Kathy Griffin has had quite a week.
After posing for a photo with a rubber dime store Donald Trump mask dripping in corn syrup blood, which was inspired by Trump’s “/www.cnn.com/2015/08/08/politics/donald-trump-cnn-megyn-kelly-comment/"}}" data-beacon-parsed="true">blood coming out of her wherever” comments about former Fox News host Megyn Kelly, the comedian suddenly found her own head on a platter.
Politicians condemned her. Venues canceled her shows. Trump lashed out at her on Twitter and a “Trump family source” claimed Barron Trump believed the image was real. CNN, the home of her New Year’s Eve special for nearly a decade, gave her the boot. Even Griffin’s beloved gay BFF, Anderson Cooper, distanced himself and tweeted his disapproval of her actions.
After originally defending the image as “an expression of art” in reaction to the “tremendous damage to the country and the world” she believes Trump is responsible for, Griffin quickly realized there was no way for her to successfully weather this storm, so she apologized.
In some ways, the backlash is understandable. You can’t stage a photo like Griffin’s without freaking people out. It’s grisly, gruesome, provocative and, sure, distasteful and even disrespectful. But that’s the point.
The photo is the latest ― and, yes, arguably the most disturbing ― in a long line of recent political and artistic presidential protest pieces ranging from a grotesque statue of Trump’s naked body to murals of Trump making out with Vladamir Putin.
These pieces are meant to shock ― to shake American citizens from their sleepwalking in hopes of inspiring them to not only recognize the terrifying direction in which our country is being led by Trump and his administration, but also to fight it.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and it’s ridiculous to pretend that anything that is going on right now is “normal.” At a time when the most dangerous policies and actions ― from the “Muslim ban” to cutting access to women’s reproductive health to rolling back pro-transgender directives, not to mention that whole alleged Russian collusion mess ― are being touted as just another day at the (Oval) office, pieces like Griffin’s, which intend to offend in order to highlight the offenses we’re experiencing, shouldn’t be silenced. Because when we silence art, when we tell creative people to stop pushing boundaries, we miss the opportunity to have healthy, difficult conversations around what it means to be an American and how and why we should participate in how our country operates, especially at this dire moment in our history.
Griffin was not calling for Trump’s assassination. Earlier this week she said that she “does not condone any violence, that provocative art should remain just that: art” and that “does not want life to imitate art.” Rather, she was drawing attention to the violence ― literal and figurative ― that the Trump administration is responsible for and capable of.
It’s also important to realize that there aren’t violent consequences to Griffin’s image. When she shows Donald Trump’s severed head, she isn’t putting all men like Donald Trump in danger of beheading. On the other hand, while the president hasn’t ever posted gruesome images like the aforementioned, the hateful language he uses to describe certain groups absolutely has consequences.
And while I can understand conservatives lashing out at Griffin (though, it’s rich that staunch supposed supporters of freedom of speech like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos and even Mike Pence didn’t have Griffin’s back, isn’t it?) I was most disappointed in liberals and progressives who were quick to attack her without nuance or context.
Over the last 36 hours, though, something curious has happened: people started to realize that what Griffin did might not have been as unforgivable as once believed. And as the initial hysteria begins to wear off, more and more people are coming to her defense.
“I think it is the job of a comedian to cross the line at all times — because that line is not real,” Jim Carrey said in an “Entertainment Tonight” interview Wednesday. “If you step out into that spotlight and you’re doing the crazy things that [Trump] is doing, we’re the last line of defense. And, really, the comedians are the last voice of truth in this whole thing.”
Even more intriguing to me was that, my own Facebook feed, which three days ago was filled with angry posts about Griffin’s photo, has suddenly flipped in the other direction.
For many, it seems Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement was the turning point. Memes parodying Griffin’s photo and showing Trump holding the a bleeding Earth began appearing almost instantly and suddenly people realized that maybe, just maybe, Griffin’s political statement ― however crassly executed ― wasn’t entirely inappropriate when compared to the devastation we’re now facing.
In a country that has officially told me that it does not care about my well-being as a gay man ― or, worse and probably more accurately, is actively working in opposition to my existence and survival ― I have been longing for statements of outrage to disrupt the normalization, and even glamorizing, of the destruction of America as a humane, empathetic, progressive nation.
Ultimately, I saw Griffin doing the tricky, difficult work of calling out her own government in an era ― like so many before in our history ― when dissent is labeled as poisonous, if not treasonous. No, we don’t have to like what she did. We can think and say it is tacky or gross or juvenile, but we can also defend her right to do it and attempt to understand her reasoning.
So, I think it’s time we accept her heartfelt apology and move on. In these confusing, panic-inducing times, I want to be challenged. I want to be forced to reconsider what I think is “right” and what’s “wrong.” I want an outlet for my anger and I want the chance ― however rare ― to laugh. Kathy Griffin has offered me opportunities to experience all of this and as problematic and provocative as she can be, I want her to stick around for at least another 30 years in hopes I’ll experience more of the same.