Posts Tagged ‘‘Game of Thrones’’

The Trump Statues: Nudity, Castration and the Punishment of Slaves

April 9, 2018

I sent this piece below off to the left-wing American website and magazine, Counterpunch. It’s a reply to a previous article they put up about the satirical statues of Trump, which appeared when he was campaigning for the presidency. These showed him naked, with a small penis and no testicles. One of their female writers compared this humiliating portrayal with the way nudity has been frequently historically used to punish women. She also cited the Fantasy series Game of Thrones and one of the punishments inflicted on a female character in that. But the statues’ genital deficiencies point to another way nudity was also used. Along with castration, it was also used in South American colonial society to punish captured runaway slaves. The Statues’ portrayal of Trump thus seems very fitting, given his aggressive masculinity and support for racists and White supremacists.

The magazine hasn’t used the article, and I don’t think they ever will. So here it is.

Nudity, Emasculation and the Humiliation of Slaves:
The Hidden Politics of the Anti-Trump Statues

Remember those statues of Trump which appeared in various cities across America about a year or so ago, when the Orange Generalissimo of reality TV was strutting about stadiums across America trying to get people to elect him? These were life-size statues of him, naked, with a tiny penis and no testicles. Today, Wednesday 28th March, the British papers reported that the last remaining one of a set that wasn’t destroyed, was put up for sale at Julien’s Auction in New Jersey. The statues were a subversive comment on a man, whose personal behaviour and style of government is one of aggressive masculinity and misogyny. One of the female contributors to Counterpunch published a piece a year or so ago when these statues first appeared. Written from a feminist perspective, it commented on this sculptural humiliation of the future president, and in particular its similarity to the methods used in the past to humiliate women. The statues’ nudity recalled the way errant women were also humiliated by being paraded naked.

It’s true that public nudity has been most used to humiliate women, but it wasn’t exclusively so. Men have also been humiliated on occasion by being exhibited naked by their enemies. In the culture of the Hebrew Bible, nudity was a badge of shame, and there’s a plaque from ancient Egypt showing a group of Asian prisoners being led, naked, by their Egyptian captors. And during the 18th century heyday of the transatlantic slave trade, public nudity and mutilation, including castration were used to humiliate enslaved Africans, who ran away or otherwise resisted their White masters. The slave societies of the New World was gripped by the fear of slave resistance, which itself took various forms. Enslaved Africans revolted in armed rebellions. They also ran away from their masters, or confined themselves to less dramatic forms of resistance, such as eating dirt, sabotage, or finding ways not to perform, or perform badly, their allotted work. To combat this, the slave masters punished their slaves with a variety of brutal measures, ranging from whipping to execution. These included various forms of mutilation, including castration.

This fear intensified during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, when the British and other European colonial nations feared that the slaves would follow Toussaint L’Ouverture and Black Jacobins of Haiti, and rise up against their masters to found free Black states. And so they resorted to increasingly brutal methods to discourage them. In one British Caribbean colony, one enslaved man was forced to sit on a cannon as it was fired, which understandably left him shaken and terrified. A female planter was also awarded five pounds by the local legislative assembly in another British colony, for having her male slaves castrated as a deterrent to further resistance.

It wasn’t just in the British colonies that emasculation was used to crush rebellious slaves. The Spanish slave code provided that runaway male slaves should be punished through the amputation of their member, and then exhibited naked to the public, a further punishment intended to humiliate them further after the horror of the mutilation itself, as well as dire warning to others also considering absconding. And it is this punishment, which the Trump statues, with their nudity and lack of genital endowment most closely resemble.

As a caricature of the President, it’s very appropriate indeed. Not only is Trump keen to project aggressive masculinity and sexuality, his regime is also notorious for its racism and connection to White supremacism. Trump tried and failed to pass legislation banning Muslim immigration from specific countries, largely those where he has no business dealings. He’s promised to build a wall to stop Mexicans and other Latino/as getting into the country illegally. And his supporters and staff have included members of the Alt Right, determined to preserve White dominance as America rapidly becomes racially diverse. One of the most notorious examples of this racist support base came when Richard Spencer, the founder and leader of the Alt Right, greeted Trump’s election at a meeting at the Ronald Reagan room with the cry of ‘Hail Trump! Hail our race!’ and a raised right arm in something that looked very much like the Fascist salute, despite his claims to the contrary later.

And some right-wing extremists in the Republicans have gone further. Not only do they defend slavery, but some of them have advocated it, or something close to it. A few years ago, one Republican politician recommended that illegal Mexican immigrants should be held captive by the state, and forced to work on public works. This is forced labour, which comes under the UN definition of slavery. Michelle Bachman, during her 2011 presidential campaign recommended a biography of General Robert E. Lee by J. Stephen Wilkins, which blamed the ‘radical abolitionists’ of the north for starting the Civil War, claimed that Southern slave masters treated their slaves with respect, and gave them enough food and personal possession to live a ‘comfortable but spare’ existence. The book even claimed that American slaves were fortunate in being brought out of their own, pagan homelands, and their godless brutality to Christian America. The Victorian English explorer, Sir Richard Burton, made the same argument nearly 250 years ago in his Wanderings in West Africa. It was also repeated by a number of Trump supporters during his presidential campaign back in 2016.

The disgraced former anchor of Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, also repeated it, claiming that the slaves, who worked on the White House were well treated and fed. The Texas school board also tried indoctrinating their children with a carefully sanitized view of it. Back in 2015 one Texas mom was horrified to find that her child’s geography textbook described the enslaved people ripped from their homes in Africa to toil in American plantations as ‘workers’. The protestors, who turned up to demonstrate against the removal of the statue to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, also argued that slavery had been beneficial. And some Libertarians also resent anti-slavery legislation. One confused Libertarian caller to Sam Seder’s internet news show back in 2013 also tried arguing that the anti-slavery laws were a tyrannical infringement of his liberty. Why? Because they deprived him of his right to own slaves. It’s an argument which shows how dangerous and demented at least some Libertarians are.

This shows there’s considerable nostalgia for slavery amongst some Republican supporters, who were very encouraged by Trump’s election and his racist policies. It’s true that during the 18th century some paternalistic slave masters, like George Washington, were concerned to treat their slaves well. Archaeologists working on Benjamin Franklin’s estate found that many of his slaves had very good material possessions. Some had fine china, and played the violin, for example. But for others, the reality was grinding poverty and the tyranny of the whip. In the British Caribbean, the slave codes provided only that male slaves should be given a pair of drawers, and women shifts once a year. Even in the 19th century visitors to these colonies remarked on seeing slaves toiling naked in the fields. As for benefiting from being taken to America, many Africans instead naturally desperately yearned to return to their homes. Some threw themselves into the sea on their arrival in the Caribbean in attempts to swim back to Africa. And if they couldn’t return to Africa, some of them dreamed of recreating an African society in the New World. In one late sixteenth century rebellion in the British Caribbean, the slaves planned on creating a new social order based on the type of monarchies, with a king and queen mother, they had known in Africa.

The subversive statues of Trump not only comment on and invert his projected image of potent masculine leadership. They also attack and undermine the racism at the heart of his administration by subjecting him in image to the humiliation meted out to runaways in the Latin south. Since then, the statues have nearly all vanished, while unfortunately their real-life model remains at large in his occupancy of the White House.

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The Young Turks on the Dwindling Audience for Cable News

February 14, 2016

This is a very interesting piece pointing to the future of the news media from The Young Turks’ anchor, John Iadarola. Iadarola states that the Turks are always warning their audience to be wary of cable news because of its bias: its support for whoever happens to be in power at the time, its defence of powerful corporate interests and the establishment. But it seems that there may not be anything to worry about for much longer, according to figures about where the different generations in American society get their news.

In a poll inquiring where Americans were getting the news of the present presidential election campaign, amongst 18 to 29 year olds, 35% said they got their news from social media. 18% said they got it from news websites and apps, 12% from cable news, 11% from radio and 10% from local TV.

Adults over 30 primarily relied on cable news, and for adults 50 and older, the proportion getting their news from cable was 43%; network nightly news 17% and local TV 10%. Collectively, cable TV has 24% of the total audience across the generations for news.

To Iadarola, however, the message behind these figures is very clear. While cable TV is the news source of choice for more mature viewers, its influence with the young is waning. These are the people, who are still forming their political opinions, and they are going to vote in more elections than the over 65s. The future’s with the internet, in other words, not cable, despite cables massive budgets, traditional dominance of the media, and ability to get the presidential candidates on air.

While this clearly is about Americans’ viewing habits, it has profound implications for British television and news media as well. More and more people on this side of the Atlantic are turning to the Net for their news, with the result that newspapers have massively declining readerships. On Friday the Independent announced that it would cease printing, and its sister publication, the I, was to be sold off. The Guardian is similarly losing about £45 million every year, and the Torygraph is also in trouble. In its case, this has much to do with its ‘doddery’ chief executive, Murdoch McLellan, not understanding the way the internet works, and appointing advisors who know even less, as well as its craven grovelling towards its advertisers, as commanded by the weirdo Barclay Twins. It also shot itself in the foot by ordering its readers to go out and join the Labour party to get Corbyn elected for the benefit of the Tories.

Not even the Times is immune. The paper’s also losing money hand over fist, and it’s been said that the time is long gone when it would have been axed in the normal course of events. It hasn’t, because it is supposed to be the paper of record, and its ownership gives Rupert Murdoch a place at the political table with the premier and other leading politicians.

Television is also feeling the bite from the Internet, with the Beeb also looking worried about competition from cyberspace. So much so that one article in the Radio Times mooted abandoning the policy of impartiality to produce biased news like Fox, which at least has an audience. This piece shows that Fox does indeed have an audience, but possibly not for much longer. Somebody did a poll of the average age of Fox viewers. Their average ago is 69. Somebody jocularly called them an on-line retirement community.

Satellite and cable TV in Britain now has a much larger audience than it did previously, and people are turning to the internet to watch blockbusting series like House of Cards or Game of Thrones. But my guess is that in Britain, at least, the main TV channels are just about managing to hold their own. Just about.

This means that I suspect that there will be increased interest by American broadcasters to buy into British TV. Channel 5 has been bought up by the Americans, and Rupert Murdoch would desperately, desperately like the Beeb privatised so his empire of filth can move in. (I say that, but actually I like the X Files, so I’ll make an exception for Mulder and Scully). Expert even more demands from the Murdoch press for the Beeb to be sold off in the coming months and years. Murdoch and the other cable barons have got their backs to the wall, and the internet is coming up to bite them.