Maybe we owe comedian Kathy Griffin our thanks. Her dumb publicity stunt this week, releasing a photograph of herself holding a bloody "decapitated" replica of President Trump's head, makes it clear that the bubble cultural elites live in is thicker than ever.
After Griffin's stunt backfired, I got into some spirited back-and-forth with left-leaning hotheads on Twitter who pointed to offensive effigies of former President Barack Obama that were common during his presidency. That's true enough.
But the same sorts of amateur effigies of the president were a common protest tactic during the Bush years. Likewise, Trump effigies and piñatas have been frequently spotted since his political ascent began two years ago.
In fact, this protest tactic is not particularly new. In 1841, angry protesters burned an effigy of President John Tyler right outside the White House.
It's hard to imagine the Secret Service allowing that today.
You could find scores of other political figures who have been mocked and roasted in such a manner. It's a relatively harmless way of letting off steam, in the majority of cases, though admittedly rather tasteless. My preference would be that we refrain from such provocative and disturbing displays, regardless of your politics; there are more constructive and effective ways to register one's disagreement or distaste for public officials.
So what sets Griffin's photo apart? Why did people respond so strongly? I think the difference is that she's not just some random knucklehead off the street sticking a Bush or Obama mask on a suit filled with straw for laughs. She's a wealthy and comfortable Hollywood performer residing in a position of great privilege who decided a graphic image of her grimly holding aloft a severed Trump head was just a swell idea.
Let's make the distinction clear. A random street protester venting through an ill-conceived handmade sign or a crude dummy is one thing. But Griffin is a highly successful and well-known comedian with a truly impressive list of acting, writing and producing credits for film and television stretching back to the 1980s.
Even if she's just a "D-list" celebrity, as she self-mockingly denoted herself in the title of her reality series that ran for six seasons, she has achieved a level of financial success and stature that most actors and comedians in Hollywood would kill to achieve.
She deserves credit for that achievement. It's too bad the achievement was not accompanied by any sense of judgment. When one has secured a measure of cultural prominence and power, as Griffin has, that brings with it some responsibility to norms of civility and decency. If you recoiled from Griffin's photo — and she received vigorous criticism from people across the political spectrum — it's probably because you viewed it as a violation of that standard.
But it's important to recognize that Griffin is simply a product of the cultural class and environment to which she belongs. It's telling that her severed head stunt took place as part of a professional photo shoot. That means multiple people had to be involved — we can imagine that a photographer, lighting assistants, stylists, Griffin's management and staff and others participated in one way or another to make the shoot happen.
Yet at no time did it occur to anyone involved that this might be a poorly chosen conceptual direction. Why not? Because in their world, it's a perfectly acceptable thing to imagine beheading the hated Republican president and hoisting his head like a grisly trophy. You know, just as a joke, though many of us missed the punchline. Makes sense, right?
At least initially Griffin attempted to do the right thing, issuing an apology that seemed forthright and sincere. But by the end of the week, she had shifted tactics, holding a news conference to announce, bizarrely, that the biggest victim of this whole episode was … Kathy Griffin. She should have quit while she was behind.
I found Griffin's stunt disrespectful, distasteful and generally abhorrent. But I suppose we should extend our thanks to her and her team for exposing just how deep the Hollywood groupthink is when it comes to its contempt for the duly elected president — and, by extension, the tens of millions of voters who supported him in his successful 2016 campaign.
By that measure, Griffin is a perfect representative of the cultural elite class to which she belongs. And the gulf between those elites and the rest of the country continues to grow greater by the day.
Sean Parnell (@SeanParnellUSA) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a retired U.S. Army infantry Captain who served in Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He is CEO of Branding Freedom, co-founder of the American Warrior Initiative, and author of the critically acclaimed, national bestseller "Outlaw Platoon: Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan."
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