Pose Doesn’t Need Its Donald Trump References

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
FX’s brand new Ryan Murphy-Brad Falchuk creation Pose vogued onto the scene Sunday night, immediately proving to be a stunning, emotional wallop of a period piece. While the 1980s-set series, which counts trans activist Janet Mock as a writer-producer-director triple threat, has a deep undercurrent of abject despair — as the AIDs crisis and rampant homophobia of the time is a constant specter, if not an all out villain — the drama still manages to feel like a dazzling piece of escapism. There’s the astounding, glitter flecked balls where Pose’s history-making LGBTQ+-led cast, most of whom are people of color, revel in the identities society tells them are so wrong. There’s heartbreaking, fantastic dance sequences. There’s Angel (Indya Moore), a gorgeous, complicated trans woman of color whose entire closet should be your summer wardrobe inspiration (and your winter, fall, and spring one too).
While the news constantly reminds us of all the ways today’s politics are harming and demeaning both LGBTQ+ community members and people of color, it’s impossible not to smile when you see Damon Richards (Ryan Jamaal Swain), a Black boy previously abused by his father for being gay, dance his way into performing arts school, or Latinx lead Blanca Rodriguez (MJ Rodriguez) start her very own house. That’s why it feels like a distracting slap in the face every time someone in this late ‘80s tale mentions Donald Trump, a man who allegedly once joked about his Vice President wanting to hang LGBTQ+ people.
Pose’s first series premiere reference to America’s real estate mogul-turned-Twitter Troll In Chief-turned-Commander In Chief comes off as sucker punch. One moment, you’re going through your feelings over Blanca’s emotional retelling of her coming out story, which involves getting “banished” from her family home forever. And then, in the next moment, a bouffant-haired James Van Der Beek, who plays a cocaine-fueled Park Avenue business executive named Matt Bromley, is yammering about Donald Trump, who is his boss. Repeatedly. The narrative switcheroo is so jarring, you barely get to yell, “Hey, is that Dawson Leery?” at the screen.
Later, brand-new Trump employee Stan Bowes (played by Ryan Murphy’s golden boy Evan Peters) picks up Angel, a sex worker, for a hotel room romp that actually turns into a sexless heart-to-heart about their respective hopes and dreams. At the end of the paid-for date, Angel gushes to her new john, “I can’t believe you work for Donald Trump. That’s so super impressive. He’s so rich.”
The problem with both of these moments is that Donald Trump is a deeply unnecessary reference. Stan, a closeted queer man with a wife and kids, doesn’t have to work for Trump for us to understand who he is as a character and the problems he faces as someone climbing the corporate ladder in the 1980s. Wall Street, Glengarry Glen Ross, and The Wolf of Wall Street, which begins in the exact year Pose takes place, have all frozen the pinstripe-suited, cutthroat, hair-slicked business culture of the era forever. So, the 45th president doesn’t need to act as a touchstone for the drugs, greed, and boys club atmosphere of 1987.
On top of that issue, the addition of Trump, who essentially stands in opposition of everything Pose represents, isn’t treated with any nuance or a mere sly, Ryan Murphy-ish wink. Instead, Trump is practically venerated by everyone who speaks about him, whether that’s Matt, who works for the real estate mogul and seems like an even more privileged clone, or Angel, whose community Trump now actively attempts to damage with his politics. If you’re watching this series, it’s unlikely you want to hear about how Donald Trump went to Wharton Business School, loves to employ people from scrappy bridge-and-tunnel backgrounds, or has a gold toilet Americans once believed was the height of style. In fact, it’s unlikely anyone enjoying Pose wants to hear about Donald Trump at all for the 87 minutes they’re enjoying the emotional and spiritual triumphs of trans people of color.
Although it’s likely Pose added in a mention of the president to simply remind us that Trump's destiny mutated in a way no one could have seen coming, it’s all the more disappointing when you consider how well Murphy and Falchuck’s other FX baby, American Horror Story: Cult, was able to skewer the political culture of today. Cult worked hard to figure out how Trump was able to rise to power, and then completely eviscerated all of those systems, criticizing over 11 episodes everything from fascist trolls and the manipulation of “fake news” to, yes, even the people who decided to vote for Jill Stein. If Pose used even an ounce of Cult’s Trump shade to justify bringing up the Voldemort of American politics, no one would be able to complain about hearing the president’s name.
After all, it’s not like 1987 wasn’t rife with Trump drama. That was the year The Art Of The Deal became a bestseller, wherein ghostwriter Tony Schwartz, as he put it, “euphemized” the “relentlessly” difficult relationship the future president had with his late father, Fred Trump. That was also the year the businessman posed for a Newsweek cover story titled “Citizen Trump.” The accompanying photo shoot is filled with gauche images of Trump and first wife Ivana Trump in their former Connecticut mansion. The eventual politician even gave his first big campaign speech in 1987, during which he unsurprisingly riffed about how America was “being kicked around” by foreign governments as they were “laughing at us.”
But there is none of that in Pose yet. Instead, it’s just glowing remarks about a man who would one day court white supremacists, along with a shockingly long amount of time dedicated to the boring family life of Trump’s fictional employee Stan, a self-loathing man who is cruel to Angel and her fabulous sequin tops. When a series has the kind of sparkling dynamics of women like Angel, Blanca, and even the pair's domineering, ethereal former “mother” Elektra Abundance (Dominique Jackson), no one needs to watch Stan stress about following in Trump’s footsteps or tell his wife (a heavily accented Kate Mara) how to properly eat lobster.
The boundary-making aims and cast of Pose are proof TV has moved past its obsession with sad white men who behave badly. Now if only it would stop taking precious time away from its fascinating core characters to remind us of those tired stories.
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