Last night, during an otherwise standard opening monologue at the Emmys, former White House press secretary/Trump punching bag Sean Spicer was wheeled out on a podium to deliver a joke about the crowd size. “This will be the largest audience to witness and Emmys, period,” Spicer said, with a look that expressed both self-satisfied glee and deep shame. “Both in person and around the world.”
Host Stephen Colbert quickly followed the joke up, saying “Wow, that really soothes my fragile ego. I can understand why you’d want one of those guys around.” Meanwhile, Melissa McCarthy, who frequently impersonated Spicer on SNL, looked as if she wanted to disappear into her seat, as other stars, Sarah Hyland and Anna Chlumsky among them, appeared genuinely shocked, if not tickled by the cameo.
The media has, for good reason, not taken kindly to the move, with indignant headlines such as “Sean Spicer’s Yucky Cameo at the Emmys,” “Angry Viewers Are in No Mood to Laugh at Sean Spicer’s Emmy Jokes” and “Sean Spicer’s Emmy Cameo Was Amazingly Tone Deaf.” Spicer, lest we forget, regurgitated the Trump administration’s lies for over six months, helping the president spread misinformation and denigrate the press.
That being said, the joke was pretty funny. You almost have to laugh; admittedly, I did. And judging by the reactions of those inside the Microsoft Theater last night, others liberals did, too. But in the immediate aftermath, the laughter turned to bile. It felt gross; I was embarrassed. Coincidentally, the bit incited a response cycle of personal/liberal outrage not dissimilar to that which I’ve experienced at many points during the Trump presidency.
Herewith, an attempt to recapitulate the discomfiting cycle, emotion-by-emotion.
Emotion #1: Shock
“I can’t believe they brought this fucker back on stage. I can’t believe he agreed to do it. But, well, I guess I can. Dude has no shame.”
Emotion #2: Laughter
A natural response to what would be a pretty hilarious gambit, under normal political circumstances.
Emotion #3: Doubt
“Wait, should I really be laughing at this? Isn’t it at odds with my political compass? Is this not morally dubious? This is actually fucked up.”
Emotion #4: Disgust
“Yuck. I can’t believe they’re attempting to humanize this fucker by allowing him to make light of himself on a national stage. As if it in some ways mitigates his actions as press secretary.”
Emotion #5: Shame
When one realizes, with horror, that by laughing at the joke, you are becoming “part of the problem.”
Emotion #6: Anger
Anger at yourself for how easily your emotions can be manipulated by humor; anger at the Emmys for doing the manipulating in the first place.
Emotion #7: Indignation
It’s motherfucking think-piece time.