have committed mass murder in their schools with guns, Americans know and have seen “a male-dominated culture that presents dominance as a natural right” as Gloria Steinem famously wrote in her 1999 essay titled “Supremacy Crimes.” The concept of Supremacy Crimes shows what happens when white male entitlement to dominance is not checked.
It is only within the context of deep racism and sexism within our country, that we understand how some white males have taken their privilege and used it to dominate and exploit others. It is also within this context where we see how white males have historically protected other white males from consequences for their behavior.
Trump simulated this act of dominance while playing a role in his reality TV show, The Apprentice, using symbols and signs to construct his authority over others. Cooper’s parodies of Trump wind up being a meta-reflection on white male power and authority, a simulacrum of the same acting. Through that lens, we see the natural injustice of who we allow to speak, and who we are forced to listen to in our society—blowing the myth of American meritocracy up. Trump has gotten away with being incompetent. We as a country have resigned ourselves to the insult of his speech, partly because we’re primed to do so, having already endured and accepted so much white male entitlement in our culture already. That is, until others speak up.
This is why I love Sarah Cooper—her humor is the sharpest political tool we have. She’s earned a mic drop.
About this Blog
Written by Hannah Onstad, unless specified otherwise. Occasionally, posts here have been previously published elsewhere, and if so, that is noted at the top.