Elections Monster: The Tattooed Man


Tattooing as it has been historically understood in the Eurocentric world has been a way to make the body monstrous. There is something not acceptable about it, something other. On this point, the link between tattooing art and the indigenous cultures it was appropriated from should not be forgotten.

In the Gilded Age, the Republicans had a candidate who turned out to be a monster. James Blaine was a charismatic, problematic, and corrupt candidate they put forth in the election of 1876. The GOP selected him at the convention despite all this. This situation was depicted, in a famous comic, as a scene from antiquity: Phryne's trial before the judges of Athens. It's a parody of the Jean-Leon Gerome painting called "Phryne Before the Areopagus." The historical reference doesn't really apply to James Blaine and the Republican party. Phryne was a hetaira prostitute on trial for her life, not a politician running for President. She was not tattooed, and the sight of her revealed body deterred her prosecutors from executing her, not endorsing her for president. Here, the body's sacristy isn't what scares the court, it's the tattoos. In this setting, the magnetic pad around Blaine's neck makes no sense whatsoever.

But Blaine is the kind of monster that we see when we look at Donald Trump. And the faces of the shocked Republicans sure do seem like today's GOP.

I like this guy.

The Republicans who would not, could not vote for Blaine split off from the mainline Republicans and became known as Mugwumps. Later, Williams S Burroughs borrowed the word when inventing the horrid alien species that appears in Naked Lunch. It is a word that, like tattooing, was appropriated from colonized people. It came from the Algonquin mugquomp, which meant "important person." Blaine supporters used it to deride the Republicans who thought they were too good to back the candidate (they in turn owned it). Their defection eventually turned New York's electoral votes against Blaine, costing him the election.

The year was 1876, but it looks a lot like 2016. Will all of the defections from the Trump camp also make the difference on Election Day?

That's the enigma.

[Top image and detail: "Phryne before the Chicago Tribunal" By Bernard Gilliam (1856-1896) Adam Cuerden / Adam Cuerden at en.wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. The Enigma: By Briank58 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons]

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