Scandal, Spectacle, and Santos: From Comedy to Congress in the Year of George

Angelo Franco-DeWitt

 

Imagine, if you will, a political candidate who blends the audacity of a reality TV star with the earnestness of a method actor. No, not the presumptive Republican nominee for this year’s presidential election. Enter George Santos: the man who turned the political stage into his personal theater. With a flair for the dramatic and a penchant for fabrication, Santos’s saga is a fascinating tale of how our political landscape can be dangerously influenced by the allure of entertainment. Santos’s appearance on Ziwe Fumudoh’s show perfectly encapsulated the seamless fusion of politics and entertainment, blurring the lines and sparking debates about what true political leadership should look like in an era dominated by likes and views. His breezy, almost flippant exchange with Fumudoh, where he tackled serious allegations with unnerving levity, starkly illustrates the dangers of valuing charm over competence.

 

George Santos’s rise to political prominence was steeped in controversy from its inception. A fact that, some may argue, actually fit right in with the modern political zeitgeist. Born and raised in Queens, New York, Santos cultivated an image of a self-made man who overcame significant adversity to achieve success. He portrayed himself as a savvy businessman with an impressive educational background, including claims of degrees from prestigious institutions and high-profile positions in major financial firms. These claims, though later debunked, initially painted a picture of a candidate with a compelling rags-to-riches narrative.

 

In 2022, George Santos broke barriers as the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress, making history and headlines. Certainly, his victory wasn’t just a personal milestone—it was a groundbreaking moment for the LGBTQ+ community within the GOP, signaling a surprising shift towards inclusivity in a party often criticized for its conservative stance on social issues. Winning New York’s 3rd congressional district, which spans parts of Long Island and Queens, Santos demonstrated his knack for appealing to a diverse electorate. His campaign spotlighted his identity and unique perspective as a minority within the party, striking a chord with voters hungry for change and representation in political party infamously devoid of both.

 

 

But the foundation of Santos’s rise was built on shaky ground. As media scrutiny intensified, it became apparent that many of his claims were fabrications. Investigations revealed that Santos had lied about his education, falsely claiming degrees from Baruch College and New York University. Similarly, his professional history was found to be largely fictional, with no evidence to support his assertions of working at major firms like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Despite these revelations, Santos’s skillful media manipulation and flair for drama kept his fan base engaged—if only temporarily and at least long enough to vote him into office.

 

Once in Congress, George Santos’s tenure was marked by a blend of controversy and political activity that continued to capture the media’s and public’s fascination. Santos took office with his fabricated background looming large over his legislative efforts. Despite the ongoing investigations and revelations about his personal history, Santos attempted to establish himself as a committed representative for his district, focusing on issues that aligned with his self-portrayed identity of a conservative Republican. And so his voting record was a love letter to the far-right faction of the Republican Party: He consistently championed legislation to slash government spending, dismantle regulations, and uphold conservative social policies. Santos loudly opposed gun control (he wanted to make the AR-15 the “national gun” of the United States) and pushed for stricter immigration laws, faithfully echoing the Trump-loyalist wing of the GOP he so ardently supported. Despite the swirling controversies, his voting pattern kept his base loyal, even as his personal credibility crumbled.

 

In truth, he had a hard time in Congress. Media outlets and political commentators frequently highlighted the discrepancies between Santos’s public persona and the reality of his background, questioning his integrity and suitability for office. Attempts to address substantive policy issues were often drowned out by the ongoing revelations about his past lies, the legal challenges he faced, and even his sartorial choices.

 

Our enthrallment with Santo’s sweaters is perhaps not very surprising, considering that his identity as an openly gay man played a significant role in his persona and in his political career. And who doesn’t like to dissect a gay man’s fashion sense? In a party often perceived as hostile or indifferent to LGBTQ+ rights, Santos’s presence as an openly gay Republican was a remarkable anomaly. This status not only upended traditional expectations within the GOP but also contributed to his broader appeal and media coverage. As the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress, Santos’s victory was seen as a groundbreaking moment that suggested a potential shift towards greater inclusivity within the party. This even if, initially, the Republican Party embraced Santos only to keep its narrow House majority.

 

 

Santos’s alignment with the far-right faction of the Republican Party, however, created a complex dynamic. His support for policies and rhetoric that were often at odds with the broader LGBTQ+ community highlighted the contradictions in his political persona and his would-be stances. This alignment further complicated the public’s perception of him, as he became a figure who simultaneously represented quasi-progress in terms of representation while also embodying the party’s more extreme positions. In other words, was he even a real uber-conservative, or was that just another role he played because controversy courts eyeballs? That may not matter at all, though. His flamboyant persona, his stance on issues, and the controversies surrounding his fabricated background made him a prime subject for extensive media coverage, which was the whole point after all.

 

Eventually, a House Ethics Committee’s investigation revealed substantial evidence of financial misconduct by Santos. He was found to have used campaign funds for personal expenses, including luxury items such as Hermès and Ferragamo goods, as well as services at medical spas, often spending campaign money on Botox and Sephora purchases. These revelations painted a picture of a man living lavishly off his campaign funds while portraying a wealthy persona that was starkly contrasted by his actual financial struggles.

 

The committee’s findings detailed how Santos, despite boasting of significant wealth and access to a family trust, was frequently in debt and relied on high-interest credit cards to sustain his luxury lifestyle. This misuse of campaign funds became a significant aspect of Santos’s media portrayal. The juxtaposition of his public image as a self-made success story and the reality of his financial mismanagement provided rich material for media outlets. Articles and reports frequently highlighted these discrepancies, emphasizing the performative nature of his political career. This media coverage often oscillated between ridicule and serious condemnation, further blurring the lines between entertainment and political reporting.

 

The specifics of his expenditures—like the $4,127.80 spent on an Hermès bag—were particularly noteworthy. This purchase, for example, was both a source of scorn and a bizarre point of relatability. Because the truth is that, for the queer community, a gay Republican official misusing campaign funds to purchase luxury handbags and OnlyFans subscriptions is, unfortunately, iconic. Outlets like People magazine detailed these expenditures with a mix of incredulity and amusement, reflecting the broader public’s reaction to the absurdity of the situation. Critics seized upon these details to underscore the ethical violations and outright fraud committed by Santos, emphasizing how such behavior was a betrayal of public trust (and so ridiculous that within weeks, HBO announced a movie was in the works, obviously).

 

 

The whole narrative was as entertaining as it was damning.

 

This is what helped not only shape public perception of Santos as a figure of political and personal extravagance, but also blurred the lines between political reporting and tabloid fodder. The detailed accounts of his spending provided endless material for satire and late-night comedy, further embedding his story in the public consciousness as a blend of farce and scandal. In this way, Santos’s misuse of campaign funds became emblematic of the broader issue of how charisma and spectacle can overshadow substantive political discourse, turning serious ethical violations into a media circus.

 

Santos’s interview with comedian Ziwe Fumudoh was a defining moment in his post-congressional career, showcasing how he had transitioned fully into the realm of entertainment. The interview, which was posted on YouTube and quickly garnered significant attention, highlighted Santos’s ability to remain a figure of public fascination despite his numerous scandals and ongoing legal troubles.

 

A couple of weeks after Santos was finally (and historically) expelled from Congress, comedian Ziwe posted an interview with him to her YouTube channel. During the interview, Santos faced a mix of humorous and pointed questions that underscored his controversial status. Ziwe’s satirical style was evident as she repeatedly prodded Santos to say “icon,” only for her to twist it into “I con,” a not-so-subtle jab at his fraudulent activities. This clever wordplay epitomized the interview’s tone, blending comedy with the incisive critique that Ziwe is known for. But Santos’s responses ranged from evasive to dismissive, particularly when Ziwe asked about his legal issues and the ethical breaches detailed in the House Ethics Committee report. He mostly brushed it off by asking Ziwe to be “mindful with the DOJ stuff.”

 

 

The interview also highlighted Santos’s knack for turning potentially damning questions into moments of levity, for better or worse. When asked what advice he had for young, diverse people with personality disorders considering a career in politics, Santos’s response of “You’re cute” was met with both laughter and criticism. Such exchanges illustrated how Santos leveraged his charisma to deflect serious issues, transforming them into entertaining soundbites. This approach mirrored tactics used by other political figures, notably Donald Trump, who often blurred the lines between political discourse and entertainment to maintain public engagement and deflect scrutiny.

 

Ziwe’s playful yet sharp questioning included references to Santos’s lavish spending, with props like an Hermès Birkin bag stuffed with cash serving as visual reminders of his alleged misuse of campaign funds. But this combination of humor and critique underscored the dangers of treating political figures as entertainment icons, especially because the interview failed to gleam any real new information from Santos. The interview’s reception was mixed, with some praising Ziwe’s ability to highlight Santos’s absurdity, while others criticized the platforming of a disgraced politician.

 

This interview ultimately reinforced the narrative that Santos had become more of an entertainment entity than a serious political figure, certainly by that point. It raised important questions about the implications of this trend, drawing parallels to how Trump’s celebrity tactics had similarly transformed political engagement. As Santos hinted at potential future political endeavors (which he has since confirmed), the interview served as a reminder of the enduring appeal of charismatic, controversial figures in the modern media landscape. Santos’s rise, fall, and continued media presence highlight the dangers inherent in this phenomenon, where the cult of “rizz” and amusing soundbites can often overshadow ethical and professional shortcomings.

 

One glaring danger is the erosion of vital political discourse. When politicians morph into entertainment icons, the spotlight shifts from their policies to their personalities and scandals. This circus act can obliterate accountability, as the public gets lost in the drama, neglecting the politician’s actual performance and integrity. Santos’s uncanny ability to hog the media limelight despite a laundry list of ethical violations shows just how easily spectacle can outshine substance.

 

Another significant risk is the public becoming desensitized to unethical behavior. When scandals are woven into the entertainment narrative, they lose their sting. Santos’s splurging of campaign funds on Hermès bags and Botox treatments turned into just another plot twist in his ongoing dramedy, never mind the fact that they amount to serious felony charges. While these actions drew widespread condemnation, the reporting—often laced with incredulity and humor—diluted the gravity of his misconduct. This kind of coverage risks normalizing unethical behavior, making the public more tolerant of actions that should be clearly criticized.

 

But it’s also important to recognize why figures like Santos remain so appealing to the public. His larger-than-life persona, combined with his willingness to embrace and even capitalize on his absurdity, makes for compelling viewing. People are naturally drawn to dramatic stories and charismatic characters, and Santos fits this mold. His rise and downfall offer a mix of drama, humor, and scandal that is difficult to ignore, providing a form of entertainment that appeals to a broad audience.

 

 

As voters and consumers of media, it is crucial to engage with such content critically and mindfully. Enjoying the entertainment value of political figures like Santos doesn’t preclude us from recognizing and addressing the serious issues they represent. It’s essential to separate the person from the persona and to hold politicians accountable for their actions, regardless of how entertaining they may be. This means demanding rigorous journalistic standards and being aware of the ways in which entertainment can distort our perception of political reality.

 

In the circus that is American politics, love it or hate it, George Santos has proven himself to be a master performer. His saga had everything: deceit, charismatic appeal, OnlyFans, luxury handbags, 9/11, the semiotics of a Burberry scarf, relentless self-promotion, the list goes on and on. It’s easy to see why it kept audiences rapt.

 

 

As we navigate this new era where the distinction between politician and celebrity grows ever fainter, it’s essential to recognize the pitfalls of such a landscape. The dangers are manifold: a reduction in serious political discourse, a desensitization to ethical violations, and an electorate increasingly swayed by personality over policy. Yet, amid the drama and spectacle, there is a lesson to be learned. Enjoying the entertainment value of figures like Santos does not mean we must forsake our demand for integrity and accountability. We can appreciate the show without losing sight of the serious implications for our democratic processes. It is possible to be both entertained and critical, to indulge in the narrative while also insisting on ethical standards and competent governance.

 

In the end, George Santos is a reflection of our times—an era where the performance often overshadows the policy, and where the allure of the outrageous can eclipse the need for integrity. As this particular curtain falls on George Santos (for now), let’s remember that the true challenge lies in balancing our appetite for entertainment with our responsibility as informed citizens. Let’s enjoy the show, but not at the expense of the principles that underpin our democracy.

 

Author Bio:

Angelo Franco-DeWitt is the chief features writer for Highbrow Magazine.

 

For Highbrow Magazine

 

Photo Credits: Depositphotos.com; DonkeyHote (Flickr, Creative Commons); D. Benjamin Miller (Wikimedia Commons); U.S. House Office of Photography (Wikimedia Commons); Trang Khiem Nguyen (Flickr, Creative Commons). 

 

Popular: 
not popular
Bottom Slider: 
In Slider