In 2014, a round, bald, Finnish guy named Ari Kivikangas got slightly internet famous for a show he ran out of his living room. The webcam series was a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week livestream that Kivikangas called “Cyberman.” In Cyberman, Kivikangas just sits around in various stages of undress, sporting a thick, gold chain, sometimes talking about his life, other times burping, farting, and doing nothing much at all. With a few exceptions, for when he’s picking up his epilepsy medicine, or “getting some p*ssy (not often),” as he told VICE in 2014, Cyberman was Kivikangas’ entire life captured on camera.
Then, about three years back, Kivikangas gradually stopped streaming. His waning interest, like everything else about his life, is captured online. He would stop, then start back up. Then stop again. He was anxious people weren’t paying attention, that they didn’t want to watch a stranger sleep or eat pizza. In real time, in other words, Kivikangas was confronting an extremely 21st-century conundrum: He had committed years of his life to film, and now, suddenly, he wasn’t sure what to do with it.
Kivikangas’ problem is, of course, pertinent to any contemporary adult with a cellphone and social media. But it is also a perfect parable for America’s current situation—a circumstance without historical precedent, in which an actual reality-TV star, a man like Kivikangas both in occupation and general vibe, has ascended to the country’s highest office.
America now finds itself, in other words, in a Cyberman situation. Never before has a president’s pre-political life been so thoroughly captured on camera—a development that prompts a question much like Kivikangas’ own concern: What should be done with all of that tape?
Like the Cyberman backlog, the list of Donald Trump tapes is seemingly endless. The Access Hollywood tape made the first big splash, but there was also the audio of phone calls with foreign leaders, the Howard Stern interviews, the Michael Cohen and Omarosa recordings—and those are just the tapes we’ve heard. But there are also the rumored tapes—the rumblings of damning elevator footage of Trump and Melania, the mind-annihilating specter of the alleged “pee tape,” and most recently, remembered in anticipation of former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault-Newman’s tell-all memoir, Unhinged, the “N-word tape,” in which Trump allegedly used racial slurs on the set of The Apprentice. There are so many tapes and possible tapes that Roseanne Barr’s ex-husband and deranged Resistance Twitter spokesperson Tom Arnold launched his own VICELAND series, The Hunt for the Trump Tapes, just to “track” them all down.
Among this store of potential salacious material is a massive and pretty mysterious set of tapes—tapes that have, on the spectrum of Trump-related recordings, flown largely under the radar: the still-unreleased Miss Universe archival footage.
These tapes are worth considering partly because they’re just plain topical—the corners of the internet concerned with tapes and pageantry both erupted recently (the former, after Omarosa promised her recordings, and the latter, when Miss America Cara Mund accused higher-ups of bullying and abuse). But mostly because these lesser-known tapes are currently owned by a Hollywood talent titan and major Democratic donor.
In 2015, after Trump announced his run for president, insulting NBC and Univision in the process, he needed to offload the Miss Universe Organization, a three-pronged business, comprising the titular pageant as well as Miss USA and Miss Teen USA, collectively valued at somewhere between $5 million and $25 million.
He sold it for an undisclosed sum (Trump later described it as a “record price”) to WME/IMG, the talent agency run by his longtime friend, former agent, notorious Hollywood strongman, and inspiration for a hot-headed, grudge-holding Entourage character of the same first name: Ari Emanuel.
With the Miss Universe purchase, Emanuel inherited a trove of archival tape, mostly unaired recordings from backstage at the competitions, where contestants were talking, preparing, or rehearsing—occasions Trump often attended, to the discomfort of many involved. Because the president owned the organization from 1996 to 2015, there are hundreds of hours of relevant footage, and after the company left his hands, many wondered what, exactly, the archive held. In 2016, for example, some sources told The Daily Beast that they contained potentially damaging audio and video that could have impacted the presidential election.
You would think Emanuel might be interested in exploring the archive. Emanuel, a major Obama donor, has doled out hundreds of thousands in Democratic Party contributions, according to an extensive investigation in The Daily Beast. His brothers, Rahm, the current mayor of Chicago, and Ezekiel or “Zeke,” a renowned oncologist, both played major roles in the Obama administration. Not to mention that the agent, who earned epithets like “pre-eminent power player” from The New York Times, represents half the Hollywood elite, including Resistance-wave names like Oprah Winfrey and Michael Moore, whose highly anticipated documentary on the Trump administration, Fahrenheit 11/9, is slated for release on Sept. 21.
But Emanuel has been oddly cagey about the whole situation. According to four sources who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity, the super-agent reportedly refused requests from four major Democrats to view the footage in the days before the election, and has rarely spoken about the archive in the two years since. When he does discuss the tapes, Emanuel has at least twice quipped: “My brother is in politics, I’m not.” Just this year, the agent has donated over $100,000 to the Democratic Midterm Victory Fund and the Senate Majority PAC, according to Federal Election Commission records. (Emanuel and WME/IMG did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.)
The Dem’s notable silence may have something to do with his history with the president, which goes way back. Emanuel represented the reality star for years, and even after moving on, helped the future president with several Apprentice-related negotiations. In multiple interviews, Trump has said that he and Emanuel speak often on the phone, at one point on a weekly basis, according to a Daily Beast report. Trump once told The Hollywood Reporter that Emanuel was “a very good friend of mine. He calls me a lot. I call him a lot and we talk... He gets it.” Once Trump was elected to office, Emanuel met with him and Vice President Mike Pence just 12 days later, in the midst of the president-elect’s Cabinet selection process.
In an interview with Inc. earlier this year, Arnold, who has been intermittently represented by WME and its predecessors over the years, intimated his former agent’s silence was motivated by business concerns. “Rahm Emanuel’s brother owns the [expletive] Miss Universe pageant. [Trump] walked in on teenage girls naked. I mean I love Rahm Emanuel, Ari Emanuel, he’s my former agent, but c’mon!... I called Ari and said, ‘Why don’t you release it?’ And he said, ‘Oh my God, we lost so much money with Bill Cosby and Trump is still a client.’”
(Arnold, notably, has a track record for exaggeration. He recently claimed Michael Cohen had joined him on his search for footage, a boast which later proved to be false.)
In response to Arnold’s interview, Emanuel denied the conversation, and, in an article in the Chicago Tribune, a spokesperson on his behalf offered the company’s first public statement about the tapes in over two years: “There is no embarrassing unseen footage—we looked.”
A spokesperson for Miss Universe conveyed a similar sentiment to The Daily Beast, noting that the company had conducted a private review of the archives in 2016, and “found no evidence that the rumored tapes exist.” They declined to make any of the footage available on the record.
In 2016, however, three sources confirmed with The Daily Beast, on the condition of anonymity, that controversial tapes did exist at one point. And some questionable Miss Universe anecdotes have already made their way into the public eye. In 1996, for example, Trump infamously referred to then-Miss Universe Alicia Machado as “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping,” riffing on her weight and Latina heritage. In 2009, TMZ published leaked audio from backstage at a Miss USA pageant, in which Trump implemented the so-called Trump Rule, allowing certain contestants whom he personally deemed “beautiful” to advance in the competition, while others, according to a 2009 memoir by former Miss USA Carrie Prejean, were sorted into a “rejects line.”
“As I told you, many of you have already been chosen—so it doesn’t even matter. But as the Miss Universe Organization and the Miss USA Organization, we get to choose a certain number,” Trump is heard saying on the tape, in between ordering around and ogling contestants. “You know why we do that? Because years ago when I first bought it, we chose 10 people—I chose none. And I get here, and the most beautiful people were never chosen! And I went nuts!... So we call it ‘The Trump Rule.’ It’s called ‘The Trump Rule’—and we get to choose.”
Of the practice, Prejean wrote, “It became clear that the point of the whole exercise was for him to divide the room between girls he personally found attractive and those he did not… It was as though we had been stripped bare.”
Plus, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant took place in Moscow, setting the stage for the phantom “golden shower footage” that has loomed over the American consciousness for more than 18 months.
It may well be that there is nothing controversial in this footage, that the Miss Universe tapes amount, more or less, to a Kivikangas-esque reel of Trump’s pre-presidential farts, burps, and chatter.
Still, it’s worth remembering, thinking, dreaming about these still-unreleased tapes, mostly because, instead of giving people access to a trove of footage concerning the sitting president, Emanuel, WME/IMG and the Miss Universe Organization have chosen to stay extremely private—maybe to safeguard their relationship with Trump or to distance their brand from the current administration, but certainly to put business interests over civic ones.
The archives also remain interesting, because they amount to a massive pile of data on one of the most influential people in the world—a pile that, if not salacious or damning, may still remind us about who Trump was before he entered political life.
In 2015, after Cyberman had fully stopped streaming, one fan took to Reddit and wrote that he wanted the series revived. The user, under the handle Alltrix, said people needed to see Cyberman, to be able to watch “an old man farting and burping.” Cyberman was an important statement on human character, he said, on who people really were behind presentation and social moores. “He is a constant reminder of what reality really is like,” the user wrote.
A previous version of this article misstated Putin’s attendance at the 2013 pageant—we regret the error.