Donald Trump, PFT Commenter, and Political Satire on the Internet
I’ve been saying it for years: every generation gets the Father Guido Sarducci it deserves. And when Stephen Colbert stepped down as America’s pre-eminent Fictional Character Who Comments On Current Events Through a Familiar and Recognizable Cultural Lens, Thereby Reflecting the Inherent Contradictions and Ironies of Contemporary Society, it seemed like this tradition might be a thing of the past.
But then a successor emerged from the unlikeliest of places: the comments section of NFL news site ProFootballTalk.com. I’m talking, of course, about PFT Commenter.
First, the basics: PFT Commenter is a fictional persona (actual identity still unknown) who for the past few years has been writing a sports blog in the voice of the typical commenter on an NFL website. So you get posts like “Who cares if an NFL player is gay? Not me. My 1,000 word column,” “Tim Tebow is the Jackie Robinson of the NFL,” and “NFL stands for No Female League in my opinion.” Now, I am fully aware that for the most part online parody characters are terrible. But those are really well done, right? Right. Well, it’s settled.
Not so fast. The Colbert comparison, which has been around for a while, doesn’t stop there. You see, PFT Commenter has recently taken a sudden interest in national politics. He caused a huge stir on NFL Twitter when he showed up in the background in coverage of the first GOP debate, holding this sign.
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) August 7, 2015
The question “Is Joe Flacco an elite quarterback?” of course, is one of the running “bits” (although what is really a bit these days anyways?) — an inane, ultimately meaningless question that he spends endless hours debating in online forums. Sure, Flacco won a Super Bowl with the Ravens. But does that really make him elite? These are the minuscule debates that we all know fuel sports fan culture.
Anyways, this naturally caused a huge stir amongst the sportswriters I follow on Twitter, and even spilled over a little to politics Twitter, and even regular Twitter. Well it turns out this was just part of a larger strategy to attend political events to hold up signs and walk around in the background with funny t-shirts on:
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) September 17, 2015
Look who was represented in the spin room following tonight's Republican debate. pic.twitter.com/ZXN9D0dLjL
— Sid Seixeiro (@Sid_Seixeiro) September 17, 2015
He’s been named (according to him, although I couldn’t find an official announcement to confirm) Chief Political Correspondent at the sports site SB Nation, and is documenting the process in his blog, with Vines, at @PFTCommenter, and via the various other minor channels through which we get our news delivered.
And much like Stephen Colbert, sometimes PFT Commenter has a tough time concealing his bias while covering a political event. In fact, it almost seems like the only reason he’s interested in politics in the first place is because he likes Donald Trump so much. He’s even gone so far as to risk his credibility as a journalist by launching an entire campaign: “Internet Commenters For Trump.”
— Rajini Vaidyanathan (@BBCRajiniV) August 6, 2015
This could not make more sense. Donald Trump and PFT Commenter are a match made in Heaven. Well, racism Heaven. Which is to say, internet comment sections, i.e. PFTC’s old stomping grounds. See what I mean? Let’s take a look.
For one, this perfectly tracks the shift in how Americans construct our worldview. Colbert (the character — there should be some kind of notation so you don’t have to specify every time) resonated so hard in 2005 because we all knew everyone gets their political opinions from guys like Bill O’Reilly on TV, but nobody had really said it yet. Now, in 2015, things are much better. Nobody watches TV news anymore — instead we construct our political opinions from our idiot friends on pro football message boards and from sportswriters we follow on Twitter.
That sounds like a joke, but I think it’s much truer than we’d like to admit. As Nate Silver points out in his 2012 book The Signal and the Noise (which I read and am therefore going to cite, even though he’s made this same point in interviews, because I earned it), Isaiah Berlin once wrote a story about foxes and hedgehogs. And the model that fed Americans their news/opinions used to involve a lot of “hedgehogs,” such as Bill O’Reilly, who filtered all the news through one big, all-encompassing, very certain idea. Now, the media landscape that feeds us our opinions is a lot of “foxes,” i.e. more adaptable, more agile commentators who are less about fitting everything into one POV and more about adapting to each situation individually.
You could even go as far as to say that we get our political news and analysis from millions of tiny, insane foxes who are willing to confirm any baseless paranoid belief we may have because why not? It’s just a website. In other words, people don’t want to have some guy on TV tell them they’re right every day based on the same reasoning. That makes no sense! It’s phony! Instead, we want a lot of different people to tell us we’re right based on no reasoning. And that’s where the Donald Trump comes in.
Look, I’m no racist (in fact I have Michael Jordan as my iPhone lock screen). But if someone did for example think illegal immigrants are killing thousands of babies every day, or that Barack Obama was a Muslim, and you’ve already gone to all the trouble to start an insane, out of control movement online, then good news: Donald Trump will literally give you a voice to express those opinions.
And this is all kind of obvious, but I think the media has struggled to explain Trump because it’s weird to do so via traditional media channels. I mean, when you’re shopping for new houses to buy, you don’t want to talk to the guy who designed the neighborhood. You want to talk to the homeless guy who has been living in it and taking shits all over the place and drinking Mad Dog 20/20. And that’s PFT Commenter:
I’ve inserted myself into covering the Presidential elections, covering guys like soon-to-be-commander in chief of the United States military, Donald Trump. Theres a theory that says that no two countries with internet comment sections have ever fought a war together, and it really is true. The beautifull thing about internet commenting is that its literally colorblind. It dosen’t matter if your black, white, female, hot, single, blonde, fit, horny, a little bit freaky, pierced, recently divorced, or twins — internet commenting brings us together as the first true metriocracy.
See? This guy gets it. That’s why his takes are gonna be stronger than anything you’ll see on TV — because he truly understands the power of comment sections.
And so does this guy: Donald Trump. I mean sometimes it seems like he’s the only one willing to cut through the bullshit and give us some damn answers in this country:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2015
Also, apparently PFTC writes a lot of this stuff drunk, which is a considerable achievement in itself.