The several pieces of art that depict the death or dead effigy of President Donald Trump have become a kind of viral news throughout America recently. In the latest contribution to the art community about Trump, this year’s New York City Public Theater production for Shakespeare in the Park sparked controversy. This year, a Trump-like Julius Caesar was assassinated on stage in the name of art.
This play, though it did not start this way, has become a symbol of the current political climate of the causal nature with which Americans talk about the death of the sitting president, and the rift that is a deepening divide between those leaning left and those leaning right.
Art is so integral to the way America and democratic functions. Often art serves as the poster child for the overwhelming need to preserve the sacred right to free speech recognized by the first amendment to the Constitution. Art can even spark outrage in some, but that art must be protected most, because the alternative is censorship. However, that doesn’t mean that all art, while generally legal and protected speech, is morally right and good to do.
The theater had an intention to present Donald Trump in parallel to the Julius Caesar in the play, someone with too much power who is letting it go to his head. The comparison may not be far off for us, and the play certainly falls under protected speech. The play, in general, is art with a powerful statement; it is a statement that the New York Public theater is allowed to have felt and allowed to have presented.
However, we think a reality must be confronted now.
Every so often there is some new video of a celebrity saying something or doing something that suggests assassinating the president, like Madonna’s bomb statement, Kathy Griffin’s photo, the Public Theater play in question, and Johnny Depp’s recent joke about actors assassinating presidents. It is perhaps time for us to examine the culture that has developed around the acceptability of joking about killing a current president.
These statements made to worldwide audiences would seem so empty and harmless. They’re just words, they’re just photos, they’re just theater. But they all seem to suggest that killing because of different ideals is acceptable now. While this play began as an art piece drawing a parallel between the two leaders about misuse of power, it has evolved into a symbol for the deepening political rift. And this suggestion isn’t so much fiction anymore.
Let’s get real for a second, because this is what it comes down to. Art is so valuable, and it’s important because giving an inch with censorship in America could mean them taking a mile. But human beings are being targeted for different ideals now; real people were targeted during a baseball practice for the beliefs they were elected for holding, and one of them was shot. While some people reacted appropriately with condemnation and sadness, a small but potentially dangerous minority believe that shooting Steve Scalise was a good start and that they wished more had been shot or killed.
Those that made the play, we certainly think, don’t believe this. At least we would hope not. But the play, while beginning with good intentions, has become a symbol for the casually violent mindset that some people legitimately have towards conservatives and it is a mindset that some are acting on now. While the play did not start this way, unknowingly supporting the ideals of this crazy minority group has morphed the play into becoming wrong.
This editorial was written By Rachel Stuplich based on the opinions of a JAMS 504 editorial board.