In the musical “Chicago,” the lawyer Billy Flynn is about to defend Roxie Hart in court on a charge of murder.
Billy is the prototype celebrity lawyer whose M.O. in defending Roxie is to turn her into a celebrity, too. He’s given Roxie a total makeover to present her in a sympathetic and vulnerable light. Lying isn’t totally out of the question either.
On the eve of her trial, when Roxie expresses apprehension, Billy tries to reassure her.
“Roxie,” he says, “you got nothing worry about. It’s all a circus, kid. A three-ring circus.
“These trials — the whole world — (they’re) all showbiz. But kid, you’re working with a star. The biggest.”
This is the lead-in to one of Broadway’s most beloved and enduring tunes, “Give ’em the Old Razzle Dazzle.”
For those who know it, tell me the song doesn’t resonate for many different reasons today. Is there a walk of life where “giving ’em the old razzle dazzle” doesn’t apply? Politics? Check. Your workplace? Check. Sports? Check. Advertising? Check-plus. The better you are at “giving ’em the old razzle dazzle,” the more successful you are.
There’s no room anywhere today for frank talk. Then again, the term “frank talk” is code for something else — namely a testy exchange of conflicting points of view bordering on the unpleasant. Even that’s razzle dazzle of a sort.
So the next time a politician says “the two of us had a frank discussion,” you’ll know what that actually means.
Watch stations like MeTV, or watch television past 11:30 p.m., if you want to get a good whiff of razzle dazzle. The products advertised make outrageous claims. And when you hear the laundry list of side effects (spoken at speeds approaching hurricane winds), the only conclusion you can draw is “I’d rather have (pick the condition) than take any of this razzle dazzle.”
Say you’re bucking for a promotion at work, and your boss tells you it went to someone else “because you’re too valuable to me and I can’t afford to lose you.”
“Throw ’em a fake and a finagle/They’ll never know you’re just a bagel.”
Two years ago, when the Patriots were in the middle of the shamefully contrived “deflategate” crisis, Bill Belichick did Billy Flynn so proud he could have taken over the role. The notoriously deadpanned Belichick got up at a news conference and said, “look, I’m not Mona Lisa Vito” when someone asked him about the ideal gas law.
Mona Lisa Vito, you may recall, is the heroine of “My Cousin Vinny,” who pinpointed the characteristics of vintage cars to get her boyfriend’s clients acquitted of murder.
It was great. Funny-man Belichick carried the day instead of the issue of whether Tom Brady deflated footballs.
“Back since the days of old Methuselah,/everyone loves the big bamboozala.”
But the absolute real-life Billy Flynn is our president, Donald Trump. This isn’t a political diatribe as much as it is an observation about how this game is often played, and how good Trump is at it. If there’s a Hall of Fame for razzle dazzle, Trump gets in on the first ballot. He is shameless in the true Billy Flynn sense.
There are so many examples one can give, but I’m going to stick with one: The Wall.
Almost two years into his term, The Wall exists only in the mind, and on the lips, of our president. He campaigned on the pretext of getting Mexico to pay for The Wall. It didn’t take long for even the most dim-witted person to see that for what it was. Pure razzle dazzle. Now, we’re at the stage where if it’s going to be built, the money’s going to have to come from somewhere.
And Trump, according to some reports, is threatening to shut the government down if the Democrats do anything to prevent funding for The Wall. Honestly, the Democrats should call his bluff and vote to appropriate funding for it — just to see what he does.
I will be stunned (stunned, I tell you!) if The Wall is ever built. This whole thing is carrot-on-the-stick razzle dazzle. Keep holding it out there, and people will keep believing it.
But like I said, this isn’t intended to be a screed. Politicians and razzle dazzle go hand in hand.
In one of the more misplaced instances of razzle dazzle, Herbert Hoover promised “a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” if he got elected in 1928. Hoover is best known for having presided over the 1929 stock market crash and resulting Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” collapsed under the weight of the Vietnam War. The list is endless.
But don’t be too scornful of the folks who continue to fall for it. After all, “how can they see with sequins in their eyes?”