While many people have looked at the bumbling Bluth family from Fox/Netflix’s Arrested Development as being reflective of the Trumps, others believe they provided the template. There are some obvious parallels, like the handsy patriarch George Bluth’s border wall to separate California from Mexico and the family’s antipathy toward anyone but the super-rich.
The line drawn between Republican buffoonery and the Bluths goes back to the Bush-era and even spawned a series of Mitt Romney quotes placed over images of Lucille Bluth.
What’s less obvious is how the show, especially 2013’s Netflix-rebooted season 4, as a whole provides a measurement of the uncritical liberalism that put Donald Trump into office. Absent a moral center that was once played by Jason Bateman, the show began to devolve into chaos parallel to our political discourse.
What always made the show funny was watching the cartoonishly rich family bumble through a world that was parallel to our own, bristling against the bigotry and biases progressives were trying to erase. As the real world became crazier, the Bluth universe was forced to either be closer to reality or fall over the fence into problematic stereotypes and acritical bigotry.
As the bigoted Bluths began to run amok in a world that was filled with external characters acting out stereotypes, the critical mirror the show once held up became foggy. Arrested Development didn’t just reflect the Trumps, it reflected the anti-PC liberal backlash that made Trumpism a reasonable conclusion to that backlash.
It isn’t a fresh take that the Bluths and the Trumps are alike. The problem is that the reality they function in. Isn’t equivalent.
Who’s In On The Joke?
As the writers dispensed with their moral center, the show started to spray venom in every direction. While we’re supposed to be making fun of a family that wanted to start a holiday to antagonize Mexicans and destroy the supplies used for Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican characters are nameless and playing into pointless stereotypes.
Inside of a white-collar prison, there’s an Asian crime ring that Lucille is trying to infiltrate. It’s filled with cunning women who managed to commit complicated white collar crimes (one would presume, successfully for a time) while never gaining a proper grasp of the English language. They speak with the same kind of English that stemmed the “no can do” bigotry that’s followed American-Asians for a century.
When minorities are props instead is the empowered protagonists or antagonists they should be compared to the Bluths, it’s hard to know who the joke is about or who is in on it. If this approach to stereotype-based comedy isn’t coming from a sincere disdain, then it just leads to a clunky pandering.
Arrested Development makes a mistake that a lot of liberal comedians make. They assume that racists are uneducated and by default wouldn’t be in on the joke. Unfortunately recent electoral history has proved them dead wrong. When the joke becomes an arrow in the sling of bigots, and left-leaning creators defend the decision, then there are no allies left to defend detractors.
The other problem is that Netflix has turned the audience for Arrested Development from a dedicated cult to “basically everyone”. When you’re espousing extreme moral relativism to a group that understands the absurdity, you can get away with exploring the concept. But as a group of white writers living in a deeply troubled world, the joke of amoralism is a flat-footed.
Remember The Bluth Company?
In the early seasons, the staff of the Bluth’s company was normal and middle of the road. They were a kind of test market for screwed-up policies. They were the first people who got to see what it would be like if Gob ran the company.
They sometimes didn’t play along. When an idea smelled fishy, they would speak up and raise their hands. Beyond Michael Bluth as the moral compass, they were another kind of metric.
They were diverse. They were simple receivers of the chaotic decisionmaking of the Bluths. They represented all of us.
Without the staff of the Bluth company, we don’t have a voice cutting through the chaos anymore. In a way, the viewer is erased because liberal racism, like the Bluths, like the Trumps, is beholden to no one. They know which side of the fence they lie on. While externally, they may exude the stubbornness and bigotry of those who aren’t our allies, they say they’re our allies. Why continue to be divisive?
It isn’t a fresh take that the Bluths and the Trumps are alike. The problem is that the reality they function in isn’t equivalent. The reality that the Trumps inhabit contains a majority of society who isn’t in on the joke. They’re rightfully, viciously opposed to the statements and propositions they make.
The reality the Bluths inhabit bends to their will and plays within their rules. It’s the feeling of a “reality” show where, sure, Donald Trump isthe Donald Trump of Trump Enterprises. He speaks brashly in a world where he’s encouraged to be more “PC”. But he couldn’t mean what he says, right? It’s not so cute when tantrums can be transformed into executive orders.
The Bluths inhabit a space that bends to the funhouse mirror created by liberals where they can say “see? Everyone is racist!” They can show that everyone is out to backstab each other. Removed from the Bush-era (and perhaps the family) that it was originally lampooning, it’s become something much darker and less funny when put through a critical lens.
The problem is, where the world they inhabited once served to check and balance their behavior, it doesn’t anymore. And that’s more reflective of the white liberal Hollywood bubble where “identity politics is divisive”. What was once funny about the Bluths was that basic human decency didn’t register and our basic ethical expectations of the world were the straight man to the Bluths’ outrageous behavior.
The elitist liberalism of white Hollywood has never found such a perfect foil than the reality the Bluths run around in. As the show’s fifth season premiers, with actors blurring the lines of reality by cautiously trying to avoid calling an abuser an abuser, we can try to hope for the best. As one writer puts it, they reveal the truth they were meant to hide.
In these moments, those who are normally quiet about bigotry, racism, and sexism will differently feel compelled to reveal their true feelings. They’ll either reveal that they feel threatened and confused or else they’ll reveal that they have gotten a glimpse of another persons experience while still retaining their power that inspires responsibility.
Responsibility however means owning up to past culpability and we know the left is woefully slow to take any kind of responsibility. We might be left holding our breath until we’ve blue ourselves in the face.