Today, the FBI arrested Cesar Sayoc, a Florida man suspected of sending bombs to several prominent critics of President Donald Trump, including Democratic politicians and former officials. Images of the arrest site – an auto parts store, according to The Guardian – Show Sayoc's truck under a tarp. When a news helicopter followed the covered vehicle, the wind blew the tarp, revealing windows filled with decals of Donald Trump and other Republican figures.
Soon after, several Twitter users. tweeted Photos of what appeared to be close-ups of the same truck, taken before Sayoc's arrest. Many of the stickers were memes that had circulated in the spaces of the right social networks. The most recognizable of them: an elaborate portrait of Donald Trump riding a tank with golden rungs out of the ocean, holding what appears to be a Barrett M821A rifle, while $ 100 bills float merrily behind him.
The image has become popular in conservative online spaces, as it has circulated virally in places like r / The_Donald of Reddit since its creator, Jason Heuser, uploaded it to DeviantArt in 2016. He is an independent illustrator who worked on the video game industry for seven years. According to the biography section of his website, but he is mostly a satirical politician.
"Trump's thing, as with most of the paintings I do, is simply … they're painted because they're quite relevant at that time," says Heuser. The edge In a telephone interview. Many people at that time had been asking him to paint an image of the candidate at that time, because they thought it made sense with his artistic style, and Heuser painted it because he thought it would be fun. "I'm apolitical," he says. "I see politics as a giant reality show," which is where he says his art comes from. The painting of Trump's tank, he adds, should not be taken seriously.
"It was supposed to be a joke, and I think people are taking it seriously, which is a bit stressful for me," says Heuser. "In my mind it's obviously a joke." The point, for Heuser, is to walk between sincerity and ridicule. "Every time I create a work of art, I want people to think:" Wait, is he … is he kidding about this? Is this real? I do not know. "
What Heuser has created here is a meme, of course, but it's more than that. For Trump supporters, who enjoy the smiling face of the president attached to all kinds of images and gifs, and t-shirts, the image of Heuser represents how they see the president every day: as an unimaginable and rich man, that devastates the world uncontrollably on incredibly expensive tank treads. That's why in r / The_Donald, you'll see that Redditors refer to Trump as GEOTUS, or God Emperor of the United States. It's a morbid joke, morally vacant.
American leaders have always been mythologized; Throughout the history of the country, there has been a concerted effort on the part of supporters to launder political leaders, especially presidents, and minimize the worst actions they took in the course of their administration of the country.
This goes back to George Washington, who is more fond of winning the War of Independence than to his property of human beings, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whose leadership throughout the Second World War overshadows his creation of internment camps for the Japanese who live in America. . Today, George W. Bush, the architect of the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that claimed the lives of millions of innocent people, is a happy and elderly painter. On social media, he has been retweeted by liberals when posing for photos with Michelle Obama.
With Trump, as the Heuser image shows, the momentum manifests itself in a slightly different way. His supporters not only want him to be the leader of the country, they want him to dominate the world. Heuser's image figured prominently in Sayoc's van; the rest was covered in slogans that testified to Trump's greatness, as well as images of Democratic figures with the cross marked on their faces.
The funny thing about Heuser's image, however, is that it is not simply complimentary. Upon closer examination, he mocks Trump as much as possible: Heuser left a "69" joke in the back of the tank; added a Big Gulp logo on its side near some Trump steaks and Trump vodka, two of the president's failed companies; bumper stickers near the front include the Howard Stern logo, a New World Order wrestling sticker, and a sticker that says "do not you know who I am?" On the plaque, the frame says, "Taxes Without Representation," a phrase that can be read as an excavation on Trump's allergy to the release of his tax returns.
These days, political satire is more difficult than ever, because both the pace of the news is increasing, partly because of the ease of dissemination of information around the world, and because there are so many ridiculous headlines coming out of the White House , each one of them. day. It often feels like The onion He is writing the stories that happen every week.
The fact that all this is so ridiculous, the fact that Sayoc loved the image of Trump coming out of the ocean in a tank bathed in gold enough to put him in his truck, that other people on the road also had to see … obscures much the active damage that the Trump administration is doing to the people of this country and their political and current environment. Heuser sees it a bit differently: "Donald Trump is doing exactly what he did in The newbie, right now on a larger scale as the president. "President Trump is willing to get ratings and be memorable in the process.
A meme is a social virus. Each one spreads through a population according to its peculiar viral dynamics: some bounce through a population and then burn, while others come and go with the seasons. Each meme is equally replicative without thinking. The point of a virus is to replicate, and the point of a meme is to convey a unit of meaning, one that anyone can remix easily.
However, in the forums and message boards that serve people who rely on conservative politics, the memes also function as metonyms: Pepe the Frog, a character created by the cartoonist Matt Furie, was claimed by 4chan and, with Over the years, it has gradually transformed an alternate for the "Trump supporter". In these spaces, the memes also indicate belonging.
But memes do not hide children permanently separated from their parents by the whim of a racist deportation policy; In fact, they often suggest it. The title of God the Emperor is a joke; The people who are hurt by the president's policies are not. Trump in a tank implies that there are ideas, and people, that need to be run over.
"People love reality television, but I do not know if politics should be on the same level as reality television," says Heuser. "I mean, as I said before, I see it that way, because that's how I just laugh at that, and I say, OK, well, today we did not blow up."
Correction, 6:35 PM EST: Jason Heuser is an illustrator. An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that he was also a game designer.