There’s nothing more convincing of the absolute triumph of a bizarre mixture of surrealism and farce like watching President Donald Trump appear next to a giant bespectacled Easter Bunny that looks positively stunned at the circus surrounding him. Like Bun Buns, I too watched yesterday’s first Trump administration Easter Egg Roll with my jaw dropped and a dumb look on my face. From the Reading Nook’s cast of Trump administration characters attempting to entertain confused children to Trump seemingly refusing to participate in the egg roll beyond enthusiastically blowing the whistle and tossing people’s hats into a crowd, the Trump version of the Easter Egg Roll, a White House event since 1878 with President Hayes, took a tradition and transformed it into a feat of performance art worthy of the Theatre of the Ridiculous.
In 1967, French philosopher Guy Debord theorized the times as “the society of the spectacle”–a form of life so over-mediated that it has become a “mere representation.” The society of the spectacle is a “social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” While, of course, Debord was referencing the influx of mass production and proliferation of media in the late 1960s, but he didn’t know how right he would be in 2017 when America had a tacky reality TV president with a preference for all things gold. However, I’d argue that 50 years later, we’re no longer in the spectacle; we’re in the Theatre of the Ridiculous, a madcap ride with high stakes. It’s potential for nuclear oblivion somehow only bolsters the tragicomedy.
In his book Ridiculous Theatre: Scourge of Human Folly, Ridiculous Theatrical Company auteur Charles Ludlam describes his goal for the Theatre of the Ridiculous as extending beyond the stage. “Our goal,” he writes, “was that the audience would become part of the theatre, that the theatre would expand to encompass the world. It was almost a religious idea” (19). Well, if only Ludlam lived to see it. Thirty years after his death, Charles got his wish–the ridiculous has now expanded not only to the culture at large, but into our sideshow of a political system.
Sure, the Theatre of the Ridiculous started as a haven for queers and other Downtown weirdos in New York, conflating the comedic and serious, drag and tragedy for a subversive yet transcendent form of theater. But, just like camp, the conservatives have spun the ridiculous into a maddening yet engrossing political force. And I know what you’re thinking, dearest Filthy Dreams readers. Aren’t we supposed to analyze art and culture through a queer lens not our political system? Well, now that reality is stranger than fiction and a video of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reading an Easter book to a little Oliver Twist is better than any video art I’ve seen this year, there is an impetus for those denizens of filth, like me, to train our trashy sights on politics.
And yesterday’s Easter Egg Roll was a notable feat of theater. Now, I should mention I did try to get into the Egg Roll, but unfairly, you had to bring a kid with you in order to even register. Why I was almost ready to steal a baby! And when I saw the campy mess on the White House lawn yesterday, I almost wished I had.
The Easter Trump train, though, started way before the actual Easter Egg Roll with an Easter greeting from Donald and Melania in Mar-A-Lago. Covered in a flurry of pastel and cheap Easter bunny face balloons like a spring fever dream, the gold-drenched nightmare of Mar-A-Lago looked even trasher with its excessive display of faux holiday cheer. As Trump leers and Melania looks, like usual, as if she’s being held hostage, they’re certainly striving to Make Easter Great Again.
But, that had nothing on the actual Easter Egg Roll, which Trump barely attended. In the past eight years, the Obamas participated with the kiddos, inviting a diverse group of families and even had special guests like Beyonce. This year though, Politico argued that Trump put himself center stage, while I agree on some level, I see the entire White House cast of characters as a roving theatrical troupe.
And why shouldn’t they be? Who needs Beyonce when you can have racist ass Jeff Sessions reading to a bunch of children? Who cares about a dumb song from Frozen when you have actual ice queen Melania? The goobers and goons of the Trump administration are the real stars of this stage show and boy, do they know it.
The breakout star yesterday, though, was Sean Spicer, formerly known as the White House Easter Bunny under the Bush administration. Sean, bless his heart, was having the time of his life. Just look at that smile. He’s the happiest he’s ever been. No food in his teeth. No high-pitched defensive yelling, mispronunciation, mumbling about “Holocaust Centers” or any of his numerous other gaffs. Sean could just be Sean, standing next to his hero–the Easter Bunny.
Perhaps the best and most performance art-worthy moment was Sean reading How To Catch The Easter Bunny with a decadently costumed little boy who, with one sock rolled down and one sock up, had the same awkward gait as Sean himself. Sitting in the “reading nook,” which looked like a little stage, it was a buddy comedy just waiting to happen, especially when the kid looked like he was just going to walk off. We all get it, kid. They should really take their act on the road. I’d surely pay for it.
Though Sean is probably the most likable of the White House’s band of un-merry pranksters (it’s not a stiff competition), he wasn’t the only one that had to subject a group of children to their antics. Ben Carson found the one black child in the sea of MAGA whiteness to read a page to before shoving the book at his wife. Kellyanne Conway emerged out of hiding as a vision in cotton candy pink, reading to the kids through clenched teeth. I don’t even think they went far enough–where was Bannon slurring about the apocalypse? Or Stephen Miller’s dead eyes? What it was really missing was Trump reading selections from The Art of the Deal.
Trump, for his part, barely did anything at all, but somehow his mere presence, still daily shock at least for me, brought the entire thing to the level of farce. One of the earliest manifestos of the Play-House of the Ridiculous came from Ronald Tavel who wrote, “We have passed beyond the absurd: our position is absolutely preposterous.” Precisely. Just look at Trump, Melania and Barron next to the Easter Bunny. I feel like I’m having a hallucination.
And it was made even more ridiculous once Trump fell into old habits and started a rally in front of the children, saying: “We will be stronger and bigger and better as a nation than ever before. We’re right on track. You see what’s happening and we are right on track.” Ooook…just give me some eggs, Grandpa.
This orating in front of a giant furry…I mean, the Easter Bunny, is possibly the most blatant depiction of our reality turned Theatre of the Ridiculous. As Charles Ludlam writes, “The outward appearance is Ridiculous but the intention is serious” (115). And here, it’s deadly serious as it plays out on the world stage with nuclear implications. Is that terrifying? Of course. But it’s also hilarious. “I wanted to commit an outrage. For me, nothing was too far out,” writes Charles Ludlam (13).
At the end of his Ridiculous Manifesto, Charles Ludlam exclaims, “Treat the material in a madly farcical manner without losing the seriousness of the theme. Show how paradoxes arrest the mind. Scare yourself a bit along the way.” Well, all of this rang true at yesterday’s Easter Egg Roll. But, the material treated in a madly farcical manner was both our trainwreck of a political system and the fabric of reality itself.
Now, I know partially this is all just my perspective, laughing at this bunny colored freak show as others get all worked up. But as Ludlam writes, “As long as you cling to the intellect and the rational, the paradox has you in its web. Circumstances beyond our control: a simple definition of farce. Laugh and you are free” (50).