The idea was simple. Have actors of the opposite sex re-enact the 2016 presidential debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton with the same words and mannerisms, and see how people respond.
Would people find Trump’s aggressiveness problematic coming from a woman — as feminists would suggest? Would … whatever it is that Clinton’s supporters loved be even more convincing coming from a man?
That’s what economics and political science professor Maria Guadalupe and educational theater professor Joe Salvatore thought they’d find when they took the transcripts of the debates, swapped the genders, and put on a stage show called “Her Opponent.”
They did not expect, of course, what actually occurred — which anyone not consumed with the politics of personal identity could have predicted:
Inside the evening’s program were two surveys for each audience member to fill out — one for before the show, with questions about their impressions of the real-life Trump-Clinton debates, and another for afterward, asking about their reactions to the King-Gordon re-staging. Each performance was also followed by a discussion, with Salvatore bringing a microphone around to those eager to comment on what they had seen.
“I’ve never had an audience be so articulate about something so immediately after the performance,” Salvatore says of the cathartic discussions. “For me, watching people watch it was so informative. People across the board were surprised that their expectations about what they were going to experience were upended.”
Many were shocked to find that they couldn’t seem to find in Jonathan Gordon what they had admired in Hillary Clinton — or that Brenda King’s clever tactics seemed to shine in moments where they’d remembered Donald Trump flailing or lashing out.
For those Clinton voters trying to make sense of the loss, it was by turns bewildering and instructive, raising as many questions about gender performance and effects of sexism as it answered.
Salvatore recounts watching the audience during the performance:
We heard a lot of “now I understand how this happened” — meaning how Trump won the election. People got upset. There was a guy two rows in front of me who was literally holding his head in his hands, and the person with him was rubbing his back.
The simplicity of Trump’s message became easier for people to hear when it was coming from a woman — that was a theme. One person said, “I’m just so struck by how precise Trump’s technique is.”
Another — a musical theater composer, actually — said that Trump created “hummable lyrics,” while Clinton talked a lot, and everything she was was true and factual, but there was no “hook” to it. Another theme was about not liking either candidate — you know, “I wouldn’t vote for either one.”
Someone said that Jonathan Gordon [the male Hillary Clinton] was “really punchable” because of all the smiling.
Now, I agree with both of them sucking. There was a reason I was really pulling for the Sweet Meteor of Death in November, after all. But it’s interesting that Clinton voters could grasp Trump’s message now that it was coming out of a more “acceptable” package.
Turns out that gender bias is a huge problem in 2017 — the Left just cannot stand men.
Guadalupe and Salvatore appear to be interested in pursuing this method for exploring human communication in more detail, and I hope they do. It was very telling and I suspect there’s a lot of good information to be found along these lines.