Trump Statues: Body Shaming Is a Weapon, Wherever You Point It

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Debbie says:


If you read the news at all, you know that large statues of a naked Donald Trump (not pictured above) have been appearing in several major U.S. cities.

The statues are the work of anarchist collective INDECLINE, which has done other political art projects, such as covering the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with names of African-American victims of police shootings. This project is named “The Emperor Has No Balls.”

“Like it or not, Trump is a larger-than-life figure in world culture at the moment,” said the spokesman, who discussed the project with The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity. “Looking back in history, that’s how those figures were memorialized and idolized in their time — with statues.”

The artist, known as Ginger, was specifically trying to emphasize unattractive features.

The goal was to give him the slightest hint of a scowl — a “constipated look” — that hinted at Trump’s implicit frustration with contemporary America, Ginger said. “He has a very distinct little mouth, the way his chin meets the jowl, it had to look right,” he said.

Also challenging was figuring out how to create unsettling body parts in a realistic fashion, a process that required extensive online research.

“If somebody were to look at my browser history, it would be a little disturbing,” Ginger said. “Turns out there’s not too many Google results for ‘saggy old man butt.’”

Some of the reaction to the statues has simply been that they are funny (and I originally thought they were funny). I changed my mind before I learned that INDECLINE’s website also showcases a billboard size graffiti piece entitled “Rape Trump” (really!). Marissa Jenae Johnson, writing at The Establishment, is among many critical voices:

The joke itself is bad. It relies on body-­shaming, fatphobia, toxic masculinity, and transphobia to take jabs at Trump. The “joke” behind the statues is two­fold:

One is that it makes fun of Trump’s body, and likely his weight. He is depicted completely naked, rolls and all, and his skin is intentionally blemished. Beyond clearly relying on beauty standards most progressives would normally reject, it seems pretty fatphobic. Even if the artist didn’t intend it that way, it has certainly made space for fat ­shaming.

The second part of the joke is about Trump’s dick, or rather, his “manhood.” The title itself is an attempt to emasculate Trump in the same way that his shrunken penis is intended to. The implication is that people with a small penis, or lacking testicles, are not real men and are therefore worthy of scorn.

One defense of the statues that I’ve heard is “sauce for the gander”: Trump, though sensitive about being body-shamed himself, is perfectly happy to shame other people about their bodies. He even thinks it’s disgusting that women pee.

While I agree that the statues raise issues like fatphobia and transphobia, that’s not my core objection. All body shaming, by definition, is about body characteristics that the culture finds shameful: otherwise, it isn’t shaming. You can’t effectively shame someone by poking fun at how muscular they are, how slender they are, or how clear their skin is. What bothers me is that INDECLINE thinks Trump’s body is a target for any kind of shame.

Listen up, INDECLINE: you are falling into his trap. You are playing his game. You are shaming him for things that are not character flaws, things that are only shameful because the wider culture says they are. The list of things Donald Trump should be ashamed of is encyclopedic; by choosing his age, his body configuration, and your slurs about his genitals, you are affirming his propensity to do the same thing. If you don’t want to ever hear him make cracks about Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle (and I don’t, even if you do), don’t give him permission. And while we’re at it, no “joke” about anyone being raped is ever funny.

Living in Weimar 1: On the Brink

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Laurie and Debbie say:

bill of rights

We’ve been talking to each other, and to our close friends, for several months now about how much Donald Trump frightens us, and about just how dangerous we think he is to the United States and the world. Laurie started our catch-phrase for this, which is “living in Weimar.” The Weimar Republic was the unofficial name of the German Reich from 1918 through 1933: the period when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, which was also a period when activists and artists were making great strides toward equality and positive social change. Living in Weimar means, to us, living in a time when vicious, dangerous ideas are powerful, when terrifying threats loom, and when taking action can change history very significantly for the better. (If you Google Weimar now, the first entries after the basic historical links are about the 2016 U.S. election.)

This week, as the Republican National Convention progresses in Cleveland, Ohio, our fears are being demonstrated. The Republican Party has adopted its most reactionary platform in decades–in some cases, the most reactionary positions it has ever held. The platform:

takes a strict, traditionalist view of the family and child rearing, bars military women from combat, describes coal as a “clean” energy source and declares pornography a “public health crisis.”

… the document … amounts to a rightward lurch even from the party’s hard-line platform in 2012 — especially as it addresses gay men, lesbians and transgender people.

In direct contravention of the principle of separation of church and state, the platform “demands that lawmakers use religion as a guide when legislating, stipulating ‘that man-made law must be consistent with God-given, natural rights.’”

And in keeping with that, the Republican Party has also declared itself to be above the U.S. Constitution, a document that has weathered crises for 230 years:

The Platform does not simply interpret the First Amendment in ways that are agreeable to conservatives and anathema to liberals, it proclaims that the Republican interpretation of the First Amendment is impervious even to a new constitutional amendment that repudiates this interpretation! If Congress were to propose, and the states were to ratify, a constitutional amendment overruling the Supreme Court’s campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. FEC, the Republican Party’s position is that this amendment would be null and void.

In that context, we are not just looking at a president who might launch nuclear weapons if someone criticizes the size of his hands. We’re looking at a genuine American revolution, one which Donald Trump may not even care about, and which he is nonetheless poised to lead. And yet, many people still seem to see Trump as some sort of a fluke who got this far but cannot possibly get any further.

In this context, we are grateful to Hannah Koslowska at Quartz for locating the New York Times’ very first article about Adolf Hitler: what the dangers of living in Weimar looked like from across the ocean in 1922. The headline was “New Popular Idol Rises in Bavaria: Hitler Credited with Extraordinary Powers of Swaying Crowds to His Will.

Several reliable well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch messes of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.

A sophisticated politician credited Hitler with peculiar political cleverness for laying emphasis and over-emphasis on anti-Semitism, saying: “You can’t expect the masses to understand or appreciate your final real aims. You must feed the masses with cruder morsels and ideas like anti-Semitism. It would be politically all wrong to tell them the truth about where you really are leading them.”

Donald Trump is not Hitler. As Harold Meyerson says in an excellent article at The American Prospect, which we will discuss more in future articles about living in Weimar:

I’m neither equating Donald Trump with Hitler nor saying he’s fascist in the classic sense. Trump has no organized private army of thugs to attack and intimidate his rivals, as both Hitler and Mussolini did. But Trump’s racist, xenophobic, and nationalist appeals; his division of the nation into valorous and victimized native-born whites and menacing non-white interlopers; his constant employment of some Big Lies and many Little ones; and his scant regard for civil liberties make him the closest thing to a fascist of any major party presidential nominee in our history.

Trump is a demagogue; he’s thrilled to whip crowds into a frenzy of hatred; and he only cares about his own power. He doesn’t have to be Hitler to be terrifying. And we don’t have to be living in the actual Weimar to be terrified. The key thing, however, is to turn terror not into paralysis, but into action. As in Weimar, this is a time when really positive possibilities for social change and cultural shifts exist along with the threats, which makes it a time when we all need to do what we can to make it happen.