Just Turn Away | Vol. 4 / No. 12.4

Photo: “Telelobotomy,” by MattysFlicks, CC BY 2.0

A special Thursday edition of Feminist Friday.


I promise by the end of this you’ll understand why Feminist Friday is happening on a Thursday. But first, look, a side-story!

I love the 1998 miniseries Merlin possibly more than is healthy.  I saw it for the first time on TV, then bought the VHS, then bought book 1 of the novelization. There was a novelization that came in multiple parts and I paid money for it. (I didn’t buy the other parts, because I was in grade school and chores didn’t just do themselves for pocket money.) The mini-series had basically everything—Lena Headey being a bad queen before she was a really bad queen, Sam Neil explaining magic to King Arthur with the same “are you screwing with me?” weary delivery he used to explain dinosaurs to Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park, Helena Bonham Carter rocking a speech impediment for basically no reason, Martin Short being… Martin Short (and also kinda being Snape before it was cool), dragons, fairies… basically everything a young fantasy geek could want. One thing that confused and even disappointed me when I was a kid was the ending. After an epic battle between Arthur and Mordred, there’s a final showdown between Merlin and Mab, the evil Queen of the Faeries. (Spoilers now for a miniseries that is older than lots of college freshmen.) They throw some magic at each other, various practical effects and CGI happens, and then to actually win, Merlin and the humans of the castle just… turn around. Literally. They all turn away from Mab. Merlin tells her, “We’re just going to forget you… You can’t fight us or frighten us, you’re just… not important enough anymore. We forget you, Queen Mab.” No one in the castle will look at Mab despite her desperate demands and pleas for attention, and she starts to dissolve into smoke. When I was a kid, this moment kinda confused me and pissed me off. I wanted a giant magical battle, dang it. Not a few spells followed by a walkout. This was not the showdown of the ages!

In the miniseries, this moment is meant to represent the importance of faith and belief when it comes to things like magic or religion. A god is only as strong as its followers, a faerie queen only has power if you believe in her (clapping optional), etc. But in the past week, as I’ve tried to come to grips with the fact that Donald Trump will be sworn in as president on January 20th, (and specifically tried to come to grips with it in a way that won’t result in liver damage) I realized that this can apply to political figures, too. Which is why I’m not going to pay any attention to the inauguration, or to any news regarding his inauguration. And you shouldn’t either. Because attention and validation is exactly what Trump wants, and it is exactly what I refuse to give to him.

Trump seems to care for little besides his own popularity. He crows about the crowds at his rallies, and he even is going on a “victory tour” just so he can continue to get large groups of people to chant his name. (Apparently no one told him that after becoming president, you had a lot more small meetings and a lot less rallies where people will chant “build the wall!”)  Yet despite the ways that he seems to completely dodge criticism, his skin has roughly the thickness (metaphorically speaking) of wax paper. Every time Alec Baldwin makes fun of him on TV, he blows a gasket at 3 AM.  But to really hit him where it hurts, you have to turn off the television. Because the thing that Trump cares about most in the world is ratings. Because Trump equates ratings with popularity. He equates the fact that people are watching him with the “fact” that people like him. And as Bill Scher points out, he cares about ratings long past the point that it becomes pathetic:

Trump cares so much about ratings that he’s still focused on the ratings for Celebrity Apprentice, gleefully sharing the news that his successor as host, John Kasich-supporter Arnold Schwarzenegger, debuted with a smaller number than he did.

Of course, watching Trump is not the same as supporting Trump. Plenty of people hate-watch Trump like they would any other bad reality TV show. But Trump, like a small child who can’t distinguish between good attention and bad attention, will take your viewership, add it to his total, and brag about the size of his audience. Unless you are a journalist on the Trump beat, you have no obligation to puff up his numbers.

He’s the president-elect of the United States, and he still cares more about the ratings of his television replacement than he does about the people who elected him. That… just about sums it up. So don’t give him the satisfaction of being able to think you care. Don’t watch the inauguration.

Now, at its extreme this turns into “Don’t feed the trolls,” which I have already explained my problems with here. Not engaging is not always the answer. Neither is ignoring everything Trump does or says. We have four years ahead of us of reacting to some pretty terrible shit. And I’m not going to “focus-shame” (which is a new word that I learned recently because oh my God we’re all going to die and we’re going to be catty at each other while we do it) and say that we shouldn’t pay attention to Trump’s tweets or whatever. I think we’re all multifaceted human beings who can focus on many things at once, and so it’s totally possible for us to worry about the crazy things he is saying on Twitter AND the fact that he’s probably going to disenfranchise millions of Americans through actual policy. We’re going to have to eventually find out what he says in order to effectively combat him. Again, Bill Scher puts it well:

As you virtually turn your back on Trump, you need not unplug from democracy itself. He is still the president. Ignoring his words is the same as ceding the debate. By all means, read the transcripts. Scrub his words for falsehoods, flip-flops, and feints. Challenge him at every turn. 

There’s a difference between “don’t feed the trolls” and “don’t fight the trolls on their turf.” (And oh, is our incoming president ever a troll.) If you turn off the TV for the inauguration and deprive him of eyeballs at his big moment, but then read transcripts of his speeches to wallop him with later, you’re doing the two things that Trump absolutely hates: ignoring him and criticizing him. It’s a twofer.

But what, you may ask, should you do besides watch our 45th, orange-est, and most-paid-for-by-Russia president get sworn in? Here’s my exhaustive list:

Literally anything else that is not a crime.

(And maybe even some things that are — at your own risk, but hopefully something that helps the resistance, like donating to Planned Parenthood or the ACLU, volunteering at your local homeless shelter or youth center, writing to your local and federal representatives… you know the drill.)


Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not giving you alternatives on an inauspicious inauguration day, she studies gender in popular culture.


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