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President Trump and V.P. Mike Pence

Is President Trump's Quip About 'Models" and Coronavirus Deaths 'Too Soon'?

Gettyimages | Tasos Katopodis
By Robert Safir

President Trump makes a tasteless joke about being 'involved' with models as he talks about coronavirus death figures. The comments were made during a Friday press conference at the White House, where Trump was speaking on the trajectory of COVID-19 deaths.

Trump said, “The models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die and you know what I want to do? I want to come way under the model."

Then Trump added: "The professionals did the models and I was never involved in a model. At least this kind of a model."

Too Soon?

Giphy

Humor is subjective, so it may be funny to you, but perhaps not everyone else. What is it about the ‘Too Soon?’ jokes that make them offensive? Comedians (and people who think of themselves as comedians) might offer the ‘too soon’ question following a tragic or horrific event. Often, these jokes come off as tasteless. Is this because of the amount of time that has passed since the event, with shorter times being more offensive than longer ones? That seems like the most obvious explanation, but there may be more to it than that.

“Too Soon” as a Tool

Gilbert Gottfried & Seth
Gettyimages | NBC

Studies have shown that tragedies might seem funnier when the event is farther away, not only in time, but in distance. People might be able to withstand a joke about an earthquake in India rather than one that happened yesterday in Hollywood. Also, mishaps can be funnier than events that are tragic. A social or physical blunder without major consequences is something we can digest more easily.

It was Gilbert Gottfried who used “too soon” in his scathing rip at the Hugh Hefner roast that made “too soon” a comedic, household favorite. Now it is used by many comedians and would-be comedians – not just to evoke a laugh – but as a comeback if the audience doesn’t take too kindly to the joke. It removes the comic or speaker from the comment and also asks for permission (after the fact) to use a joke that’s actually in bad taste.

Tragedy Coupled with Inflammatory is a Bad Cocktail

Stormy Daniels
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Stormy_Daniels_at_AEE_2010.jpg

Trump’s comment didn’t go over very well – especially on social media. Trump did not follow the quip with “too soon” and no one has suggested since then that this is the reason the joke flopped. It certainly is ‘too soon,’ but there’s more to it than that.

Trump saying “…I was never involved in a model. At least this kind of model” is an attempt to leverage incidents from his past in which he acted in questionable, if not illegal, ways. A large number of women have come forward (going all the way back to the presidential campaign in 2016) and claimed that they were victims of sexual abuse because of Trump. Some even had (and have) allegations of rape. There were accusations that he stormed into models’ dressing rooms at inappropriate times. And of course, there is the case of Stormy Daniels.

So you have a situation that is certainly tragic – the number of coronavirus deaths– coupled with a remark that is inflammatory and offensive to some people. And the timing (too soon) doesn’t help much either.

Perception is the Reality

Press briefing
Wikimedia | https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coronavirus_Press_Conference_-_49659241366.jpg

There is a potential to inflict harm to more than one group with this type of comment. You have the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic on one hand, and you have the women who have suffered the pain of sexual abuse without the reward of achieving justice. Combine these with a speaker who is known for negative rhetoric, misogyny, and a history of “untruths,” and you have a result that is certainly to be looked down upon.

None of the offenses mentioned here have been proven in a court of law – and some of them don’t even qualify for being heard in a courtroom. But, as many marketing people know, the perception is the reality. Being aware of those perceptions is part of the job.

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