As a kid, C-SPAN was my Nickelodeon. I knew of Donald Duck, Spongebob Squarepants, and Mickey Mouse, but I didn’t speak of them. They weren’t welcome in my parents’ animation-free household. Instead, I was fed a steady diet of NPR, BBC, The New Yorker and C-SPAN. It took me years to realize that this wasn’t the norm, that I was obscenely thin on American pop culture. I remember, one summer in Minnesota, a slightly older and unabashedly cool friend introduced me to the seamy underbelly of Japanese anime, and I binged in secret on Fruits Basket. Still, I had a hard time swallowing the idea that cartoon characters could add anything pleasant or palatable to my world. So, for better or worse, I stuck with C-SPAN for years.
I lived to watch the Prime Minister’s Questions. It was my Narnia, my Wonderland, my escape from modern Americana. This is how I ended up using phrases like “quite an appalling situation” to describe my seventh grade geography teacher, who couldn’t spell “Afghanistan” properly. Watching British politicians go on polysyllabic sprees made me so giddy. I told no one about David Cameron or Tony Blair or Gordon Brown, these great orators, who bounced about the British House of Commons with such zest and with so many zingers. I had no one to tell.
At 16, I went off to college, and I tried to be cool. I got into the habit of nodding along, when people mentioned Family Guy, The Flintstones, Rugrats, Powerpuff Girls, Beavis and Butt-Head. At age 20, I went to eastern Turkey and taught English to university students, who told me I reminded them of Velma Dinkley. Not knowing a thing about Scooby-Doo, I asked, blankly, “Velma who?” At the ripe age of 23, I went on a date and found myself mid-conversation with a fellow twentysomething, who went wordless when I admitted to not knowing what a dad joke was. I tried to make light of it by betting that The New Yorker didn’t have any articles or essays mentioning dad jokes. I won that bet, though clearly I lost the pop culture war.
It may not come as much of a surprise, then, that since the election I have listened to over 90 hours of C-SPAN’s live pool feed from the bottom of Trump Tower. For those of you wanting to follow in my footsteps, here’s November 18 (8:05 hours), November 21 (7:37 hours), November 22 hours), November 28 (8:00 hours), November 29 (8:36 hours), November 30 (8:35 hours), December 1 (2:55 hours), December 2 (10:15 hours), December 5 (6:00 hours), December 7 (8:35 hours), December 8 (6:44 hours), December 9 (8:15 hours).
I have a life. I mean, there’s no way I could watch all 90 hours, but I’m a committed listener. It’s like elevator music with a spike of National Public Radio. At first, I listened for answers, a hope that the Transition Team would reveal what MAGA meant. I listened, as I chopped carrots, as I emailed editors, as I drafted missives about what a post-election world meant for my main object of academic study: Guantánamo. I was tempted to believe that a Trump presidency would do the thing that I had dreamed of for years: It could make C-SPAN great again. This could be the silver lining, I tried to convince myself. The silver lining, I muttered, could be golden-plated, like the lobby of the Trump Tower.
Many have argued that the live feed will destroy your soul. For me, it had the opposite effect. I watched Kellyanne Conway teach septuagenarian men how to take selfies. I listened to the Attorney General of Arkansas talk about rice exports to Japan. I almost convinced myself that I was watching out for the Republic. As the Latin expression puts it, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchers? I looked at the view counts for one video, and I had a smidgeon of hope. When I saw that the November 21 feed had garnered more than 11,000 views, my heart did a back flip. Was Trump welcoming in the golden age of C-SPAN? Would I finally find my tribe? Then, the November 22 feed dropped to just more than a thousand views. By noon of December 12, the view count was below 50. I realized that I was living in an alternate reality—thinking that others would flock to observe this dystopia, born and bred in New York City.
Each day brings a bipartisan cast of characters, who come and go and smile at reporters; the camera drifts and shifts and wobbles. Who wouldn’t be addicted to this docu-dramedy?
I’ve had my ups and downs watching the feed, for sure. On December 12, the feminist in me cried, as I watched Carly Fiorina come out of the golden elevators and declare, “First, I have to say, he has really cool stuff in his office.” I laughed as General Petraeus winked at reporters in the lobby. I tried to decrypt what Al Gore meant on December 5, when he said that he had had an “extremely interesting conversation.” I ended up with a headache and took Advil. But I kept the cam on.
The Trump cam feels a bit like watching The Truman Show, except the show’s protagonist is nowhere to be found. I imagine him, pacing floors and floors above, tweeting, tuning into Fox News. I imagine him tuning into C-SPAN to watch the live feed of his lobby. I think of him tweeting “Check out the lobby of Trump Tower on C-SPAN. Enjoy!” Yes. However nightmarish the current situation might feel, I can still dream.
As I write these words, from a coffee shop in western Massachusetts, I still have the live feed playing in the background. I can no longer tell you why—if it’s out of fear, or hope, or love for this channel so few know about. I think back to the days when I watched the Prime Minister’s Questions and treasured my window into British politics. Years from now, will others in Indonesia, Ireland and India turn to this series to get a glimpse of what American democracy looks like? I don’t know. But, I’m still holding out hope that Donald Trump will make C-SPAN great again, that the golden age of public TV is still on the horizon.
Muira McCammon is a writer and war crimes researcher whose work has appeared in Slate, Waypoint by VICE, Atlas Obscura, The Massachusetts Review, and other publications. She lives out in the woods in western Massachusetts, does not own a TV, and watches too many Turkish soap operas.