there’s a lot more than just homophobia in that trump-putin kissing cartoon
Why are we so fascinated with the gay sexual power dynamics of world leaders?
My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love by Dmitri Vrubel. Via Wikipedia.
“That was so gay, dude” has remained absent from my ears since school, until this past week. The New York Times, a publication revered for editorial credibility and liberal proclivities, showcased in the cartoon, Trump and Putin: A Love Story, a sense of humour and rhetorical imagination akin to the asshole from our tweens.
Using “100% real audio”, the Times cartoon, published to the newspaper’s Opinion section, imagines a first-date between an effeminate Donald Trump and studly bare-chested Vladimir Putin. Once picked up by Putin, Trump rides in the Russian president’s convertible, daintily caressing Putin’s gargantuan paw with his mythologised “tiny hand”. The car flutters into a flying unicorn, flowers flying from the back. Trump ditches his clothes, stripping down to nothing but a bowtie and tighty-whities reminiscent of the diaper worn by the “Trump Baby” blimp that floated over London last Friday. Rainbows twirl in the background, glaringly emphasising the object of mockery: the speculated homosexual affection shared by Trump and Putin. There is no subtlety from that point on: French-kissing and an abject close-up of their tongues contorting and writhing.
The Trump-Putin kiss is key here. We’ve seen this before. The cartoon’s animator, Bill Plympton, draws from past homosexualising iconography of the two statesman.
While the unimaginative story of a Trump-Putin romantic relationship has been around the block (back in the summer of 2016, The New York Times and The New Yorker each ran articles with titles almost identical to that of Plympton’s cartoon), a shameful international romance sealed with a kiss was etched into the public cultural imagination with artist Mindaugas Bonanu’s 2016 Lithuanian-based mural, Make Everything Great Again. Attempting to critique the leaders’ accused collaboration by presenting a humiliating face-sucking portrait for public display, Bonanu draws from a visual memory that dates back far before Trump’s entry into the American political game, to the Cold War.
As per the tradition of the “Socialist fraternal kiss”, Soviet and other communist leaders greeted each other through a smooch, sometimes on the cheek, sometimes on the lips.
Widespread, from Stalin to Gorbachev to even Putin. Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union from 1964 to 1982, was captured in an iconic lip-lock with East German leader, Erich Hönecker, at the 30th anniversary of the German Democratic Republic. The kiss, an unsexualised, fraternal gesture, was painted onto the Berlin Wall, following its fall, by artist Dmitri Vrubel. Entitled My God, Help Me To Survive This Deadly Love, the infamous mural spoke to the despised relationship between the Soviet Union and East Germany.
In the 21st century, that image has become homosexualised. In 2013, the mural was marked with smattering of graffiti, from “STOP HOMOPHOBIA IN RUSSIA,” to “FAGGOTS!”
The Socialist fraternal kiss represented a way of doing politics radically foreign to America’s aggressively-homophobic macho-professionalism. Growing out of an Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Socialist fraternal kiss was popularised in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the rise of Russian Workers’ and Communist movements. Within Soviet politics, the kiss expressed solidarity and masculine brotherhood. In the United States, especially given the Cold War history of contested alliances, competition and domination is a patriarchal virtue. Just as the East is feminised, partnership and collusion is “gay”.
And if the normal configuration of the United States and Russia, as plotted in the second half of the 20th century, was to be in opposition, then any deviation like the perceived passivity of Trump’s diplomacy with Russia is distinct from the Cold War iconography of heterosexual heart-throb President John F. Kennedy, locked in a throbbing arm wrestle with the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, as famously rendered in a 1962 Daily Mail cartoon that captured the struggle over the Cuban Missile Crisis.
Unlike the bicep beat-down Kennedy delivers to a fretting Khrushchev, the recent New York Times cartoon figures the American President as a pansy. A homosexualised Trump is courted by a studly Putin.
Plympton’s Trump and Putin: A Love Story indicates more than just the deeply embedded machinery of homophobia within liberal publications like The New York Times, as critiqued by numerous online publications and social-media users this past week. The animated short starkly illustrates The Times’s expectation that an American president and empire should dominate Russia and the world.
The New York Times’s attempt at satirical critique was collapsed into homophobic mockery. To probe deeper into that analysis, the gendering of Trump and Putin is particular. They are not a #Masc4Masc couple, rather, Trump is a political bottom, while Putin tops. The cartoon makes clear the way international political maneuvering can be and is sexualised.
The American presidency -- in these moments all too explicitly -- is expected to rally heterosexual patriarchal aggression that fucks the world (for which, by the way, Trump is excelling). But Trump’s critics, like Bill Plympton, are disappointed with the President’s flaccidity. This not only reinforces the homophobic tenant that bottoming is emasculating and strips one of power, but it also suggests that domination is better left to the United States. America should be fucking the world, not the other way around, right?