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Are We Really ‘Living Through Dark Times,’ Celebrities?

The cast of “Beetlejuice” performs at the 73rd Annual Tony Awards – Show in New York, June 9, 2019. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Observers of showbiz awards ceremonies — I like the way the Brits refer to the awards themselves as “gongs,” by the way, which I suppose makes the Oscars, Emmys, Tonys, and Grammys gong shows — will have noted by now that the entertainment community has largely calmed itself down about President Trump, at least when they’re trying to appeal to America as a whole. A year after Robert De Niro embarrassed himself with an R-rated outburst about Trump at the Tonys, there were no mentions of Trump broadcast on CBS at this year’s ceremony, unless I missed something. Host James Corden did his usual fun, nonpolitical song-and-dance stuff. The tone of the evening was mostly frothy. Things seemed more or less normal, for a change.

There were a few veiled allusions to Trump, notably when a couple of awardees claimed that we’re living through dark times. This statement would seem utterly absurd if, say, the exact same socioeconomic conditions in the U.S. obtained and Barack Obama were president. We aren’t in a state of upheaval. The economy is doing well. Things are better than they usually are. These people would be more honest if they said, “We are living through times in which I don’t like who the president is.” If they said that, of course, even they would realize how dumb they sound. As for the culture, the darkness there again is essentially in the statements of the president, not in any shocking reversal of fortune for the kinds of people who work on Broadway. The gay-acceptance theme that is always a big part of the Tonys is these days an afterthought; a big musical number from The Prom concluded with a lesbian kiss. That would have been news not too long ago. These days it merits less than a shrug. No one cares.

The director Rachel Chavkin, whose production of the musical Hadestown was the night’s big winner, launched into a speech about structural oppression, but it turned out she had a very, very specific kind of discrimination in mind: She was the only female director of a Broadway musical this year. (Out of twelve.) Donald Trump didn’t have a lot to do with that. Bryan Cranston, who won Best Actor in a Play for his arm-waving histrionics in Network, took the most direct shot at Trump when he dedicated his win to real journalists and said, “The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people.” That was it. The rebuke was fairly mild.

It’s probably wise for people whose livelihood depends on selling tickets to a broad range of Americans to restrain themselves when it comes to politics. The stage may be as liberal an institution as exists outside of maybe the teachers’ unions, but even on Broadway you want to attract tourists from red states. Demented anti-Trump rants that provide a sugar rush in the moment do more harm than good to the fortunes of showbiz overall, and celebrities seem to have realized that. They may not like it, but nearly three years after the election they find themselves normalizing Trump.

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