Nearby Café Home > Art & Photography > Photocritic International

Election 2016: Image World (4)

A. D. Coleman, Banksy-style selfie, 2016As I confessed in my previous post in this series, I couldn’t make myself watch the first six of this election cycle’s Republic Party debates — not live, not re-runs, only a smattering of “highlights.” Now I must bare my soul further: I skipped the seventh, eighth, and ninth as well. They have scheduled a stupefying total of twelve; from what I’ve glimpsed, if projected in order as an endless loop they could make good on Donald Trump’s threat, if elected, to go “beyond waterboarding” in the “War on Terror.” From moment to moment, I can’t tell if I’m watching a terminally dysfunctional family going at it over the holiday turkey or a wolf pack getting ready to turn on its leader.

Disconnected completely as I am from any mindset that could make me take any of those candidates seriously (even the vapid and relatively harmless George Pataki, eminently forgettable as the former governor of my home state), I can’t conceive of how they appear to their various co-religionists. Whatever appeal they have to their devotees in the “base” is lost on me.

"The Ship of Fools," c. 1490-1500, by Hieronymus Bosch.

“The Ship of Fools,” c. 1490-1500, by Hieronymus Bosch.

For the rest of us — or at least to me and a few like minds — they look like a gaggle of idiots: ego-ridden, over-confident, simple-minded, benighted, befuddled, belligerent, back-stabbing. As William Rivers Pitt put it at the conclusion of “The Long Truck Wreck of the Second GOP Debate(s),” his synopsis at Truthout, “Ever seen chickadees fight in the hedges? Pecking and squawking and feathers flying? It was like that. For hours.” I have spared myself this recurrent spectacle, making do with such substitutes as Pitt’s summary and that of the New York Times editorial board. I’ll catch up with those who survive this battle royal somewhere down the road.

I have opted instead for YouTube videos of rescue dogs and cats, which for reasons I can’t exactly put my finger on provide me at present with a much-needed dose of consolation and hope for us hoomans. Call me delusional, but to my way of thinking our future depends much more on our ability to reach across the line of species to fellow creatures in need than it does on anything the Republic Party’s ship of fools might articulate.

It really comes down to this: I can muster what it takes to devote close attention to three or four of these sanctimonious gasbags at most. When they start to get serious, winnowing themselves down to a manageable cluster, I’ll pay more heed. Until then it’s just sharks in the dark with blood in the water, and I don’t care for feeding frenzies.

Three Down, Still Umpteen to Go

On the Republic Party side, the Iowa caucus got rid of Mike Huckabee (by golly, I’ll sure miss those Gomer Pyle “goshes” and “gee whizzes” and “hecks,” not to mention the “darns”), Rick Santorum, and Rand Paul; that’s two nincompoops and one space cadet. (They’d already deep-sixed Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, George Pataki, and Bobby Jindal.)

Separated at birth? Gomer Pyle (l) and Mike Huckabee (r)

Separated at birth? Gomer Pyle (l) and Mike Huckabee (r)

The New Hampshire primary forced out Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and Jim Gilmore, while giving us — improbable as it seems to almost everyone, Republicans included — Donald Trump as the right-wing front runner. Trailed by (in order according to the primary results) John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and Ben Carson. (For updates on the Republic Party field, click here.)

Feel the Bern posterMeanwhile, for the Democratic Party, Martin O’Malley, a perfectly nice guy (and apparently a “hot dad”) but definitely not ready for political prime time, dropped out after Iowa. And the New Hampshire primary gave us as front-runner — improbable as it seems to almost everyone — 74-year-old self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, the first genuinely left-wing candidate to get this far in my voting lifetime. With Hillary Clinton coming in a distant second to Sanders, suddenly everything is up for grabs, and this has gotten very, very interesting.

On February 11, just ahead of his first one-on-one debate with Clinton, Sanders released a video featuring Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner, killed by local police six blocks from my house. Titled “It’s Not Over,” it’s the most powerful, direct, uncompromising statement on social justice that any current candidate for the presidency has made.

Erica Garner endorsement of Bernie Sanders, "It's Not Over" (2016), screenshot

Erica Garner endorsement of Bernie Sanders, “It’s Not Over” (2016), screenshot

Shot in my neighborhood, mostly at Erica Garner’s apartment in the Stapleton Houses, which I can see from my back windows, it consists primarily of this newly minted activist speaking — about her father, about his granddaughter, about the protests she now organizes and leads here in this community.

Plus a few short clips of Bernie speaking, including one in which he states, “The African American community knows that on any given day some innocent person like Sandra Bland can get into a car, and that three days later she can end up dead in jail.” And, in another, unequivocally, “When a police officer breaks the law, that officer must be held accountable.” Clinton may have a daunting lead with minority voters, but moves like this will bring Sanders closer, and quickly.

And that first Clinton-Sanders debate never descended to the Republic Party’s level of name-calling and mudslinging. If I could specify a visual takeaway, it would consist of nothing more (or less) than two smart, knowledgeable adults with some areas of agreement and some serious differences having a sometimes heated exchange of ideas on substantive issues with each other. Which sounds boring, from a visual standpoint. But the Republic Party debates have been no less so; people standing at podiums talking pretty much all look the same.

In any case, both in the content they delivered and their delivery of it I thought Sanders and Clinton came out even. Which means that Sanders has an uphill fight to pull even with her, and Clinton definitely has a fight on her hands.

Sidebar: Right Deviationists

NKVD logo

NKVD logo

If you know your political history, you’ll recall that during the Spanish Civil War Stalin sent the NKVD — forerunner of the KGB — into Spain. Not to help the Republicans (very different Republicans, I hasten to add) in their fight against the fascist General Francisco Franco, but, behind the lines, to identify and execute left-wing volunteers from every participating nation: liberals, socialists, premature anti-fascists, Trotskyites, Mensheviks, whoever they considered not in lockstep with the prevailing party line of the moment. More important by far to cleanse the ranks of these “left deviationists” than to win that war with their help. The mind of the ideologue at work.

No Rinos logoWatching the Republicans chew on each other in the food fights they mislabel as debates, every one of them disdaining the rest as RINOs (Republicans in name only — “right deviationists,” so to speak), reminds me of nothing so much as the Comintern’s behavior during the Spanish Civil War.

Important to remember that Vladimir Putin rose from the ranks of the KGB. Right-wing politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.

Well, Then … Die

Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The MovieDirected and narrated by Ron Howard, starring Johnny Depp, and kept a secret for several months, a fake 50-minute Trump biopic, Funny or Die Presents Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie, was released on Tuesday, February 9, timed to coincide with the outcome of the New Hampshire primary. (You can read about its making in this New York Times story.)

Purportedly a “lost” film companion to Trump’s 1987 best-selling business advice book by that title, a copy of which Howard retrieved at a yard sale, the film has the blown-out look and muffled sound quality of late ’80s video. A theme song by Kenny Loggins. Henry Winkler as NYC Mayor Ed Koch. And a Johnny Depp who not only looks so much like The Donald that I couldn’t recognize him but has all his physical mannerisms and speech patterns down pat. In short, it has everything going for it, with one teensy problem — it’s not funny.

I know, I know. Humor is a very personal thing, one man’s meat is another’s poison, I find many things funny that others don’t (and vice versa). Etc. So go ahead, disregard this warning, and stream the movie (free) for yourself. I couldn’t make it past the first five minutes, so maybe it gets better. Let me know in the Comments box if you’re LOL, LMHO, or ROFL, because I’m definitely BOOMS. As for me, I prefer last December’s Darth Trump, from the AuralNauts — way funnier, and under 8 minutes to boot.

Tim Curry as Pennywise, "It" (1990), screenshot

Tim Curry as Pennywise, “It” (1990), screenshot

The problem may lie in the fact that Trump effectively parodies himself, and anything else pales beside the original. Or it may reside in the fact that, in the last analysis, for all the clownish aspects of his persona, he’s not funny. He’s malevolent, and dangerous, and needs to get taken very seriously, because Donald Trump functions as the menacing male id of the wing-nut right, barely mitigated by the ego and entirely lacking any socialized superego.

As Charlie Chaplin discovered with The Great Dictator, you can’t reduce true evil to a series of comedy sketches. Mockery of a sociopath who enjoys whipping crowds up into a killing frenzy inevitably falls flat. As flat as this pathetic little movie, IMHO. If Hollywood can’t do better than this in the visual-imagery department of the political struggle, they should stick to providing financial support for the eventual Democratic candidate.

She’s Baaack!

"Attack of the 50-Foot Woman" (1958), poster

“Attack of the 50-Foot Woman” (1958), poster

Sarah Palin’s classic endorsement speech for Donald Trump has to count as one of the more surreal moments of the current Republic Party tussle. (If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it on YouTube, read a transcript on BuzzFeed, consider Michael Barbaro’s head-scratching exegesis in the New York Times, and enjoy Steven Colbert’s spot-on imitation of Palin.

My own diagnosis of this peculiar episode of rampaging word salad ranges from self-medication to hot flashes. Whatever the stimuli, Palin found room in her bizarre extempore rant to insinuate that PTSD resulting from military service caused her son Track’s recent arrest for domestic abuse, and that Barack Obama somehow deserved the blame for that. In describing Track as “my son, a combat vet having served in a Stryker brigade fighting for you all, America, in the war zone,” she lied forthrightly. Track Palin’s discharge papers from the U.S. Army show that he did indeed serve for one year in Iraq in 2008-09, but never saw combat — a clear case of stolen glory.

Despite that — no, I’ll revise — because of that, I welcome her back; as Colbert says in his segment on this speech, “God, I’ve missed you.” If Trump “functions as the menacing male id of the wing-nut right,” as I propose above, Palin is his perfect female counterpart — Lucille Ball to The Donald’s Jackie Gleason. (“To the moon, ISIS!”) Now that she has inserted herself into this race, we will not only get to laugh at her antics, but we’ll get to roar at imitations of her by Colbert and others. (Yes, I see you, Tina Fey, licking your lips in the wings.)

And I do hope this means we’ll also see the return to the hustings of daughter Bristol “Another Bun in the Oven” Palin. Because, though nowhere near as zany as her mom, this one-time poster child for the abstinence movement is always worth a chuckle. Like the wine in James Thurber’s classic cartoon: “It’s a naïve domestic Burgundy without any breeding, but I think you’ll be amused by its presumption.”

Republicans Pimp Their Children (cont’d)

I warned told you it would get worse, didn’t I? And it has, very quickly. Watch the “Freedom Kids” from Pensacola, Florida entertain Trump supporters at the Pensacola Bay Center, a 10,000 person stadium, on January 13, 2016 by performing “Freedom Call.” To the tune of — you can’t make this stuff up — “Over There,” a World War I anthem. Next thing you know, they’ll trot out and revive the cryogenically frozen corpse of Kate Smith to offer her ghastly rendition of “God Bless America.” (Bobby Jindal didn’t dub it “the Stupid Party” for nothing.)

Freedom Kids, Pensacola Trump rally, 1-15-16, screenshot

Freedom Kids, Pensacola Trump rally, 1-15-16, screenshot

It pleases me to see that I’m not alone in considering this use of children to peddle political messages they can’t possibly understand a form of pimping one’s children. Though she’s much too polite (and TIME magazine much too conservative) to put it that way, Darlena Cunha’s “My Daughters Will Never Be ‘Freedom Kids,'” a January 15, 2016 op-ed, under that magazine’s “Parenting” rubric, takes an unequivocal stand that I applaud: “You cannot use children as public figureheads in political movements or protests. They are too young to give consent, and you may be putting them in danger.”

The abject image of these girl-children proselytizing for ideas beyond their comprehension has evoked — quite appropriately — comparison with the brainwashed youngsters of Pyongyang and the Islamic State mouthing material they’ve learned by rote. Predictably, it has spawned GIFs and parodies, notable among the latter “Randy Rainbow Performs at a Donald Trump Rally.” Recommended as an antidote.

Randy Rainbow Performs at a Donald Trump Rally, January 2016, screenshot

Randy Rainbow Performs at a Donald Trump Rally, January 2016, screenshot

I’m reminded of the poignant Diane Arbus photo, “Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C.,” 1967 — this sad kid, in the heat of the 1960s, wearing his parents’ politics and his grandfather’s suit, bow tie, and hat. (Click this link and scroll to the bottom of this page for that image.)

Not having any wee ones of her own to trot out, on January 20 Carly Fiorina felt entitled to pimp other people’s children, dragooning a class of pre-schoolers into serving as photo-op props for an anti-abortion rally at which she appeared as featured speaker, billed as “conservative outsider leader.” These kids, on a field trip to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden in Iowa, instead got to sit in front of a large “Iowa Right to Life” poster featuring an unborn fetus while Fiorina ranted about harvesting organs.

Sex educator Carly Fiorina explains the harvesting of fetal organs to preschoolers, Des Moines, IA, 1-21-16, ABC News screenshot

Sex educator Carly Fiorina explains the harvesting of fetal organs to preschoolers, Des Moines, IA, 1-21-16, ABC News screenshot

She did this without getting permission from the children’s parents. A short video shows Fiorina commandeering the group and leading the children in by the hand, with the class’s “adult supervisor” allowing this to happen, sans authorization. “In answer to a detailed series of questions from the Guardian, a Fiorina spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: “We were happy that these children chose to come to Carly’s event with their adult supervisor.'” Sure, those pre-schoolers “chose to come to Carly’s event.” Because they’re pro-choice, perhaps?

Ted Cruz started this in this election cycle with his Xmastime attack ad on Hillary Clinton, featuring his adorable little girls. (Palin has pimped her children for her entire political career, so far as I can tell.) Less than two months later, here we are. I guarantee you they’ve just gotten started.

A. D. Coleman, Critical Focus, 1995Special offer: If you want me to either continue pursuing a particular subject or give you a break and (for one post) write on a topic — my choice — other than the current main story, make a donation of $50 via the PayPal widget below, indicating your preference in a note accompanying your donation. I’ll credit you as that new post’s sponsor, and link to a website of your choosing. Include  a note with your snail-mail address (or email it to me separately) for a free signed copy of my 1995 book Critical Focus!

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>