Until today, Kathy Griffin was someone I was only vaguely aware of. Perhaps the point of her stunt was to gain the attention of people who are more interested in Shakespeare or in aperture sights on rifles than in a minor star in movies and television shows that I don’t watch. Or perhaps she believed that she had a serious political point to raise. I’m going to work on the assumption that the latter is the case, since even if it’s not, it’s more interesting than discussing publicity.
For the one or two others in this connected world who don’t know what happened, Griffin posed for photographer, Tyler Shields, for a picture in which she — clothed, let’s note — holds a simulated bloody decapitated head of Donald Trump. And the rage against Griffin flooded Twitter.
She has since — within a few hours — apologized, saying in a tweet that “I am sorry. I went too far. I was wrong.” This, unfortunately, forces me to suppose that for her, it was only a stunt, since the thing that destroys a shocking gesture is to walk it back a few minutes later, thereby sucking whatever meaning out of it that it might have had.
Shields, the photographer, appears more willing to stand by the free speech value of the image. And while the Secret Service pricked up their collective ears, somehow I doubt that they’ll give too much time to the retracted joke of a somewhat celebrity.
And this is by no means the first time that someone who likes to be in the news has engaged in loose talk or similar. Ted Nugent said that he’d be dead or in jail if Obama won in 2012, though he managed to keep himself out of both housings, and Jesse Helms suggested that Bill Clinton might find a visit to my home state to be less than optimal for his health. And then there were the speculations tweeted to the world by a certain New York real estate developer about how Barack Obama was not an American — which by implication meant that he was an enemy of the nation.
My mother’s moral philosophy has always been limited, but she told me on multiple occasions when I was a child that two wrongs don’t make a right. That’s broadly true, though politics presents itself as an exception. If we’re going to argue that our political discourse needs to take a large step toward civility, we’re stuck with the question of who will disarm first. And let’s not forget that this is nothing new. The campaign of 1800 in no way failed to hold its own with regard to political vitriol. And given the existential threat that Trump poses to the United States and to human civilization — a man who has lied and cheated his way to the White House, joking about sexual assault against women, and demonstrating his complete incompetence for the job — I can’t work myself into too much of a froth over Griffin’s photo shoot.
The line, “there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about,” comes from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, and that’s instructive here. The current occupant of the White House is a narcissist, a megalomaniac, and a buffoon. He behaves as if there is some magical object that sustains him, a horcrux, if I might use a newer work of literature. Or to employ a sports metaphor in honor of Frank Deford, Trump was born on third base, was batted in by a guy named Vlad who the team acquired in trade for a lot of players who grew up in the home town, and now claims to have scored a home run. If Kathy Griffin can break the spell, more power to her.
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