Header credit: Tyler Shields
HAT both photographer Tyler Shields and comedian Kathy Griffin did was so edgy that it was actually relieving. The photo that came out on May 30th was just a small hiccup that helps to uncover the faults we have in our fragile society. They essentially did what most great artists do — they rocked the boat. All art starts as a stupid idea or as a simple figure of speech of some kind, and then it turns into something different from what it was originally intended.
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 amongst us. Abstract portrayals or political satires, relevant or not, should be seen by everyone because 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 somewhat stubborn.
I’m going to argue for a moment that in defense of these artists — at some primitive level — everyone had to see Donald Trump’s head decapitated in the year 2017. We may not want to admit it out loud, but we did. We are programmed to be angry and worried about what is happening around us. What would it mean to see a household name, a jackass figure like 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? We’re 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 of a two-decade-long war against terrorism rather uncritically. If you know what I mean. Our 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 kind of crime online. There is a deep nervousness that keeps us all living peacefully in our fences without us even knowing what we are afraid of anymore. A new kind of phobia against beheadings is more like a mental bedrock that builds up a weak public that supports an outrageous war in the Middle East without even asking any critical questions. A propagated fear keeps us all scared without even knowing the true danger.
Artistic expression became as domesticated and depoliticized as union activity, journalism, scholarship, and political discourse.
—Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class
Consumers eventually need to see the rich and famous being sacrificed. It’s a part of our psychology. 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. What are we so afraid of? We’re afraid to speak up about international injustice. Without even 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 ourselves. Art is able to satisfy our made-up hunger for violence. Often art crosses the invisible line of political correctness, infinitely pushing it further to the extreme, and by doing so, art is always able to achieve what cruelty and force never can.
Under different circumstances, no living person should have to see themselves as being dead. No one should see themselves having their head cut off — that isn’t condoned. But let us remember that the President of the United States (the POTUS) is the single person — out of seven billion or more people — who defines the entire global system. The position of POTUS is a really big responsibility and any person that becomes it is becoming an international-living-embodiment for global war. The picture of a patriarch, a symbol of modern corruption and inequality: he is the man that has armed crusade that has been bombarding all hope from the whole developing world for many decades now.What did Shields and Griffin do with their photograph? They 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 shocking politically “corrected” behavior that’s come about since 9/11.
On exhibit until April 20, 2017 — a little over two months ago — at the Kimura Gallery, a part of the University of Alaska in Anchorage (UAA,) was a painting depicting a naked Captain America (who looks like Chris Evans) holding up President Trump’s decapitated head. In the painting is also a dead bison 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.” This image is a form of political criticism, nothing else. But 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 he 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?”
The discussion over what is appropriate has to happen right now. If it was Obama’s head that was hanging there — exactly where Trump’s head is in Chung’s painting — then there would have been resentment and disapproval. It’s not like the painting is a bad-looking painting either. Is it a good historical piece of art? Well, I don’t think so but it is edgy. However, it is still a living President’s severed head and a naked Chris Evans. Nevertheless, the more important thing to take from this example is that: this painting didn’t cross the line. 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 the fact, a blood-soaked head that looks almost like the President’s head is obviously going too far? How does that make sense? This is the thing about political correctness — anything that comes up in the corporate news instantly becomes controversial. It is so confusing and there are so many rules to this PC game. Society is always going to push the obvious limits of culture, so why do we intentionally make it hurt more?
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-no. If the head looks too much like Donald Trump, then you’re going to become a victim because what will his children think. Since Sharon Needles’ special effect head (above) doesn’t look too much like the President then there isn’t much of a problem. Apparently whenever celebrities 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 it? Hmmm??
Barack Obama was and still is a kind and respectable person… Granted, President Obama was a puppet of a corrupted Democratic party, he’s a liberal class elite, a status-quo kind of guy… I’m not supporting his actions. But President Trump, however, had been so rude to people and most of them were women — something that Obama never did. Trump still makes up lies every single day. In any case, the depictions I’ve seen of President Obama being beheaded during his presidency — 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 either. 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:
I know it was not right what Shields and Griffin did last week, on some weird level — that’s not what I mean by comparing these situations… What they did was really just get Griffin 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. Was this just a publicity stunt? It totally could have been, but that really doesn’t change anything… The picture is already out. Griffin apologized right afterward because of the backlash and she probably expected to do that from the very beginning. Like a real adult does (wink-wink to the President,) she said she was sorry. She admitted that it was not funny, that it was wrong — she has gotten fired and lost countless gigs, and dollars. So yeah, she’s getting good press right now. She’ll probably make other gigs instead of the one’s she lost. It just shows what kind of person she is to take a chance and then apologize on video for something that she did.
Even as I’m writing this, most of the steam has already worn out covering Griffin and this image. Allegations though are swarming around her. An article came out recently that was accusing Griffin of being “cruel to children.” It grabbed my eye because it just seemed so scandalous. 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 usually prove everything. After Googling “sarah palin retarded baby”: back in October 2009 Vanity Fair published an article done about a man named Levi Johnston. Johnston has a child that has Downs Syndrome with Sarah’s daughter, but they are not together anymore. Johnston asserts in the article that Sarah Palin has a “weird sense of humor” and that she used to talk inconsiderately about mentally challenged children all of the time. That is apparently just how she is and everybody in her family is “used to it.”
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 then popped up again for the aforementioned claims about the child, and also for stating that one of Palin’s daughters was in Playboy. Almost like a sitcom, he then publicly apologized for saying that she was in Playboy and in 2010 he took back his apology about the pornography and admitted that he was lying about all of it. Johnston has still never apologized or said anything else about the “retarded baby” comment. (Here’s a video of him explaining it all himself.)
Let me expose this terrible witch hunt. On October 28th, 2009 NYMagazine prints a piece titled Johnston: Palin Would Ask, ‘Where Is My Retarded Baby?’, then as a parrot would, Kathy Griffin tweets in quotes “retarded baby” the next day. What a coincidence that almost a decade after-the-fact, she is now being accused of being “cruel to children for years” because of a single — clearly recited — remark that Sarah Palin made. Can you see how simple it is to distort the public’s perception of reality?
These tentacles of the profit-driven propaganda model are circling around and killing itself. 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 — Kathy Griffin will be commemorated like every other great artist has been in the past. In the end, she will be known for more than just this scandal. She was kind of stupid but her courageous leap was worth taking at the time. During a parlous era of mundane art, political correctness and mindless controversy; the essential behavior that keeps us all together is always shocking.
If art didn’t push the limits of altruistic demagogues like President Trump then there wouldn’t be any progressive discussion about his seemingly accepted intolerable comments and actions. The fact that he is able to get away with what he’s said and done is really just a big joke… Does Trump becoming President mean that it is O.K. to say stuff like “grab her by the pussy” and that Mexican immigrants coming into the United States are probably all “rapists?” Is that how English-speaking, democratic, Western leaders speak now? When it comes down to the core of art — whenever it is just beautiful or weird — all it does is make us speechless. That emotion leads us to say nothing productive and in the end, it does nothing. What good contemporary art does is make large groups of people connect with each other on some kind of level and feel something different for the first time because they all are made to question what is really happening around them.