Recently on a trip to New York City, we took the Kid to see the Empire State Building. I hadn't been inside in decades, and like many classic attractions, it has ben re-designed as an experience. Now there are interactive exhibits on the building process and the various ways that the iconic structure has been depicted in popular culture. There were nods to films such as An Affair to Remember (1957), Sleepless in Seattle (1992), and of course, the multiple versions of King Kong. My daughter enjoyed seeing the King Kong references, and I didn't have the heart to reveal the scowling face I was making behind my mask. So in all of the pictures, you see me smiling as if I didn't have a visceral reaction to being reminded of one of my earliest lessons in subliminal racism and sexism.
Yes, and don't act so surprised that I caught on at an early age that some women are regarded as damsels in distress in need of rescue and protection, while others are collateral damage left to perish or fend for themselves. I must have been about eight or nine years old when I first saw the 1976 King Kong remake. It aired on a Saturday night, and I watched it with my Mom. Like most precocious kids, I had questions, including why women were being sacrificed and what this giant ape did with them once he got hold of them. I also wondered why Kong seemed so smitten with this particular white woman and why it was necessary to save her, but not any of the native women. I'm sure my Mom gave me all of the answers that one is supposed to offer a child; nevertheless, I really got the message when I saw the original film with Fay Wray...
Since this piece is not really about King Kong, my point is that certain women are treated like hapless victims while others are fair game. I guess I could attempt to deconstruct why a giant carnivorous ape was allowed to terrify the inhabitants of a tropical island, but that would also require me to come up with an explanation for how those same humans were able to survive on that island with him, that ginormous serpent, and various prehistoric dinosaurs...
It is a lot easier to point out that the message has been the same whether we are talking about movies or politics. I am referring to that anime video that Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) posted last week (before he deleted it and got censured for it) that included his heroic fantasy of killing fellow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). I noted that she was depicted as some giant beast hellbent on a mission of destruction, and Gosar imagined himself as some kind of action hero, aided by fellow Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO) as his sidechick co-avengers.
Much of the initial fallout honed in on AOC's response to being the subject of his sick and twisted revenge porn video, but as usual, I saw a lot more in that 90 seconds of pure fuckery. There are the illusions to AOC as Kong; actual footage of the mistreatment of Haitian migrants and refugees; the celebration of border patrol and law enforcement; and of course, the insinuation that Gosar and Company are fighting the good fight against the current Administration. The anime portion is typical of the violent imagery that became common under the DESPOTUS Regime, so while it must be upsetting and frustrating to AOC personally, it occurred to me why all of this is so familiar.
I am not a fan of anime, so I hadn't seen the original video or the series that inspired this dreck. But knowing what I know about how certain imagery tends to be borrowed and reinterpreted, it doesn't surprise me at all that Gosar and his staff would cobble together this racist and sexist mish-mash of fearmongering tropes. Of all the people who best represent the embodiment of his worst fears, it is the beautiful, smart, and outspoken Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC)--a Latina whose very existence is both an affront and a delight.
Of course he hates the Squad. And it follows that he would hate Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Kamala Harris, former Secretary Hillary Clinton, and every other powerful woman who disagrees with him ideologically. That part isn't surprising, but it is intriguing that he didn't choose to dehumanize or kill any of those other women, all of whom make cameo appearances in his video. Nor did he choose to depict himself slaying President Joe Biden, though I'm sure that could be a crime (but you can ask Kathy Griffin just to be sure). Therefore, it isn't enough to suggest that AOC makes an easy target for derision and ridicule. But it is a good starting point to mention that her youth and attractiveness probably rev Gosar's engines. And that's one major reason why she's so dangerous...she might seduce him to betray his core beliefs to accept climate change or to cancel student loan debt!
Hence, another important lesson of subliminal racism and sexism--women that don't know their place aren't damsels in need of rescue, they are beasts that must be broken.
I've noticed the devolution in the manner of attacks on AOC since she rebuffed Candace Owens' offer to debate on Twitter. Remember that nonsense? Before she even got elected to Congress, folks thought they could prove that she was an intellectual light-weight just because she had been working as a bartender in the Bronx. Perhaps the assumption was that she would be the Democratic version of Joe the Plumber and become a caricature--Sandy from the Burbs. But when she refused to be baited into a breakroom brawl with the designated toadie, her detractors searched for other means of attacking her. She can't be that broke, they argued when she was photographed in an expensive pantsuit that Anna Wintour loaned her from the VOGUE closet. She can't be that smart since she graduated cum laude from Boston University, but not Harvard.
When they found that old footage of her dancing in a college video parody of an iconic scene from The Breakfast Club and bellyached that she was bringing Cardi B instead of respectability to the hallowed halls of Congress, not even that was scraping the bottom. She responded in typical Millennial fashion with a Tik Tok video filmed in the hallway in front of the entrance to her office. That must have really set their pants on fire, so they hit back with memes. And then at some point, it became acceptable to dehumanize her appearance so that the attacks could better appeal to the intelligence of her detractors.
That's another tactic of the patriarchy that goes back to Saartjie Baartman, otherwise known as the Hottentot Venus. Turn the object of your obsession into an oddity, a curiosity, or worse, a revulsion. Exaggerate certain physical characteristics to convince others that the person is subhuman or some kind of freak. If you think that's a reach, then consider how in just a few years AOC, a mere cocktail waitress from the Bronx, has morphed from the village idiot to being depicted as a rampaging, hairless Titan in Gosar's video. Explain the tepid reaction to when she was called a fucking bitch by another Colleague over an ideological difference of opinion on poverty and crime. Explain how her admission to having PTSD after the Capitol Insurrection was downplayed and mocked in the conservative media. Explain why it even made sense to release this video mere days after she pissed off her Caucus and her Party by voting with Gosar and most of the GOP against the infrastructure bill.
To offer a study in contrasts, explain why Rep. Lauren Boebert, also a mere cocktail waitress from Colorado, can claim that she fears for her life and must carry a gun around the most heavily guarded neighborhood in this city. Ain't nobody coming for you, lady...except maybe the IRS and the FEC! But trust that if IRS and/or FEC agents were to show up with subpoenas and Boebert suffered as much as a paper cut, these mofos would take to the floor of the House of Representatives to defend her honor.
Take a closer look at that video. Then tell me how America's fate depends on the courage of Paul Gosar, a dentist by trade, to prevail. That shit would be comical we hadn't already seen it a thousand times; yet, y'all keep remaking King Kong as if we don't get the message.
Beauty is a filter, a mirage, special lighting, and other tricks of the camera to make us believe we are seeing something that isn't real. If left to be defined in the eyes of beholders like Paul Gosar, then we get Ann Darrow (America the "Beauty") in need of rescue while the native women get devoured or trampled. We get men that rush in to save the damsels, but only to claim them for their collections of trophies and stuffed game heads. We get wannabe heroes who think it is courageous to turn away those in need, to ignore those who are sick and hungry, and to exploit those who are desperate. We get legions of defiant and unrepentant men elevated to the cult status of hero, even thought they lack any moral fiber, and are only motivated by the relentless pursuit of greed and personal gain. We get immature cowards like Gosar, whose shining moment of bravery is an imaginary conquest in a doctored cartoon.
Beauty isn't one standard quality or physical characteristic, it is a combination of attributes. Beauty is the ability to see the humanity in another person, regardless of our physical or ideological differences. Compassion, fairness, equality, and diversity are beautiful. Charity is beautiful. Kindness is beautiful. Decency is beautiful. Respect is beautiful. Service and sacrifice are beautiful. Tenacity, persistence, and audacity are beautiful. If America's beauty is meant to be more than a celluloid fantasy, then she must live up to the ideals she espouses and claims to represent in the world. Otherwise, she is really the Beast...