Post-Truth Men Like Trump Are Nothing New — We've Been Watching Them on TV for Years

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

This article is more than 5 years old.

Procedurals are the comfort food of TV. They are built on a formula: a problem is introduced, but rest assured that by the end of the episode, the bad guy will be caught, the patient will be diagnosed, the court case will be won, and the character’s lives will remain more or less the same.

Shows like this feed us with the comfort of ritual and stasis. But one hidden ingredient makes them particularly addictive, and particularly harmful.

In almost every procedural, there is a main character, whom I will refer to as the “Always Right Man.” He may be a doctor, a cop, a con man, a lawyer, an amateur detective, or even an FBI agent investigating the paranormal. But what we can count on is that, against all odds, his hunches are always right.

Other people might depend on logic, evidence, or following the rules of their profession, but not the “Always Right Man.” He trusts only himself and his own expertise and instinct. And in every episode, he is vindicated.

There will be variations on the theme, and a few shows have not one but two Always Right Men. But certain things are predicable. This character is almost always a white man. He might be given a flaw -- an addiction, an anti-social personality, or an overly goofy personality. He might have skeletons in his closet or a tragic past. By nature, the Always Right Man will circumvent the establishment. Maybe he agrees with the goals of his established profession, but he won’t be held back by protocol or professional guidelines. And he will always face "haters" trying to get him to follow the rules.


Every episode will feature a supporting character trying to dissuade Always Right Man. “We already figured it out,” they’ll say. “Look at the evidence,” they'll urge. "There’s nothing more we can do for this patient,” they'll reason. But these are no barriers for “Always Right Man.” He doesn’t trust other people, and he doesn’t play by the rules, but that’s why he’s the best. He can see a deeper truth and, in the end, his blind faith in himself saves the day. Catastrophe is subverted by ignoring the very things that generally make people successful in their field -- listening to the input of others and following the rules.

Turn on the TV and try to find a procedural that doesn’t have this character. He’s the perfect wish-fulfillment character for white men nostalgic for an era when they didn’t have to answer to anyone. We are only a century and a half away from a time when women were little more than property, and when people of color could be owned. White men were the master of the house, and they answered to no one.

TV characters live in a world written to affirm their brilliance. The problem comes when viewers internalize the message of these shows and behave like their fictional heroes. Seeing the Always Right Man save the day on each weekly episode by ignoring all others and acting on hunches, viewers run the risk of mimicking this behavior in their own lives, convinced that they, too, might be the Always Right Man.

This archetype is the perfect balm for cognitive dissonance. Are facts, logic, and the voices of others challenging those concepts that you hold most dear? Are they asking that you change your behavior? Easy. Pretend you are the Always Right Man, living in a fantasy world where facts are dismissed and other people’s voices are ignored.

Is climate change too scary? Follow your hunch that it might not exist. Now you don’t have to worry!

Is your female co-worker harping on you, bothering you with pesky demands to not be sexually harassed at work? Ignore her, and dive into your hunch that she’s just playing the victim for attention. Why is she even working anyway? She should be at home!

Are the Black Lives Matters protestors challenging your idea that America is always fair and the police always follow the law? Ignore their voices and double down on your hunch that they are criminals and America is fine.

So let's review: We have a character who is extremely confident. When he ignores facts and other voices, it’s perceived as a mark of integrity. He criticizes the establishmentbreaks the rules, and trusts only his own instincts, which he is confident are infallible. Sound like anyone?