Photo credit: Tyler Shields
Artistic expression became as domesticated and depoliticized as union activity, journalism, scholarship, and political discourse.
—Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class
WHAT both photographer Tyler Shields and comedian Kathy Griffin did on May 30th was edgy and very relieving. It was just a small hiccup that helps to uncover the faults that we have in our fragile society. They essentially did the same thing that most artists do — they rocked the boat. All really good art starts as an idea or as a simple figure of speech, then it turns into something different from what it was originally intended.
Risky artists and critics both know that artistic expression is always going to go too far because that is exactly what it’s supposed to do. Everyone can feel when the news becomes a bit too controversial and suspicion spreads quickly. Abstract portrayals or political satires, relevant or not, should be seen by everyone. We all have to see that humans are a little bit evil on the inside and we should notice that art, in whatever form it takes, bridges a gap that is left between the person who is quiet and obedient versus somebody who is outspoken and stubborn.
I’m going to argue that — at some primitive level — everyone had to see Donald Trump’s head decapitated in 2017. We may not want to admit it out loud, but we did. We are programmed to be constantly angry and worried about what is happening around the world. What would it mean to see a household name, a jackass figure like Donald Trump being assassinated and put on display? What difference does any person make, with ISIS-styled beheading videos being available online and there being 7 billion of us — all ingrained with the deepest fear that one day we will get kidnapped and then have our head cut off. Broadcasting mainstream angst is a cheeky way to make a population approve a two-decade-long war against terrorism rather uncritically. Manufactured terror is powerful enough to keep us all against those people who cut other people’s heads off, and then especially those who villains who post videos or pictures of that heinous crime online.
There is a nervousness that keeps us living peacefully in our fences without even knowing what we are afraid of anymore. A phobia against beheadings is more like a mental bedrock, one that builds up a weak public that supports an outrageous war in the Middle East without asking any critical questions. A propagated fear keeps a public scared without even knowing the danger.
Sacrificial head art
Consumers eventually need to see the rich and famous being sacrificed. It is a part of our psychology, I think. The cartoon South Park made an entire episode — called Britney’s New Look, and it was based on a short story written in 1948 by Shirley Jackson called The Lottery — about this topic. Political correctness in casual conversation with family and friends, at school, at work, in public debate, discussion, and in the media — is preventing all us regular “safe” people from freely expressing themselves. We’re afraid to speak up. Without being able to see or express our own disgusting feelings for so long, modern art has gone ahead and stepped in — taking on its role of revealing the unconscious anxiety to us. Art satisfies our manufactured hunger for violence. It often crosses the invisible line of political correctness, infinitely pushing it further, and by doing so it is able to achieve what cruelty and force never can.
I digress, under different circumstances, no living person should have to see themselves as being dead, as having their head cut off, that isn’t condoned.But the President of the United States (POTUS) is the single person — out of seven billion or more — who defines the entire global system. The position of POTUS is a really big responsibility. Any person that becomes President they are becoming the international living embodiment for the war. The POTUS is also a picture of a patriarch. A symbol of modern corruption and inequality. He is the armed crusade that has been bombarding all hope from the developing world for many decades now.
What was Griffin able to do with her photograph? She showed billions of living people exactly what they had to see at the exact right time: The severed head of the man who chose to personify and glorify himself as the icon for a bullshit war over pipelines and people cutting off each other’s heads. He is the man who endorses the system which continues to summon this new and shocking politically “corrected” behavior.
The painting in Alaska
On exhibit until April 20, 2017, a little over two months ago — at the Kimura Gallery, which is a part of the University of Alaska in Anchorage (UAA) — was a painting depicting a naked Captain America holding up President Trump’s decapitated head — with a dead bison to his right and young Hillary Clinton clinging to his left leg. It was created by Thomas Chung, the Assistant Professor of Painting at the UAA.
Chung was interviewed while the painting was still on display. He said he made the painting because of “his dismay over the results of the presidential election.” In strict contrast to Chung’s praise to his own masterpiece, the journalist for KTUU also spoke to an “adjunct professor” named Paul Berger. Berger complained that the artwork was “difficult” to explain to his children and shared photos of the painting on Facebook. Berger mentioned that “The painting itself, I kind of found disturbing,”
“The image itself was very graphic. So from that point of view, and as a father, trying to explain to my children what the artist is trying to say … [it’s] difficult.” Berger said he supports free speech, but questions whether it’s appropriate for display at a publicly-funded institution.
“Had the roles been reversed, and it was Obama’s head hanging there, I think the outrage would be fantastic,” … “As a free speech advocate, everyone has a right to express their opinion the way they want to express them. But as a parent and a citizen, there’s a discussion. In a university setting, what’s appropriate?”
This discussion over what is appropriate has to happen now. If it was Obama’s head that was hanging there — exactly where Trump’s head is in Chung’s painting — then would there have been resentment and disapproval? It’s not like the painting is a bad-looking painting. Is it a good historical piece of art? Well, I don’t think so. It still is a living President’s severed head and a naked Chris Evans.
Nevertheless, the more important thing to take from this example is that: Chung’s painting didn’t cross the line, for some reason? Trump was POTUS when it was on display but it never made it on the news like Shield’s and Griffin’s picture did. Three months after, a blood-soaked head that looks almost like the President’s head is obviously going too far? This is the thing about political correctness — it is so confusing and there are so many rules. Society is always going to push the obvious limits of culture.
If Trump’s head is in a painting then it seems to be alright, but if it is a special effect inside of a photograph, then that’s a big no. If the head looks too much like Donald Trump, then you’re going to become a victim. Since Sharon Needles’ special effect head doesn’t look too much like the President then, there’s no problem. Apparently whenever Donald and Melania have to explain to their children what freedom of expression means, then that means it isn’t okay for the rest of us to do.
Barack Obama was and still is a kind and respectable person. Granted, President Obama was a puppet of a corrupted Democratic party, he was a liberal class elite, a status-quo kind of guy… I’m not supporting his actions. President Trump, however, had been so rude to people, and most of them were women — something Obama never did. Trump still makes up lies every day. In any case, the depictions I’ve seen of President Obama being beheaded — in protests for example — are not realistic-looking or that violent. They are all almost cartoonish and admittedly none of them made it into the major corporate media for too long. In 2012 a Tea Paty Councilman from Farmington Hills, Michigan held up this offensive sign:
And in 2015, a different man from Nampa, Idaho put up a Halloween decoration which was just a mask of Obama’s face placed on a pole:
Just a publicity stunt?
I know it was not right what Shields and Griffin did last week, on some level — that’s not what I mean by comparing these situations. What Griffin did was really just get herself back into the spotlight. James St. James told Michael Alig in the film Party Monster, that the number one Rule of Press is: “no publicity is bad publicity.” Any press, even the bad stuff, is, in the end, good press because when show business is your career everything works out in the end.
Was this just a publicity stunt? It totally could have been, but that doesn’t change anything. Griffin apologized right afterward because of the backlash and probably expected to do this from the beginning. Like a real adult does (wink-wink to the President,) she said she was sorry. She admitted that what she did was not funny — that it was wrong, She has gotten fired, lost countless gigs and dollars. And yeah, she’s getting good press right now. She’ll probably make other gigs instead. It just shows what kind of person she is to apologize on video for something that she did.
The zombie scandals
An article came out recently that was accusing Griffin of being “cruel to children.” This scandal has risen from the grave and was ironically published only a few days after the Trump photo came out,
Griffin’s old tweets are proving she’s been cruel to children for years, especially to those whose parents she disagrees with politically. Take this tweet from 2009 for example:
Vegas this Friday night! 2 shows at Mandalay Bay. Oh, Palin, ur goin down so hard, you’d better just stay in Wasilla w ur “retarded baby”
— @kathygriffin October 29, 2009
The quotes prove everything. After Googling “sarah palin retarded baby”: back in October 2009 Vanity Fair published an article done about Levi Johnston — Palin’s daughter has a child that has Downs Syndrome with Johnston but they are not together anymore.
Johnston asserts in the article that Palin has a “weird sense of humor” and that she used to talk inconsiderately about mentally challenged children all of the time. That’s apparently just how Sarah Palin is and everybody in her family is “used to it.” This quote from Johnston in 2009:
After Tripp was born, Sarah would pay more attention to our son than she would to her own baby, Trig. Sarah has a weird sense of humor. When she came home from work, Bristol and I would be holding Trig and Tripp.
Sarah would call Trig—who was born with Down syndrome—“my little Down’s baby.” But I couldn’t believe it when she would come over to us and sometimes say, playing around, “No, I don’t want the retarded baby—I want the other one,” and pick up Tripp. That was just her—even her kids were used to it.
After Johnston was in the news in 2009, he popped up again for the aforementioned claims about the child, and also for stating that one of Palin’s daughter was in Playboy. He then publicly apologized for saying that and in 2010 he took back his apology about the pornography, and admitted that he was lying about it — probably for publicity. Johnston has still never apologized or said anything else about the “retarded baby” comment.
So what has happened is: on October 28th, 2009, NYMagazine prints a piece titled Johnston: Palin Would Ask, ‘Where Is My Retarded Baby?’. Then as a parrot does, Griffin then tweets in quotes “retarded baby” on October 29th. What a coincidence, that almost a decade after-the-fact, Griffin is now being accused of being “cruel to children for years” because of a single, clearly recited remark that Palin made. How simple it is to distort the public’s perception.
Exposing the witch hunt
The tentacles of the profit-driven propaganda model are circling around and killing itself right in front of us. The media is revealing its own irrationality in modern times: the internet has rendered the news inadequate and this obvious witch hunt for a controversial comedian smells exactly like the leftist journalists and actors that were singled out and blacklisted during the first and second World War, and during the Cold War.
When all of this emotional dust finally settles and the truth becomes the only clear survivor; when the profitability of breaking news has eventually faded — Griffin will be commemorated like every other great artist has been. In the end, she will be known for more than just this scandal. She was stupid, but her courageous leap was worth taking. During a parlous era of mundane art, political correctness and mindless controversy: the essential behavior that keeps us all together is shocking.
If art didn’t push the limits of demagogues like President Trump: then there wouldn’t be any discussion about his comments and actions. When art is just beautiful or weird, all it does is make us speechless and that, in the end, does nothing for us. What good contemporary art does is make large groups of people feel something because they are all made to question what is really happening around them.♦♦