Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Portraits of The Orange Man

Portraits of The Orange Man

Lynn Charara

Throughout his presidential campaign and into his presidency, Donald J. Trump has become particularly well known for his unusual political presentation, including his unconventional talking style. The way he talks does not conform to the mainstream American metalinguistic beliefs of what a presidential candidate or president should sound like: articulate, consistent, collected, and professional. Satirists and parodists have capitalized on Trump’s talking features in their impersonations and commentaries on him. This paper analyzes the role of satirists and parodists in maintaining the metalinguistic beliefs of what a president should sound like. The primary sources of this research are select episodes of Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The significance of the jokes made about Trump’s talking style in these shows is drawn from the work of anthropologists and linguists including Basso, Mintz, McWhorter, and Lempert and Silverstein. Through the critical analysis of how comedians mock Trump’s talking style, this paper demonstrates how they participate in upholding presidential speech standards by mocking of Trump’s failure to live up to these expectations. By placing comedians’ representation of Trump into the theoretical framework of the linguistic significance of humor and satire, this paper shows that comedians ridicule of a politician’s speech plays a role in discrediting said politician. Not only do comedians including Alec Baldwin, Trevor Noah, and Stephen Colbert make people laugh at Trump, they also critique his failure to live up to presidential speaking standards, thus attempting to subvert his political power. Future research on this topic be directed towards analyzing whether presidential speech standards change after Trump’s success in the 2016 elections.

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April 6, 2017 - Posted by | abstract

4 Comments »

  1. I think you’ve found a really interesting frame here: that the satirists are actually upholding a linguistic norm for presidential speech. Did you do any comparisons to past representations of presidential speech? Trevor Noah’s Obama was dead on, but obviously served a different purpose than his Trump.

    I was about to ask if you had found any sources of right-leaning comedians/satirists to see how they personify Trump…but, well, I’m having trouble coming up with someone. If such a person does actually exist, that would be a very interesting point of comparison!

    Comment by Rebecca Sawyer | April 17, 2017 | Reply

    • Oh, I absolutely agree with this comment! Comparison with a right-leaning comedian/satirist seems like it would be incredibly revealing.

      Comment by Kailey McAlpin | April 17, 2017 | Reply

  2. Lynn, this abstract is incredibly well-written. I would be curious to know if comedians attempts to ridicule Trump’s failure to meet presidential speech standards hindered or helped him win the 2016 general election. It would be interesting to explore whether Trump’s speech patterns were particularly favored by Trump voters who viewed him as an “outsider” candidate separate from a corrupt political system. However, this might be outside the scope of your paper and sounds like it would be an entire research project in and of itself! I would love to read your paper if you are open to outside readers. A very relevant and important topic!

    Comment by Kailey McAlpin | April 17, 2017 | Reply

  3. First of all, your title is amazing! The comparisons between satire of Trump and satire of “The White Man” is a great way to explore your topic. Did you use the idea of performance as a release valve for the oppression/stress like Basso did as well? I think you could definitely say a lot about the parallels.

    Comment by Emily Lock | April 17, 2017 | Reply


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