We’ve all seen it, at the State of the Union Speaker Nancy Pelosi literally ripped President Donald Trump’s speech to shreds. Toting this as a protest against ‘lies,’ Pelosi confidently lacerated numerous pieces of paper from Trump’s speech on live television. Her act of protest quickly became a meme, and was critiqued internationally.
Certainly Pelosi was aware that her outburst would be documented by global media; hailed by liberals and scorned by conservatives and of course dissed on the Commander in Chief’s Twitter account. However, bringing her actions to reality, Pelosi’s actions were no more than a sorry attempt at political theater in an attempt to recover her ego from Trump’s acquittal.
Even in Canada we couldn’t escape the drama from our southern neighbors. The cover of our newspapers were shrouded in pictures of Pelosi mid act. I couldn’t look past her calculated smirk. This was a woman on a mission—a mission to dutifully restore democracy to America. Except, it’s more than that. I’m certain Pelosi believed that her actions were radical and life changing because that’s just how her supporters saw it. But in reality, her so called ‘radical’ act was just to save face and start controversy.
Pelosi’s spectacle was unfortunate and annoying, but surprisingly started conversations in the art community. The art world tries to be progressive and often supports liberal ideology. Therefore, many hailed Pelosi’s act as a radical statement against hatred and bigotry in the United States. As problematic as that is, some even believed that her performance could (and should) be considered art due to the performative and ritualistic nature of the spectacle. In fact, knowing that I’m an American and what my research interests are a colleague was surprised to find my disinterest, and frankly annoyance, in Pelosi’s act.
My academic research involves Happenings, performances, and Actions, otherwise known as performance art, by politically engaged artists. Artists like Joseph Beuys use their platform as artists to advocate for political change. Many of Beuys’ actions involve repetition, as well as elements of ritual—not unlike Pelosi’s spectacle. Many performance artists have a flair for the dramatic and being over the top to push the definition of art forward.
The biggest difference between artists such as Beuys and Pelosi is that Beuys is creating a spectacle that is advocating for the betterment of society, whilst Pelosi is drawing attention to herself in an attempt to discredit the President. It is evident through her actions that this was not an act ‘for the people’ but for her own ego. I’ll be the first to admit that Trump is a sorry excuse for a political leader, but so is Pelosi, and neither is fundamentally different from one another. Furthermore, her actions cannot be considered art as she isn’t advocating for real change. Instead she crowned herself Queen of American Political Theater, proving her close associations with Trump’s political flair on Twitter. While Trump rages on Twitter, Pelosi’s platform is now on the spectacle of live TV. Both politicians are one and the same.
Artists make art that functions in the art world. They create a commentary based on real life events. However, Pelosi’s spectacle takes place in the real world. She is using her platform to further split the divide between the Left and the Right, and further her message of superiority within the Democratic Party. That’s not art, that’s political theater.
Political theater and art have much in common, but the two function in different realms. Both take place in the ‘real’ world but political theater actively harms its viewers. In this Pelosi example, instead of doing her job working for the People, she is now in the midst of a scandal of her own design. She is taking valuable time away from her cushy tax payer funded job to create unnecessary drama in hopes of rallying the Liberals against her spiteful tryst against Trump. Performance art harms no one as artists don’t have a direct stake in politics. Artists do not work for the people, they work for themselves and occasionally for private institutions that represent them. Certainly, viewers may be offended by elements of the performance but artists are private citizens who can comment on politics however they wish—without repercussions—a element that doesn’t exist if you’re a politician, especially if you’re Speaker of the House.
Stop congratulating Pelosi for her silly act. Remember she didn’t do this for you or even the Democratic Party. She wasn’t brave, or even a patriot. She wanted nothing more than the inevitable attention that would come from the Pro-Trump community that would hopefully unite the Democratic Party for the upcoming presidential elections—a unification which would mean the election of another centrist who wouldn’t engage in any sort of radical change in our country.