The Unbearable Pouting of Jimmy Fallon

In September of 2016, two months before the presidential election, Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon welcomed Donald Trump as a guest. During the interview, Fallon famously ruffled Trump's hair.

It's tough to remember, especially with every day of Trump's presidency feeling like an entire eternity of horror, where we were in the campaign when that happened.

But it happened just two weeks after Trump's chief opponent, Hillary Clinton, had given a powerful address about the dangerous white nationalism being promulgated by Trump, during which she urgently warned: "He would form a deportation force to round up millions of immigrants and kick them out of the country. He'd abolish the bedrock constitutional principle that says if you're born in the United States, you're an American citizen. He says that children born in America to undocumented parents are, quote, 'anchor babies' and should be deported. Millions of them. And he'd ban Muslims around the world — 1.5 billion men, women, and children — from entering our country just because of their religion."

That's where we were in the campaign two years ago. The point at which Trump's rival felt obliged to dedicate an entire speech along the campaign trail to detail that her opponent is a white supremacist.

And then Fallon ruffled Trump's hair.

At the time, I wrote: "OMG YOU GUYS DONZO LET JIMMY RUFFLE HIS HAIR! HOW ADORBZ! I guess he's not a supremely dangerous white nationalist AFTER ALL! He's really just a big lovable and super relatable dude!"

Because that's where we were in the campaign. It was not merely "tone deaf" in retrospect; it was aggressively "tone deaf" at the time.

A year ago, the New York Times published one of its classic White Men Redemption Stories about Fallon, whose ratings plummeted after the hair-toussling incident. It followed the usual formula: The writer made sure readers understood Fallon is "boyish" and "self-deprecating" and other things that are meant to convey that he is harmless. That the undilutedly privileged straight white cis man hosting a flagship late-night network talkshow doesn't have any real power, geez.

And Fallon made sure to convey that our criticisms had hurt his feelings: "If I let anyone down, it hurt my feelings that they didn't like it. I got it. ...I don't want to be bullied into not being me, and not doing what I think is funny. Just because some people bash me on Twitter, it's not going to change my humor or my show. ...I'm a people pleaser. If there's one bad thing on Twitter about me, it will make me upset. So, after this happened, I was devastated. I didn't mean anything by it. I was just trying to have fun."

Poor Jimmy.

It was, perhaps, not received as well as he'd hoped or anticipated. Surprisingly (to Fallon, apparently), tousling the hair of a white supremacist authoritarian does not age well — especially when that white supremacist authoritarian has spent the interceding time enacting a white supremacist authoritarian agenda.

So now Fallon is back, and complaining even harder that he's gotten a bad break just for doing something attention-seeking for ratings which was then widely noticed, as designed, and garnering in response deserved censure.

Scott Feinberg at the Hollywood Reporter quotes Fallon from their interview on THR's "Awards Chatter" podcast [Content Note: Reference to self-harm]:
"I did not do it to 'normalize' him or to say I believe in his political beliefs or any of that stuff," says Jimmy Fallon at the point, during our recording of an episode of The Hollywood Reporter's 'Awards Chatter' podcast, when our conversation inevitably arrives at the Sept. 15, 2016, episode of The Tonight Show.

...It was, it turned out, the biggest mistake of Fallon's career. He almost immediately began taking incoming fire on social media from people who felt that Trump was an existential threat to America whom Fallon had 'normalized' for people who were still on the fence about him. "It just got bigger and out of control," Fallon recalls, speaking in his office at 30 Rock. Then came the shots from Fallon's colleagues. "I saw other comedians from other shows making fun of me on Twitter and I go, 'Okay, now I'm just gonna get off,'" he says. "They know the show. I'm just doing five hours a week. I get in at 10 in the morning, I work 'til seven at night and I'm just trying to make a funny show. [Addressing them:] 'You know the grind and you know me. Of all the people in the world, I'm one of the good people — I mean, really. You don't even know what you're talking about if you say that I'm evil or whatever.' But people just jump on the train, and some people don't even want to hear anything else. They're like, 'No, you did that!' You go, 'Well, just calm down and just look at the whole thing and actually see my body of work.'"

..."It was definitely a down time," Fallon somberly says of the period after Trump's last appearance on his show. "And it's tough for morale. There's 300 people that work here, and so when people are talking that bad about you and ganging up on you, in a really gang-mentality..." Choking up, he continues, "You go, 'Alright, we get it. I heard you. You made me feel bad. So now what? Are you happy? I'm depressed. Do you want to push me more? What do you want me to do? You want me to kill myself? What would make you happy? Get over it.'" Fallon adds, "I'm sorry. I don't want to make anyone angry — I never do and I never will. It's all in the fun of the show. I made a mistake. I'm sorry if I made anyone mad. And, looking back, I would do it differently."
"Of all the people in the world, I'm one of the good people." That is just a real thing that Jimmy Fallon said, while also insisting that people should not criticize him because he works really hard and normalizing a white supremacist authoritarian was all in good fun and now he's depressed because everyone is so mean to him.

He's one of the good people, even though he obdurately refuses to accept or even acknowledge that people did not criticize him to make him feel bad, but because he carelessly did a very dangerous and despicable thing for ratings, without any regard for how awful it was, and he continues to insist it was all just a bit of fun and couldn't possibly have been dangerous or despicable because he didn't intend for it to be anything but silly, and his critics are monsters who keep bringing it up because we want him dead, not because it will remain an issue as long as he continues to treat it with such deflective flippancy.

He wasn't responsible in the first place, and he isn't responsible now. Pout.

And what Fallon further won't realize, stuck in his bubble of self-righteousness, is that this fuck-up for which he refuses to be meaningfully accountable is emblematic of a larger lack of media accountability — from CNN lingering endlessly on Trump's empty podium to CBS chair Les Moonves gleefully declaring that Trump's candidacy "may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS," from coverage of Hillary Clinton's email for nearly 600 consecutive days to media decisions to withhold from public view editing room footage of Trump behaving badly, and on and on and on — and the media's collective shirking of responsibility for What They Did is encapsulated, in some way, in Fallon's refusal to demonstrate shame for an image that none of us can forget.

screen shot of Jimmy Fallon ruffling Donald Trump's hair, while they both smile

And naturally Trump took to Twitter to respond to Fallon's latest round of whining, tweeting: ".@jimmyfallon is now whimpering to all that he did the famous 'hair show' with me (where he seriously messed up my hair), & that he would have now done it differently because it is said to have 'humanized' me-he is taking heat. He called & said 'monster ratings.' Be a man Jimmy!"

One of the good people called to tell the white supremacist whose hair he tousled "monster ratings."

Or maybe not. Because the white supremacist is also a goddamned liar. Which was also well-known at the time.

Fallon responded by tweeting: "In honor of the President's tweet I'll be making a donation to RAICES in his name."

Which is a good thing to do. (Even more so when it's not just out of vengeance or guilt.)

Another good thing to do would be for Jimmy Fallon to stop casting his critics as unprincipled gremlins who just want to hurt him and instead regard us as people who are legitimately angry at his abetting the rise of a white supremacist authoritarian and then failing utterly and repeatedly to hold himself accountable for that catastrophically bad decision. He needs to own his role in this mess.

And if he is unable to bring himself to do that, then he needs to shut the fuck up about it forever. Because his public pouting is obscene. There are children in cages, Jimmy. They can't attend your pity party, and no decent person wants to.

[Related Reading: It's Like I Don't Even Care About Unifying in Opposition to Donald Trump.]

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus