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Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The Year of Ben Trovato

The Federalist names Ben Trovato 2014 Person of the Year.

Who is Ben Trovato?
He has been everywhere and had a hand in just about every big story, from Ferguson to the University of Virginia. He has been most active in his usual fields, journalism and politics, but we can see his impact as far afield as espionage and even retail.

You’ve never heard of him? Maybe so, but you already know him very well.

For those who suspect that Ben Trovato is not a real, literal person, you’re right. But the whole point of old Ben’s influence is that it doesn’t matter whether he’s literally real. Or whether anything is literally real, for that matter.

I first heard of Ben Trovato while reading a curious little volume of unusual word origins. A number of these supposed etymologies, most of the really colorful ones, were attributed to “Ben Trovato.” The name is taken from an old Italian saying: se non è vero, è ben trovato. Roughly translated: if it’s not true, it’s a good story. These were the kind of word origins that you really wanted to be true, but for which there was no real evidence. In contemporary parlance, they are “too good to check.”

I think you can begin to see why 2014 has been the year of Ben Trovato. It has been a year full of things that were non vero, but which had really good narratives. Or at least really convenient narratives.

It may not actually be true that Michael Brown had his hands up and was saying “don’t shoot” when a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer shot him—the bulk of the eyewitness testimony and physical evidence indicates otherwise—but “hands up, don’t shoot” is still a great slogan because it’s such a good “metaphor” and captures a “larger truth.” Ben Trovato at work.

Like Al Sharpton, Ben Trovato has frequently been invited to the White House, where he spent some time hanging out with the son Barack Obama might have had, before swinging over to the First Lady’s office, where he prompted Michelle Obama to describe how an incident at a Target store shows that she still needs to fear being mistaken for the help because she’s black. Proof of America’s persistent racism. Sure, she told the same story a few years ago with a totally opposite meaning. But you’re missing the point. The point is that the new version of the story is well constructed to convey an important narrative. It has Ben Trovato’s fingerprints all over it.

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