Of course a single fly disrupted the debate's only real discussion about race in America


When it was all said and done, Wednesday night's vice presidential debate between California Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence was less the explosive heavyweight bout many were expecting, and more of a subdued — albeit occasionally contentious — platform for focus-group tested soundbites and broad political platitudes.

There were, of course, a few noteworthy moments; Harris did an admirable job hammering Pence over the Trump administration's catastrophic handling of the coronavirus pandemic; Pence conspicuously dodged a question about whether President Trump would leave the White House if he lost in November; both candidates lied to an eighth grader by insisting that, actually, things were gonna be just fine.

There was also a fly. Perhaps you heard?

For just over two whole minutes, an incredibly persistent Musca domestica parked itself on Pence's perfectly coiffed helmet hair, a noticeably dark blot on his otherwise ultra-milk complexion, and just hung out, soaking in the adulation of a Twitter audience desperate for some sort of diversion from the relative monotony of the debate itself.

And boy oh boy was there ever adulation.

As is the case of all insta-memed internet phenomena, The Fly followed the basic arc of: Good → Oversaturated → Annoying → Actively bad. Yes, we all had our fun, but the moment the Biden campaign decided that this would be their thing, that fun curdled into the sort of Etsy #Resistance shtick that is very popular among aunts on Facebook.


Yeah, we get it.

Okay, stop this.

The irony of Wednesday night's insect obsession is that it came at the expense of one of the debate's more interesting, important moments: a conversation about racism and racial justice in America.

"This presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, that America is systemically racist, that — as Joe Biden said — that he believes law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities, is a great insult to the men and women of who serve in law enforcement," Pence, oblivious to the follicular passenger that had captivated the internet, intoned.

"I will not be lectured by the vice president on what it means to enforce the laws of this country," Harris shot back a short while later during her rebuttal time, before listing Trump's many, many flirtations with white nationalism and racism.

The exchange, while hardly groundbreaking in terms of offering new insight into each candidate's positions, was nevertheless one of the most substantive moments in the debate, offering a clear, concise, straightforward juxtaposition between Pence's rah-rah police boosterism and Harris's (admittedly problematic) experience as an actual law enforcement official. And while Pence's back-the-blue schtick is hardly a surprise, there are legitimate questions about just how much Harris will embrace the criminal justice movement sweeping the country in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — questions which were answered, at least in part, during a part of the debate overshadowed by an insect flitting its way through the vice president's hair.

Years from now, if we can still recall the events of Wednesday night, most people will probably remember the fly over everything else that happened. That's understandable. It's human nature. In a way, though, the two minutes of fly time were a microcosm of the vice presidential debate itself: a relatively significant moment of political disagreement (on one side: cops are ALWAYS good; on the other, cops are USUALLY good) overshadowed by an entirely inconsequential bit of ephemera that went from fun to dumb in less than an hour.