You can tell a lot about a movie from how idiotic its trailer is. And the trailer to the Donald Trump–Kim Jong Un “summit” in Singapore is supremely, tragically, cataclysmically idiotic.
Reportedly, the White House prepared the trailer and showed it to the murderous North Korean strongman before the two leaders sat down together yesterday — as a way of getting him excited for their meeting, perhaps? To convince him not to throw a hissy fit and depart in a huff, thereby making our own Glorious Leader look bad?
Or maybe it was just to establish that these two men essentially speak the same language.
To put it another way: I’m not sure this trailer wasn’t also there to convince Trump himself of the importance of what he was doing. It bears all the hallmarks of something designed to appeal to his vain, one-dimensional impulses. Let’s not forget, there was an English-language version ready to go — not with bland diplomatic translation but with a breathless American narrator intoning every line in dramatic fashion (“It comes down to a choice. On this day. In this time. At this moment…”). Don’t be surprised if one day we discover there was a group of poor schlubs somewhere in the basement of the Trump White House, tasked with creating these kinds of trailers for pretty much every supposedly important thing the president did.
The four-minute video, credited to a nonexistent “studio” called “Destiny Pictures” (apparently there is a real Destiny Pictures, but it reportedly has no relationship to the White House) is constructed from stock footage: gleaming shots of mountains and fields and kids and orchestras and sunsets and cityscapes and the planet — oh god, so many shots of the planet — intercut with images of the two men walking, often in slow-motion, presumably toward their “destiny.” It’s a cheaply produced, unholy hybrid, like someone took a straight-to-VOD action movie knockoff, then combined it with a third-rate investment reel and a cult-brainwashing video you might find in a paranoid political thriller. Sprinkled with some images from an old Monsanto commercial. Imagine the trailer for a Michael Bay movie, if Michael Bay had had a part of his brain removed.
Alarmingly, the trailer captures a particular intersection in our current political culture. It’s notable not just for the diplomatic platitudes it offers but for the action movie clichés it pushes. Certainly, the idea of politicians borrowing from the Hollywood playbook is nothing new. Presidents have pretended to be cowboys for decades. This isn’t even the first time a politician has cast himself in a dumb fake movie trailer. Remember this nonsense from Tim Pawlenty a few years ago?
But no, the Trump-Kim trailer represents something deeper and more sinister, wherein the language of schlock now seems to lead the way and define the debate. Watching this thing, it starts to become clear (if it wasn’t already) that Trump and Kim aren’t meeting to better their societies or to make the world a safer place, but so they can have a fake movie hero moment like this.
To that end, the trailer posits the Trump-Kim meeting as a kind of sequel to the meeting Kim held with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in not long ago. It also uses apocalyptic imagery as a way of boosting the will-they-or-won’t-they “drama” of this summit. “Out of the darkness can come the light,” the narrator intones, as we see the sun emerge behind a spinning Earth, the way it might in a Roland Emmerich movie about a strange interplanetary object hurtling toward the planet.
The somewhat reedy-voiced narrator then goes on to tell us that this is “a story about a special moment in time, when a man is presented with one chance that may never be repeated” — as we see a shot of a basketball player elevating for a slam dunk, because we know Kim likes basketball. “What will he choose — to show leadership and vision…or not?” At this point, the film “breaks” and melts off the screen, and we are plunged into silence, followed by ominous images of missiles and planes and maps. “There can only be two results: one of moving back…or one of moving forward.”
Moving forward, as you might imagine, involves gleaming cities and factories and robots and drones and smiling happy people. Moving backward? Well, take a wild guess.
For all its cheesiness, the video is, essentially, a threat. And it’s a threat not just to Kim Jong Un, a paranoid dictator who probably understands the language of threats better than anything else. The video has another target, and all those shots of the planet are a dead giveaway. It’s there for us. This whole thing is there to remind all of us that Donald Trump has his tiny little finger on the button. It’s meant to boost his ego and to make us cower. Because in the year 2018, we probably understand the language of trailers better than anything else.
So laugh all you want — I did, a lot — but just remember, we are, all of us, the ones who made this kind of lunacy possible.