If there’s anything we have observed since Trump took center stage in these United States, it is how completely toxic being associated with him can be. Losing one’s credibility, integrity and even one’s job may be the price. Just look at Billy Bush, Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, and Kellyanne Conway, to name a few. So, Kathy Griffin should have known what would be coming.
When Ms. Griffin lost her own head by posing with an effigy of a beheaded Donald Trump, the mainstream and social media were off and running without really defining the context of the picture—it having been taken by photographer Tyler Shields, whose most recent book is Provocateur. Get the point?
When a wide range of people tell me something is “vile” (Chelsea Clinton) and “disgusting” (Donald Trump, Jr.), I start smelling groupthink. And I am reminded of the late 1980’s outrage over the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, also a photographer, who presented a provocative picture of a crucifix immersed in urine as well as erotic phallic imagery that was considered particularly exploitative as the subjects were black men.
Ms. Griffin had to know that what she and Mr. Shields did was provocative, and what bothers me is that she didn’t own what she did. She apologized. “I sincerely apologize. I am just now seeing the reaction of [sic]these images . . . It wasn’t funny. I get it.” And the video apology is done, sans makeup, in a full throated, sincere manner. Just like a Hollywood public relations expert would suggest when doing damage control.
But it wasn’t meant to be funny, Ms. Griffin. You’re way too funny to not know that. It was meant to be provocative, and it was. And, while you did not get out of this episode whatever you were hoping for, I have a funny feeling that Mr. Shields did.
So what does that photograph mean? What does it imply? What are we to infer from it? Damned, if I know. But this is still America (for the time being), and we have a constitutional right to free speech, which covers Mr. Shields, Ms. Griffin and all those people who went to Obama protests with depictions of him with his head in a noose. We may not like it, but it’s about as American as apple pie.
Washington, Adams and Jefferson were the first three presidents hung in effigy because they were, you know, the first three presidents. There was a Civil War era song parody Hang Abe Lincoln on a Sour Apple Tree; the Yankee version was for Jefferson Davis. In 1919, the Suffragists—an order of Mom to go with the apple pie—burned Woodrow Wilson in effigy, in front of the White House. They were trying to make America great back then, too.
I, for one, am not putting a photograph of that crucifix or Kathy Griffin holding an effigy of Trump’s severed head over my sofa. (The sofa floats in the center of the living room, so there’s not really a wall behind it anyway, but that’s not the point.) And not because I think the images are “vile” and “disgusting” but because they are unsettling and disturbing. Not the sort of thing guests want to have with their spinach dip.
(And before anyone points this out to me, yes, I do have a painting of Salome holding a tray with the severed head of John the Baptist on it, which hangs in the dining room. That, however, is not unsettling or disturbing; that is a warning.)
It’s not clear at this point how long Ms. Griffin will have to wander around in the wilderness—just another celebrity (D-list, or otherwise) backing up from outrageous behavior while bowing to public opinion. But then we already knew she wasn’t Joan Rivers, didn’t we?
And, since CNN fired Ms. Griffin, somebody new is going to have a date with Anderson Cooper for New Year’s Eve. Can you imagine how many people want that job? I don’t know if folks will get their heads cut off over it, but you can bet—there will be blood.