“He is a liar. The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us.” – Father Merrin (The Exorcist – Friedkin, 1973)
Donald J. Trump is the 45th president of the United States. Though he’s no longer the cartoon character he once appeared to be. He now seems to be more akin to an apparition which has manifested itself into the White House; the result of a series of cruel magic tricks, or – more specifically – a series of images which over the last few years have become animated discourses possessing obscene amounts of influence. Here Alchemy will be drawn upon to examine the particular way in which words, images and Trump symbolism have magic-like qualities that contributed to the emergence of this presidential apparition. A focus will be placed upon the ways in which the fan practice of cosplay has helped to support the Trump campaign; but also how it can be used against his presidency, viewing cosplay itself as a form of alchemy.
(Left – Credit: Brynn Anderson via Buzzfeed. Right – Credit: Jim Watson via Paleofuture.)
At Trumps rallies there have been numerous accounts of cosplayers, one of the most notable cosplays being of the ‘The Wall’ with the slogan “Mexico Will Pay” written on its front. The supporter is embodying one of Trumps policies, willing it into existence. The tight fit and cartoonish design of the wall is humorous, friendly, and appealing. The wall; and, hence Trumps policies are thus personified as cheerful noble Americans. A more frequent cosplay observed at Trumps rallies is supporters dressed as Trump himself, expressing their support for him. This has a slightly more ambivalent consequence in (inadvertently) placing Donald Trump’s existence into question. Through the act of cosplay, in other words, Trump is treated not as a person but a sign, with a set of specific symbolic values. To many, moreover, he is a sign of change, and is a sign that many people are willing to embody and empower.
However, just as apparitions can be summoned they can also be expelled. How do we get Trump out of the White House? Well, we’re going to have to hold an exorcism.
(Left – Credit: gruntpunch. Right – Credit: goddess3.)
Exorcisms have been held in the past and they have been successful, take for example the use of the Richard Nixon masks in the 1970s as a mode of attacking a corrupt government. Cosplay is being used similarly as a medium of opposition against Trump’s office. These ‘protest cosplays’ often feature some form of cross-over, such as ‘Redneck Trump’ which represent Trump as unemployed and uneducated (perhaps with the unintended consequence of reinforcing the very narratives of elitism that brought him to power). More conceptually significant cosplays, however, often cross-over with other texts from popular media; such as, Immortan Joe the antagonist from Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller, 2015) to represent him as a villain (as well as, a power crazed misogynist, a tyrant, and a slaver, who cares only for himself).
(Credit: Robert Gauthier.)
The Trump and Joker cross-over is perhaps the most fascinating. In DC’s Batman franchise, the Joker is one of Batman’s greatest foes. It is difficult to define the Joker’s definitive politics/symbolic nature due to the diversity of the Batman cannon. However to those familiar with the broader franchise the Joker can be seen to embody chaos, he mocks justice and civilised reasoning; in opposition to the civilised, moral justice of Batman. For example, in relation to A Killing Joke (Moore, 1988), the Jokers origins are revealed; he is a broken man defeated by the demands imposed upon him by an inherently corrupt society. To connect the Joker and Trump therefore depicts Trump as a mad man, symbolic of a corrupt and fundamentally flawed system. Doomed to collapse with everyone still in the building. What would appear to cement this reading is that Mark Hamill the voice of the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), has performed several of Donald Trump’s tweets as the Joker (Listen here), in many ways literalising this comparison made by fans. This depicts Trump as a clown, someone who cannot be taken seriously, yet also the very antipathies of funny. Similarly The Daily Show (Comedy Central, 2017) made this association, editing an interview of Donald Trump on ABC News to make him resemble the Joker (Watch here). This comparison depicts Trump as crazed, a symptom of a world diseased within the pressures of a capitalist society.
What has been discussed here is merely the surface of a huge movement within fan practices. There are many case studies including; the ‘Trump Roman Soldier’, Trump outfits for Children, ‘Sexy Trump’ outfits, Trump masks, and even Hilary Clinton cosplays. All of which raise a number of questions, which at this moment have no definitive answers. Politics and popular culture (and in effect fan practices) are constantly conversing and evolving. What can be negotiated is how cosplays hold symbolic power, which when read by others can be used to reinforce or tackle wider populist narratives; which will inevitable result in a new series of symbolic consequences. Cosplay is magic, it has contributed to the summoning of this apparition; but, cosplay can also exorcise it. Exorcisms take time to complete, and are not always successful. Though if there is to be any chance let’s refuse to let hate win; let’s love, let’s dream, let’s question everything, and let’s laugh at the demons who bully equality and fairness.
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Griffin, T. 2016. Someone Showed Up to A Trump Rally Dressed as The Wall He’s Proposing to Build. on BuzzFeedNews. <URL: https://www.buzzfeed.com/tamerragriffin/trump-wall-at-the-trump-rally?utm_term=.nvkpv0E51#.xpYvPlNb2> [Accessed:27/01/2017].
Gruntpunch. 2016. That’s My Fetish. on imgur. <URL: https://imgur.com/gallery/xuXae> [Accessed: 27/01/2017].
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Penny, A. 2015. My Friend just sent me this. on goddess3 @ Tumbler. <URL: http://goddess3.tumblr.com/post/128484678280/my-friend-just-sent-me-this-pic-ive-never-seen-a> [Accessed: 27/01/2017].
Hamill, M. 2017. ‘The Trumpster Quote #1’. on audioBoom. <URL: https://audioboom.com/posts/5471405-the-trumpster-quote-1> [Accessed: 09/02/2017].
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. 2017. ‘The Daily Show – Welcome to President Trump’s Reality’. on YouTube. <URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2YLS80Nmls> [Accessed: 09/02/2017].