Of all of the insights into art and literature contained in David Shield’s manifesto for a
new literary genre Reality Hunger there is one rather prophetic statement about the way
that presidents seem to have been chosen over the past few decades, “the person who
loses the presidential election is the person who seems most fictional” (Shields 86).
Shields identifies that in 2008 Barack Obama seemed the candidate that “came off as
completely real” especially when compared with the fossilized McCain and stilted
Hillary Clinton who “campaigned with all the logic of a Successories poster” a line he
gets from John Hodgman. 2016 of course saw Clinton retry this same strategy and lose to
Donald Trump who was selling his particular brand of straight talking. Trump had the
kind of honesty and realness that was unafraid to be ugly, that reveled in its own
despicableness. Whether “real” in the context of presidential personality means dignified
and caring or narcissistic and blunt is irrelevant as long as those characteristics are found
by the majority of the public to be indicative of an authentic and honest person, someone
who would be able to get up on the podium and say what they truly feel rather than make
politically calculated comments.
This desire for a president who will “tell it how it is” is just one among many
symptoms of what Shields calls “reality hunger”, a cultural desire to consume something
we feel to be indicative of life as it is lived, a true relation of events as they truly are.
Reality television is meant to satisfy this hunger, “real” people either living their lives in
a conveniently shared living space or else collectively subjected to some kind of game.
Despite these reality shows being run by producers and the raw film edited down into an
easily digestible and highly dramatic hour long segments for every week; the audience is