Performativity, Trump, and The Hunger Games

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It is in my opinion that art has become increasingly more global with the sharp rise of social media outlets. I once excitedly started a conversation with someone about how the line between art and kitsch was blurred in our day and age (which started yet another rambling round about the shifting definitions of art and kitsch – which I do appreciate – and how the new types of kitsch popping up should actually be called “global trash,” but that is neither here nor there). It was an amazing thing to me, because that meant the (extremely narrow) Ivory Tower of Art and Art History was crumbling for sure!

I really wish I could grasp that feeling once more, because yet again reading comments on the internet has made me doubt the few shreds of knowledge I thought I possessed.

Am I the only one that sinks to the depths of despair when faced with online comments on anything, be it article or meme or Facebook post? All I can think of is that so many people comment, and that I certainly must be out of touch with reality because I agree with none of them!

Reading the comments on one particular piece started to bother me even more than usual. It was a short video describing a performative piece created by artist Alison Jackson in which a Trump look-alike parades through New York to Trump Tower. In this video, a “Trump” that is slightly this side of too-much-Trump – but slightly that side of caricature, being that Trump himself toes the line alongside parody – gropes some female models who carry signs bearing controversial quotes in which he degrades women.


My first thoughts were of media bias, the performative dance of politicians, and the massive weight that social media carries with regards to how art is created and viewed. A quote from Jackson excited me further:

“I have created pieces that reflect the constant barrage of media that we live in today with a focus on how politicians and celebrities are created/manufactured by the media […] The images showcase our cultural conversations even as they undermine the authenticity of imagery, a devaluation that is exacerbated every minute in our Photoshopped, Instagram world.”

Yes! I love undermining people’s obsession with validity of photography and imagery. I LOVE that I can show all of my left and right leaning friends something they can gather around and rally against! This is perfect! Let’s get everyone interested in art again! Yay!

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I eagerly dove into several different articles about Alison Jackson and the piece, and more eagerly opened up the comment sections to see what others thought. Surely this was the type of work that could inspire heated discourse? Trump, Clinton, and neither-of-the-above fans alike could both agree that images and (social) media encourage a “performed reality,” one in which both politicians and everyone else (connected to the internet) is concerned with portraying a carefully-constructed identity, making big headlines, and most importantly, gathering likes, retweets, shares, and validation.  Facts are less important. Rallying around an opinion (bonus points if it’s your original opinion) is the most important signifier of a successful e-identity. We could all agree on these points together on social media and gather the MOST likes and validation! Sure, there would be some flagrant Trump-bashing with little thought involved, but surely the larger themes would poke through, right?!

I was so optimistically wrong.

I was slapped in the face with a huge shitstorm of people arguing over whether or not this art was commissioned by Hillary’s camp, and several commenters who thought the video itself was “the most degrading thing to women.” Another large batch of people told each respective journal or news outlet that they should “be ashamed of yourselves” for writing about the art piece, but provided no substantial reasoning as to why, aside from it being “disgusting.” I must have scrolled through at least 500 different comments from various websites without finding anything of value. Topics quickly turned from disgust at the video/piece to disgust over emails. Nobody mentioned the blatant irony over some commenter’s use of the word “disgusting.”

Really? My question then became: am I engaging in the wrong kind of discourse over this art piece?

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I was quickly reminded of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, and the overarching theme of capturing images (I am slightly embarrassed to note that I read the entire series by Suzanne Collins and immediately forgot about it. Whatever, it was a ripoff of Battle Royale anyway, right?). Everything had to be filmed, or it wasn’t legitimate. There was no way for anyone of importance to contact anyone else without filming it, but more importantly, everything had to be staged. Perfect angles of the battlefield had to be calculated, and Katniss’s hair had to be blowing in the wind just so. The rebels had to broadcast to those who were assumed to be quite familiar with the concept of a staged reality (the Capital), and those who had been spoon-fed state propaganda their wholes lives (the districts).

As we inevitably barrel toward a post-human, post-body, majority digital society (yes, it’s happening), are we wasting time by attempting to create and decipher performative-based art from an “offline” perspective? Will the vast majority of us only ever see or engage in discourse about Trump (or Hillary) through (social) media? How do those encounters shape how we interact with other people outside of the internet? With so many layers of media, so many different opportunities to armor ourselves and our politicians with so many different created realities, and with so many of those realities being created themselves through social media, is the idea of the performative really even important anymore?

Dang, more questions than answers, once again!




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