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PSA: Your Transphobia and Body Shaming Isn’t Radical

On Thursday morning, six cities across the country were greeted with a purportedly radical political art installation – an enormous statue of naked Donald Trump, installed right in the center of their city. The statue features Trump with sagging, overweight, with cellulite inflicted, wrinkled skin. More pointedly, statue Trump appeared to have a small penis, and no balls, a point emphasized by the installation’s title, with all the cleverness of an 8th grade bully – “The Emperor Has No Balls.”

The statues, brainchild of anarchist group Indecline (infamous among other things for a mural on the Mexican border stating “Rape Trump“), were greeted with widespread public appreciation – the snickers practically audible through the Twittersphere. Even New York’s Parks and Rec department, while taking the statue down, cracked a joke at its expense, tweeting, “NYC Parks stands firmly against any unpermitted erection in city parks, no matter how small.”

Look, I get it. Trump’s aggressive, blatant, hurtful, oppressive political speech is so shocking that it’s reached the point of theatrical absurdity, and we all are tempted to just laugh as we cry, with it all. The Daily Show mode of liberal politics has encouraged us all to succumb to mockery when we no longer have the refuge of logical argument; of a political opponent that understands neither reason nor empathy; of a political space so tragically fragmented there can be no dialogue, only derision. There’s a temptation to exert power over the oppressor by telling him he is nothing but a joke to us.

But when we laugh at naked Donald Trump in Union Square, tug at his penis, stare, point, and mock, who are we really laughing at? Are we laughing at Donald Trump because Donald Trump is naked, and fat, standing in front of us? Are we mocking the fact that anyone who has cellulite or a gut or a figure that’s not valued by a capitalist, health obsessed, body-shaming society dares to be nude in a public space? Are we laughing at Donald Trump because we believe that men should be manly, and that manly means to have a big penis, and that anybody who doesn’t fit into that violent, cissexist masculinity is worthy of contempt?

Are we really turning the tables on the oppressor, or are we continuing to stomp on the oppressed?

The piece’s title, “The Emperor Has No Balls,” is supposed to be evocative of the Hans Christen Andersen tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In the original fable, the people were too afraid to point out the Emperor’s obvious nudity so as not to disturb his delusions, until a brave young boy finally called him out for it. No doubt Indecline envisions itself as the courageous boy calling truth to power, exposing something to the world that it was too afraid to say. Yet nothing about the artwork disturbed the status quo at all – not the least in elite, liberal cities like San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. The left leaning middle class can have a hearty laugh while patting themselves on the back for their non-Trump supporting politics, and leaving unquestioned the contradictions in their own politics that have allowed a violent capitalist, patriarchal, transphobic world to exist. Nothing is being said by the piece that is difficult for one in the current political climate to say – that Trump is a joke, or that fat people must be shamed, or that male bodies that don’t conform to masculine notions of genitalia deserve scorn. Indeed, the real naked emperors seem to be the installation’s smug audience instead, parading around in seeming robes of progressive politics, which actually, upon closer inspection, are their own naked delusions of open minded, non-oppressive grandeur.

Some aspects of the installation have their merits. The idea of using public spaces to openly deride a political leader is bold. The irony of mocking a wannabe dictator with a statue, as dictators are wont to put up of themselves, that portrays him as the seeming opposite of majestic –as if fatness or small penis size are disqualifiers — and imposing, is clever. But there are better shorthand to signal through art the contradictions, delusions, and pathetic posturing of an oppressor and racist, sexist xenophobe.

I don’t even know if a humiliation mode of politics, in a fractured America, serves any purpose other than self-satisfaction and smug liberalism, at the expense of meaningful dialogue and grassroots change. But even if you were to disagree on that, there are so many better ways to publicly deride Trump than to throw the people progressives claim to protect under the bus, in the name of a tasteless political joke.

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Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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From Kuchibhotla to Kal Penn: How Hate Crimes Build Off Liberal Media

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Yesterday, the New Yorker published a stirring article on Being Indian in Trump’s America, a rumination by Amitava Kumar on racial violence, hate crimes and the tensions that come with being South Asian in America. Around ...