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Life's Rich Pageant

I Don’t Like This At All

Rudy Giuliani
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Here is an incredibly bizarre sequence of words:

This Daily Beast item concerns … well, just what it says in the tweet, there: During a taping of the TV show The Masked Singer, a masked singer turned out to be Rudy Giuliani, and his unmasking prompted Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke, two of the show’s celebrity(?) judges, to walk out, maybe in protest or maybe in simple horror. Click through if you wish; there’s really nothing more to it, at least until, uh, more reporting can be done on the story. The story of Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke walking off the set of The Masked Singer at the revelation that the masked singer was Rudy Giuliani.

This tweet seems like a signal artifact of our deeply insane present; it is this abominable new decade crystallized into a news slug. Imagine trying to explain it to a median adult, generally familiar with world events but not, for example, terribly well-versed in the local politics of New York City, who lapsed into a coma a couple of weeks after the events of Sept. 11, 2001 and only just today woke up—whose last memory of Rudy Giuliani, that is, was the national news media pretending he was The Risen Christ because he showed up to his job as mayor of New York. Where would you even begin?

I figure you could get through, “OK, so, there’s this TV game show where celebrities (very loosely defined) do singing performances in full-body sports-mascot-type disguises that hide their identity, and (again, loosely defined) celebrity judges rate the performances, and then the singers are unmasked, and everybody goes ‘Hey look, it’s the America’s Funniest Videos guy!’ or whatever.” The coma person would probably be with you up to this point; they had silly gameshow TV in 2001, after all, even if American Idol hadn’t yet arrived to make singing contest shows a powerful primetime genre. They might be somewhat surprised, had they been a consumer of mainstream press coverage in 2001, to find that Rudy Giuliani is a TV celebrity rather than a president or former president, or at least a senator. You have not gotten into the heavy stuff yet.

Imagine how you will begin to explain what would make two normal liberal-ish celebrities, not possessed of particularly radical or strident politics, nor heretofore known to have strong takes on the militarized and hyper-racist policing of New York City during Giuliani’s term as mayor—the type who could ever be judges on a network gameshow, that is—to get up and walk out at the discovery that he was one of the contestants. You might start, “Well, OK, so, after Donald Trump lost his presidential re-election campaign—”

The look on the coma patient’s face at this point. The blank palsy of incomprehension. As though every nerve and muscle fiber in their face were severed at once. You will have to repeat this part of the explanation at least twice. Maybe you can clarify it!

“So, there’s a horrible global plague that has been raging for two years and has killed millions, and it contributed to Donald Trump not winning a second term as president.”

What language is this. Into what parodic chaos dimension has this poor soul awakened. You’re basically the devil to this person.

You haven’t even scratched the surface! To make sense of Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke walking out of a taping of The Masked Singer because of Rudy Giuliani’s presence, you will have to clarify for this poor confused sucker, only moments earlier enjoying deep blissful oblivion, that tens of millions of Americans now worship Donald Trump as, basically, a white-power god. That thousands of his fanatics—fervent, radicalized, crazy-eyed supporters, that is to say, of mega-divorced real-estate failson Donald J. Trump—stormed the U.S. Capitol and attempted to overthrow the federal government on his behalf. Because the (back in 2001) serially bankrupt C-list tabloid clown, the guy who called into Howard Stern’s radio show to borrow some attention from time to time, was not re-elected to the presidency.

“Oh, well, see, to make sense of that, you really need to understand social media. There’s these websites that let you know what every person in the world thinks about everything at all times. It makes you feel absolutely terrible and fills your mind with the most awful poison imaginable. But also you spend 10 hours a day on it.”

Do you tell them that everything west of the continental divide now spends eight months of the year on fire? That uniformed cops and National Guardsmen are being deployed as substitute teachers across the country because all the real teachers are sick with the pandemic virus and there’s no political will to do anything serious to limit its spread? That because of culture war, a solid third of the adults in the U.S. are pretty much explicitly pro-COVID, a virus that has killed 870,000 Americans, and hostile to absolutely any measures for containing or mitigating it? That last year they played professional sports in front of crowds of cardboard cutouts of human beings and fake recorded crowd sounds because TV viewers appreciated the illusion that people could safely attend pro sports events? That the hot new trend among the rich and libertarian-minded is spending money on fake money and worthless drawings of cartoon chimpanzees? That when you drive along a country road on a summer night, nowadays, no insects spatter on your windshield, because they’re all dead?

Will you pull out your phone and show them the video of the self-driving car careening all over South Boston, attempting to kill every moving thing in sight? Will you explain to them that a device, nominally a “phone” but never used for that purpose, listens to you and tracks your behavior throughout the day, so that companies can purchase the data it collects to fine-tune their advertising strategies?

How far will you get, in simply describing what the world is like now, before the coma person screams, and just keeps screaming?

The doctors are baffled. They’ve never seen anything like it. The brain scans indicate this patient has returned to a coma spontaneously, on purpose. You didn’t even get to the part about the U.S. government deploying robot dogs to stalk immigrants across the southwest, because the desert is too hot for federal agents to patrol it safely.

Anyway, Ken Jeong and Robin Thicke walked off the set of The Masked Singer at the revelation that the masked singer was Rudy Giuliani.