In May 2017, the “comedian” Kathy Griffin posted a video in which she holds the bloody, severed head of President Donald Trump. The media and political establishment were aghast — at President Trump’s response. “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself,” the president (of course) tweeted. “My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!” Two years later, Ms. Griffin is back in the popular culture’s good graces, bringing her caustic brand of stand up to theaters worldwide. Mr. Trump, meanwhile, was widely derided for taking offense at a video that showed his murder in graphic detail.
Late last year, meanwhile, The New York Times book review published a graphic short story by the British novelist Zoe Sharp. The story, titled “How it Ends,” depicted in detail the assassination of the president at the hands of his own secret service protection. The reaction of the popular culture to such a heinous, violent work appearing in the pages of one of the country’s most important newspapers? Yawns all around.
Over the weekend, meanwhile, those same elites who couldn’t muster a care about vivid descriptions of the murder of the duly elected president of the United States found something to get exercised about. The New York Times published details of what it called a “macabre” video that appeared at a conference of Trump supporters.
The New York Times decided its readers sensibilities were too delicate to handle posting the video, so it merely described it. What it was was a parody of a scene from the 2014 comedy/thriller “Kingsman,” in which a character kills some 50 people in a manner of two minutes. In the version that played at the conference, President Trump’s head is superimposed on the killer’s, and various media and political figures are superimposed over the victims. The video had none of the realism of either Ms. Griffin’s foray into assassination pornography nor the short story that appeared in the New York Times.
The conference at which the video appeared had nothing to do with the president or his campaign, and according to attendees, the video played to almost no people in an anteroom abutting the main event. But the reaction to it was still ferocious.
Was the video that appeared at the conference in bad taste? Absolutely. (So too, by the way, was “Kingsman,” an entertaining and well-made thriller that nonetheless includes horrific violence including the murder of former president Barack Obama.) But it was also a) obvious satire b) done for yuks and c) and seen by almost nobody at the conference. It was not a grave threat to the republic nor an incitement to violence. It was pure silliness, albeit of a particular kind.
Still, the journalistic establishment rushed to the barricades. The White House Correspondents’ Association professed itself “horrified” by the video. “All Americans should condemn this depiction of violence directed toward journalists and the President’s political opponents,” intoned WHCA honcho Jonathan Karl. CNN, whose logo appeared in the video said in a statement that the “images depicted are vile and horrific The Trump campaign need[s] to denounce it immediately Anything less equates to a tacit endorsement of violence.” Or perhaps more accurately, a tacit endorsement of silly videos.
Condemn the video the Trump White House did, by the way. That’s all to the good. The video that played at the conference, while obviously intended as comedy and in no way realistic, probably crossed a line. But the selective outrage over what is and is not accepted by establishment and the popular culture is breathtaking to behold.
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