Classically Inclined

September 25, 2019

Political monsters in reverse

Filed under: Research — lizgloyn @ 1:55 pm
Tags: ,

I’ve said before that one of the side-effects of working on classical monsters in contemporary culture is that people tend to share examples they encounter while out and about. Well, a week or two ago, Helen Lovatt tagged me into a post shared by Phillip Reardon which featured an illustration of President Trump in the guise of a centaur crossed with a pig – I’m putting the image behind the cut to let you decide if you want to spare your eyes or not, and I’m afraid I don’t know who originally created the picture. I’m presuming it came from somebody’s observation on Twitter that Trump stands as if he’s a centaur without the body and hind legs – I can’t track down the original tweet to check the dates, but that idea seems to have become rather popular.

The addition of the pig is, perhaps, an obvious choice too, given Trump’s frequent sexist remarks and the useful phrase ‘sexist pig’. Centaurs are often used to imply hypersexuality, lack of control and general bestiality – the combination of the target monster with the modern idiom gives us what Prof. Lovatt dubbed the Trumpigtaur, binding together the modern notions of monstrosity which both images represent.

Now, this alone would be pretty interesting, but it stands out to me because this is a curious political inversion in terms of gender. It is very common, as Mary Beard has noted in Women & Power, to see hostile representations of female politicians as Medusa, with their heads chopped off and put back in their place by some heroic male adversary. That kind of hostility towards powerful women is somewhat at odds with the Medusa story we receive from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where Medusa actually appears to withdraw from society as much as possible rather than weaponise her power, but it’s entirely in keeping with the hostility to women’s agency which wants to see them as unnatural monsters for entering the world of politics.

To have a male politician characterised in these terms seems, to me, to be rather unusual. I’ve probably not been paying quite enough attention to the satirical cartoons of the British papers, which may well have been making use of Boris Johnson’s classical pretensions to good effect, although I suspect there’s been more of the Hulk in recent weeks. But in the various examples I’ve seen discussed, it does seem that political women are monstered more in this way than men, at least in the Western world. (Incidentally, I’ve heard Marco Pinari give a paper on some really interesting stuff around the use of the hydra by terrorists which fits in here and I presume is expanded on in his new book, although I’ve not had a chance to read it yet.)

The Trumpigtaur, then, stands as an interesting example not only of the intersection of two powerful images critiquing male behaviour, but also as an unusual comment on a male politician in a sphere where it is women’s action which is usually seen to be monstrous.

As I say, I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of male politicians being classically monster-ised – if you know a good one, please do share it in the comments!

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