[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]
Dear Dr. Steve,
Republicans are losing their minds over Taylor Swift. With the Super Bowl coming this Sunday, right-wing pundits are accusing Swifties of idolatry and claiming Swift (who is dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce) is at the centre of a great conspiracy to defeat Trump and, worse, subvert the sanctity of professional football. What the hell is going on?
It's days away but this is already the most fun Super Bowl in years. Usually, non-football fans have to focus on the commercials, waiting for Matthew McConaughey to confront a talking squirrel or find out which beloved professional athlete will torch their credibility shilling for crypto or online casinos. But now people who care nothing for first downs or blocking schemes can revel in the spectacle of watching media blowhards beclown themselves with crackpot Taylor Swift theories and cherry-picked moral outrage. Not since the swivelling hips of Elvis have so many paranoid pundits listened to popular music and heard instead the warning blasts of Gabriel's trumpet.
There does indeed seem to be something apocalyptic at work here. Swift appears to be the unwitting agent of an unholy convergence, a human key that has unlocked the barriers separating perverse strains of modern culture — for example, sports betting and conspiracy theories. A conspiracy popular among right-wing loons (fun fact: a group of loons is sometimes referred to as an asylum) is that Swift, after presiding over the orchestrated victory of the Chiefs, will endorse Joe Biden at centre field. According to Variety, it is now possible to place a bet on this eventuality. Never mind the point spread — terrified MAGA types can probably bet on the number of (political) converts.
Planet Swift is an orbiting celebrity giant, warping media space and time. And news coverage is always shaped by the gravitational pull of celebrity. Consider: this week it was revealed that the monarch of Great Britain and the Commonwealth had been diagnosed with cancer. A number of initial reports focused on a major question: What will Prince Harry do? King Charles III was never interviewed by Oprah. He is thus reduced to a supporting character in his own health crisis.
Of course, the Super Bowl is itself a behemoth with considerable gravitational force. Its conjunction with the planetary power of Swift has resulted in a multi-dimensional event, blending the parallel universes of music, sports and nut-job politics. The effect has been like a colossal prank, causing supposedly serious public figures to reveal themselves as 10th graders high on pot for the first time.
Vivek Ramaswamy, presidential candidate and potential Trump vice-presidential nominee, has implied Swift is part of a scheme to rig the game’s outcome and thus boost the Democrats.
In fairness to Ramaswamy, competition is pretty heated for that VP slot. If you want to be the top whack job, it’s tough to keep up with the likes of Marjorie “Jewish Space Lasers” Taylor Greene. Come to think of it, MTG might want to shorten that name of hers. Just make it Marge Greene. Trump supporters are bound to get suspicious.
Swift has reached a level of cultural power and significance that is rarefied indeed. Even a figure as famous as Madonna never really achieved the same widespread influence and impact. It is perhaps necessary to go back to Elvis or the Beatles and the moral panics they caused. After the Liverpool band's first 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Rev. David C. Cloeter wrote in the Greenwood Commonwealth paper of Greenwood, Mississippi: “Not since the locust ravaged crops to utter devastation years ago has the United States been so plagued by insects.”
Sixty years later, Alison Steinberg of the far-right One America News Network, while complaining of Swift/Kelce-mania, said: “Just imagine for a moment if people were as dedicated to Jesus as they are to professional sports.” (Perhaps Ms. Steinberg is unaware that Jesus has been publicly thanked for more touchdowns than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning combined.)
Meanwhile Dr. Steve is in an awkward position. He is a longtime supporter of the San Francisco 49ers, the team that made Montana famous. They come from his favourite American city and have those cool red-and-gold uniforms. But this week he must also contemplate the effects of a Kansas City victory on Sunday. There would be wailing and gnashing of teeth among the very people whose teeth are most deserving of a good gnashing. Lacking anything like the socialist dental plan pushed by Canada's NDP, Trump supporters will be out of pocket for enamel repairs.
As has been pointed out, MAGA world is in an even more awkward position than Dr. Steve. They must choose between the Kansas City Swifts and the Sodom-by-the-Sea 49ers. Can Trumpers really cheer for San Francisco without experiencing a collective identity crisis about their powerful need to dress up like Cowboys and Buccaneers?
Dr. Steve is certain that Swift haters will find some reason to cheer for San Francisco. Here's one: the 49ers take their name from the gold rush of 1849 — or, as Republicans call it, the good old days. It was a dozen years before the American Civil War, which was definitely not fought over slavery.
So enjoy the football game, if enjoying football games is what you do. If not, enjoy the exquisite dilemma of certain NFL fans. And know that every time Swift appears onscreen it will hit the fragile residents of MAGA world like a cattle prod. Drink!