The gaffe is dead. But before it was murdered—brutally, and at the hands of a man with a god complex and a thatch of wiry, orange tagliatelle on his head— the precious, delicate gaffe enjoyed a vaulted position in public life.
Much like oval office blowjays it was a uniquely political creation. As journalist Michael Kinsley pointed out, what made a gaffe distinct was that it happened when a politician told the truth—some obvious truth that they had intended to conceal. This was in contrast to a mistake, where he said a non-truth he neither meant to say nor believed in [and yes, we will use the gendered pronoun, because let’s face it—testosterone has generally been the politician’s calling card (even when balls weren’t)].
A gaffe exposed what was thought but had previously remained unsaid.
This made gaffes more entertaining than mistakes, more illuminating than slip-ups, and more instructive than errors. They weren’t just howlers, Freudian slips, or whoopsies, they were that and so much more. In a glimpse a gaffe could reveal an insight into the realtalk we know politicians engaged in behind closed doors, but never had the cojones to say in front of the camera. It denuded the obfuscating language of elected representatives and talking heads. It was a peek behind the dusty, damask curtains of power and into the intoxicating world of truth.
The gaffe allowed us to indulge our most satisfying passions: the urge to be offended, betrayed, and ultimately to take joy in the misfortune of the apologetic politician as he grovelled an apology for accidentally admitting he doesn’t like brown people. Oh how we used to love a gaffe! Romney’s 47 percent, George W.’s nonsense, the time UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown called a grandma a bigot! The time we made that girl lose her job after making an AIDS joke on twitter. These were the Good Times. Halcyon days indeed, but they were numbered.
Like all good science fiction novels, the gaffe was to be killed by its greatest creation.
The gaffe created Donald Trump, a beast-cum-machine that is programmed to Tell It How It Is Till It Hurts. Like Hemingway’s take on bankruptcy, he killed it gradually, and then suddenly. He started out like many poor politicians—with public performances riddled with the odd gaffe. Surely he doesn’t seriously believe the President was a Muslim, right?
But rather than reigning in the brain farts, Trump embraced them. He assiduously sought to gaffe, and gaffe often. He became 100 percent unfiltered. It was a dangerous strategy, but crazy enough to work... By always telling the truth, or truthiness, or whatever his warped brand of truth is, there was never a secret kernel of knowledge to accidentally let slip. Every sentence was a corn eld of crypto-thoughts willingly exposed to the masses. Dark ideas were no longer hidden, they were proudly displayed for admiration.
It used to be that to gaffe was to err. A bad enough effort would force an apology—it could cost political careers. But the game has changed. Now, a gaffe is a source of pride, or worse—it’s irrelevant. Regardless of its severity. No longer can we indulge in schadenfreude. No longer can we relish the comedy of mistaken sincerity. Oh the pain of the lost fig- leafs that once made our politicians pretend to be better than they were.
The gaffe is dead? Long live the gaffe!
Image C/O NY Mag