What happened after I poked the Trump statue hornet’s nest

trump statue lytle 2
Photo: David Lytle via Flickr

Friday’s post about the Donald Trump statues got quite a reaction. Surprisingly, it restored my faith in the Internet as a place for discourse.

My objective was simple: get people to think twice about whether we’re ready to accept public, naked, exaggerated depictions of our political candidates as part of the dialogue. And I think I did that. But I realized I had stirred up trouble when I, very quickly, got this message from a good friend on Facebook:

As a friend, I’ll tell you that your latest post has me scratching my head. How does this relate to BS in writing? Are you becoming a society critic, now? I just feel you may invite unnecessary criticism. And maybe you feel using the n-word rather than saying “n-word” or obscuring it with asterisks is less bullshitty, but I think you could invite an awful lot of backlash.

It’s not that I don’t think you’re correct–you are–but is this really the most important Bullshit/writing topic you could have tackled? With the book coming out, my uninvited and perhaps unwelcome advice would be to stick to topics of writing. Pull apart the candidates’ or critics’ writing, not the public’s reaction to a statue.

Hope that’s welcome, but I’m concerned about some backlash today.

As it turned out, that analysis was pretty on-target.

My Facebook post reached 9,000 people and got 29 likes, 25 shares, and 26 comments. That’s four times what I get on other popular posts. About 1,900 people viewed the post on this blog, which puts it among my top 20 posts, and it received 17 comments. Do the math and you’ll see that less than one in four people who see a link on Facebook, even a controversial one like this, click on it and read it.

Here’s what I learned from the response to this post:

  • A lot of people got the message. Among those who quickly backed me up were Mike Mathews, Jeffrey Eisenberg, Mike Little, and David Armano on Facebook; and Ted McEnroe, Larry Kunz, and Tyson Goodridge on the blog. This comment seemed to sum things up nicely:

I’m of two minds of them…I can see the emperor has no clothes artistic angle, but I agree that there is a double standard here. It is HARD to maintain the principled high road when there is such a karmic delight to this, but I shall try.

  • There are fewer trolls in the world than you might think. Our of 9,000 people, less than five were overtly insulting to me. I think it’s fair game if someone wants to call my argument “bullshit” since I do the same so consistently. One person called me “ignorant” in a post on someone else’s Facebook page. I can live with that. If nobody gets upset with what I’m doing, then I’m playing it too safe.
  • People tried to convince themselves it was ok because it was Trump. As several put it, “He brought this on himself” by his behavior, his bragging about his health, and the fact that he has alluded to the size of his penis. It is true that no one deserves this more than Trump. But the point for me is that this treatment is not something I can condone, embrace, or celebrate regardless of who the target is. Because if you think it’s ok to portray Trump naked and distorted, somebody else will feel the same way about Hillary Clinton or President Obama or maybe me.
  • Some said this was “art” or a “caricature.” It was an extreme portrayal intended to make a point, admittedly. I’m all for caricature — exaggerating the way Obama’s ears stick out, for example, or satirizing the way Sarah Palin rambles on Saturday Night Live. But once you remove somebody’s clothes, you’ve stepped over the line. And yes, I get that these art pieces were called “The Emperor Has No Balls,” and yes, I get the wit. But wit (or “art”) doesn’t give you permission to strip somebody naked, and if you do, I won’t be cheering you on.
  • I’ll never use the n-word again. As a white person, I underestimated the power of that word, even used for comparison purposes, not to insult anyone. Once you use it, you’ve entered the realm of hate, not reason. I believe in saying what I mean, but in this case, I respect the horrified reactions of those I offended, and I agree that I made an error. I’m sorry. I should have chosen a different way to make my point.
  • Talking about fat gets people upset, too. Some appeared to think it was fine to make fun of fat people because “it’s a choice,” unlike race. That, in a nutshell, is what fat-shaming is. The statue is not just fat, the sculptor tried extra-hard to make it both fat and ugly. As an overweight person myself, I find that offensive.

I reserve my main criticism here for the behavior of the media (which is why it’s an appropriate topic for this blog). The coverage that appeared right away didn’t question the humiliating aspects of this public art, although I’m sure that would have been different if it had been a portrayal of Hillary Clinton. Since then, a few pieces have taken a viewpoint like mine, including in TIME and The Guardian.

This is a blog about writing, but it’s also about hypocrisy. As long as people are behaving hypocritically in public (and in writing), I’ll be pointing it out. If that offends you, before you shut me out, please ask yourself why.

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  1. Your post on the statues was important–it stopped me short and made me question the total glee I felt at seeing what had been done to the image of the Donald. I couldn’t help feeling that he deserved to be made naked because he is always hiding the truth, but that meant stooping to the lowest level–his level. But what I really appreciate is your willingness to listen to criticism and admit mistakes. The “n” word felt pretty shocking. Glad you won’t be using it in future posts. Thanks for examining issues of language and hypocrisy.

  2. Word choice (and choice of topics) is paramount, when you blog about words. I receive that lesson all the time.

    In six years and 800 posts, the biggest backlash I got from readers followed my inclusion in a post of a brief satire about Hitler.

    The irony and incivility surrounding us lures us into believing “anything goes.”

    It doesn’t.

  3. Several thoughts:
    1. People have died defending the right to free speech, and although I’m a firm believer in free speech, I’m not ready to die because I feel the need to draw a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad.
    2. I value and respect art, but I still have a hard time thinking of a crucifix in urine as art. I get the point, but still…It’s hard to tell whether it’s art or it’s trying to gain attention by being outrageous.
    3. Having said that, “trying to gain attention by being outrageous” is what many feel Trump is doing, rather than legitimately caring about the office and its responsibilities.
    4. “Gaining attention by being outrageous” is how Trump has manipulated the media. I cringe every time you announce how many clicks and likes you got from posting something about him. You are licking the poison.
    5. The “fat-shaming” issue seemed too personal and non-objective. But I would take it personally if the topic were about women, or ageism…
    6. Having read his book, Trump believes that negative publicity is still good publicity. It occurred to me that this publicity, however, probably reached him and hurt him personally. It is what happens when people don’t “play by the rules” of commonly accepted behavior. Others either stoop to their level or find it very hard to play at all. I vote Michele’s decision: “When they go low, we go higher.”

  4. I liked your post about the statues. Observing the USA from New Zealand the thing that strikes me most is how insidious Trump’s behaviour is. Trump acts in a rude and offensive fashion to be provocative, and it works. Some are encouraged to behave hatefully in support of him, others do it to oppose. But does America really need more hate? If you increase the hate, doesn’t that mean that Trump’s ethos is winning? While I’m sure your country is a lot more varied and nuanced than the picture we see from outside, those external images grow more hate-filled with each media report. So your posts on this matter are encouraging. They make some of that nuance more visible.

  5. With all the revelations about Hillary and the lies, the email scandal, the Clinton Foundation coming that are coming out each day, you show your utter hypocrisy by ignoring them and focusing on Trump. You’re just another political pawn.