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Look, the first presidential debate between President Trump and Joe Biden was a mess. Or, as CNN’s Jake Tapper put it, a “hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a trainwreck.” The interrupting, the dissonance, the refusal by the president to disavow white supremacists—even when it wasn’t looking like a perverted version of democracy, it was still the kind of thing that felt migraine-inducing. But then, as the debate ended and cable news fired up the commentators, the silver lining—a tweet—that would come to define the night finally emerged.
Yes, that truly is Jeremy Slater, the writer of 2015’s Fantastic Four. For those who may not remember, because 2015 was a cool century ago, that film, directed by Josh Trank, was its own special kind of dumpster fire trapped inside a trainwreck. It became en vogue to cite Kate Mara’s reshoots wig as the most obvious of the film’s blunders, but they often forget it had extremely subpar VFX and stilted dialog too. Based on his tweet, it seems like Slater hasn’t forgotten what became of his script, and on Tuesday night, he blessedly made himself the butt of his own joke in an attempt to bring some levity to the debate.
Almost immediately after, scores of other screenwriters with embarrassing titles on their IMDb pages started chiming in with their own “That was the worst thing I’ve ever seen, and I …” tweets. Even Mark Hamill joined the fray, noting that he’d been in the Star Wars Holiday Special. Like most things on the internet, the meme came and went—a small dopamine hit in the middle of a peak doomscrolling night.
But it was also something else: a whole lot of people taking one for the team. As Election Day draws near, the discourse on social media—particularly on Twitter—gets more and more fraught. Even good-faith arguments can devolve quickly into mudslinging, and the result is everyone getting more entrenched. Jokes can get taken the wrong way, finding unwitting victims in people who are just exhausted and trying to make sense of what’s happening. By mocking their own careers, the folks posting the meme released the valve of that possibility before the pressure even built up. It wasn’t Trump’s supporters mocking Biden’s or the other way around—it was just people mocking themselves to express how fed up they were with the state of the democratic process.
Does any of this make what happened during the debate better? Not really. Chances are, no one will remember it by next week. But for one very brief moment it was possible to forget the war of rhetoric, the commentators, the Proud Boys, and even the debate itself and just quietly appreciate the joy of a joke well-told—even if the subject wasn’t funny at all.
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