Artist Statement: A Critical Comparison of Fascistic (U.S.) Iconography
“Dick Tie” is my artistic statement on the state of American Fascism and heteronationalism. My overarching research interests (in WMST 595 this semester) were American masculinity constructions, looking at their presentations and representations. I realized why I gravitate to masculinity studies is because of my liminal existence between (white) hegemonic masculine notions of appearance, while performing a more fluid gender expression and sexuality, outside of hard masculine or “gay male” stereotypical notions, upon first impressions (or I think that in my mind, at least).
Hence, I look at the construction of American masculinity, in its most political form, fascistic populism. Halberstam, in their essay, “The Killer in Me Is the Killer in You,” on homosexuality and fascism, says, “proletarianism [is] masculine and virile and elitist vanguardist movement [are] effeminate” (157). Halberstam’s work in The Queer Art of Failureand Lynne Luciano’s work Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern American, informs much of my work in political science, U.S. history, gender, and American studies. I have built upon, and found, even more excellent scholars doing this work to include and riff with moving forward. I also think this work is very important for this time and place historically, studying politics and gender in media was feeling “unimportant” and disengaging without applying this critical lens to my work. In working with so man ideas and concepts that bled over into other classes, I decided to simplify my message by exploring how I would artistically depict masculine phenomenon and state control.
In “Dick Tie,” I synthesize many feelings I’ve been pondering into one image. Using Ron Paul’s (official) congressional portrait (because I see him as the prototypical U.S. hegemonically masculine prototype), I decided to leave the face blank to represent the entire western male project as projecting their metaphoric phalluses into their presentations, garb, and behaviors. Another student said it looked like V.P. Pence to her, which I’m happy with, because this proves my omission of face effective and invited viewer meaning making into the image.
I did not intentionally choose a penis that was uncircumcised, but thought it fitting upon viewing the completed work. I think the average U.S. fascist would probably have a circumcised one, but with religious reasons and rural locals taken into consideration, he might be uncut. It imbibes the congressman with more masculine “energy” to project outward if left uncut.
Also, my choice of garb wasn’t really optional, all politicians or C.E.O’s generally wear a suit like this, emphasizing shoulders, clean lines, and stylish ties. This suit armor essentially provides the wearer on the outside with what the man does not have on the body inside: hard lines, broad shoulders, etc. The American pin is important, as is the flag in the background, as these are included without question into the visual depiction of nationalism. I include them as tired symbols and limp flags when compared to the raging “Dick Tie.”
The work is made in dry-pastel on a gritty paper surface, which hold the chalky pigment. The pastiness of my representative “Dick Tie” prototypical man seemed to call to the chalky and pastel colors dry pastel provides. I really think it brought out the pinks and blues of the skin, which exposes the propaganda and translucence of wearing a dick as a tie.
I hope to create an outline of this drawing to be used as an illustration, or vector image. I want to mass-produce these as stickers or decals one could stick around public spaces. These would act as protest voices in the absence of discourse, which this counter visual would expose direct masculine, nationalistic, or racist pandering moves. I also want to complete more of these drawings with other genders, genitals, and expressions included. A female politician with a vagina bow tie, or adorned to her lapels would be similar to the pink-pussy hat fiasco, but intentionally done to target conservative women who prop-up hegemonically masculine roles.
Investigating politician’s uses of gender is important for the continued process of American democracy. My work rubs shoulders with the military [& congressional] industrial complex, which is almost heresy in this region. I reflexively state most of my existence and continued educational funds come from the military, in some form or other. I do not take lightly how I benefit from and critique a system that provides me with benefits, but that is all the more reason question it.
I also created a mock-up some condoms with a nationalistic state image of control emboldened on them, reminiscent of state-leader cult propaganda. I started with Putin’s ace, imagining this practice could actually occur in Russia because of its extensive anti-gay scapegoating to bolster fascistic hegemonically masculine control. My work and interests in LGBTQ+ refugee work is apparent here. I’ve also created a Fred Phelps one for the U.S., instead of Pence or “T,” because I’m an old fuddy-duddy who holds a grudge, and the religious conservative movement is the real force behind political uses of homophobic affiliations—which still all revert back to white-male patriarchal control.
With this work, I hope the viewer reflects on their own position with gender and politics. I hope they notice more uses of politicians employing gender in their pandering. A work in Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure, by Jewish-American photographer, Collier Schorr, does similar work with Nazi uniforms in Germany. A quote on one her piece, “Bobby Trap,” reads, “talking about your enemies is another form of narcissism” (167). This is meant to be challenged and pondered, as she clearly continues to produce work investigating fascism. I’m left wondering through this work, what a truly feminist politic would produce. The world we live in allows violent masculinities to construct destructive practices, but what, or even if, most collectively abandoned that ideological consent? I know consciousness raising is important for that question to be realized. Describing, or showing, how masculinities operate will alert hopefully jar them out of complicity and ignorance in relations of how gender and politics intertwine.
Halberstam, Judith. The Queer Art of Failure. Duke University Press, 2011. 147–171.
Luciano, Lynne. Looking good: Male body image in modern America. Macmillan, 2002.
NW is a graduate student at Old Dominion University’s Institute for the Humanities. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, and a minor in studio arts from ODU with concentrations in art history, graphic design, and linguistics. In his scholarship, he is interested in body, gender, sex, and sexuality studies — focusing on the masculine body — as applied to American media and cultural studies. Nathan has interests in digital humanities scholarship, and loves good puns.