Donald Trump is not just the frontrunner for the Republican Presidential nomination, he is a pop culture icon who has insurmountably ingrained himself into the public consciousness.
He’s more recognisable than any other nominee (with the exception of his prospective Democrat opponent, Hillary Clinton), and before anyone thought that he had a serious chance at setting up shop in The White House, Trump was on TV screens tackling wrestling heavyweights, trying to sell us stuff, and firing cashed-up celebrities. It’s all gone into creating the blustering image that we all know, but maybe don’t love. “Show me someone without an ego, and I’ll show you a loser,” Trump once sneered.
Now, in the midst of a campaign that has baffled the Republican establishment and mainstream commentators, it is worth looking back at the slow-boil pop culture entrenchment of the real-life character that reportedly served as the inspiration for 1989’s Back To The Future Part II’s Biff Tannen, who, in the film’s alternate, dystopic future, used his considerable wealth to have a tilt at politics. The Tannen link is especially eerie given how in 1985’s Back To The Future, Doc Brown scoffed incredulously at the idea that thirty years later, one-time film star and prominent personality, Ronald Reagan, could be elected President.
Trump’s considerable impact, however, has not been confined to alternate universes. Back in the nineties, when he was donating heavily to the Democrats, Trump had celebrated cameos in The Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Sex And The City, The Drew Carey Show, Spin City, The Nanny and Suddenly Susan, the latter of which made a passing reference to whether Trump could be “Our Next President?” Not to be outdone by Suddenly Susan, in an episode of The Simpsons which originally aired in 2000 called “Bart To The Future”, President Lisa Simpsons casually comments that, “We’ve inherited quite a budget crunch from President Trump.”
Branching out into films, it might surprise you how many childhood favourites feature Trump’s now instantly recognisable mop. Remember that guy who gave a young Kevin McCallister directions in a hotel lobby in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York? It was The Donald. Remember that dude on the red carpet who told us that “without Derek Zoolander, male modelling wouldn’t be what it is today?” Trump. Remember that uptight, super well-off kid in The Little Rascals who called his dad on a then very expensive cell phone from his go-kart during the penultimate soap-box derby, only to be told, “You’re the best son money can buy.” Well, that guy won seven states on Super Tuesday. That guy also fired a slew of pop culture icons (appearing alongside movie actors, Gary Busey, Stephen Baldwin, George Takei, Ian Ziering, Vivica A. Fox, and more) on his long running TV series, Celebrity Apprentice, on which he has now been replaced by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Not everyone gets a 50-minute adaptation of their book starring Johnny Depp on the Funny Or Die website, but you do if you’re Donald Trump. His popular, highly cultivated appeal is no small factor in his success, a few passing stabs at what the future could look like – jabs that appeared very far-fetched at the time – are starting to look just that little bit more real…
Glen Falkenstein on FilmInk