They're beautiful, aren't they, the Conways? Their youth, their two little children. The country is falling in love with them. They won't fall in love with us like that, but we have something they don't. We are willing to go one step farther than everyone else. --Claire Underwood, in House of Cards, "Chapter 46"
The quotation I have chosen to introduce this editorial comes from an episode in the fourth season of House of Cards, in which the Underwoods' claim on political power is challenged by Governor Will Conway (played by Joel Kinnaman) and his wife Hannah (Dominique McElligott). What the Conways have and the Underwoods do not is a claim on the child, achieved through their possession of youth and actual children: the Conways are roughly twenty years younger than the Underwoods and have two young children. In the context of the show--and indeed, outside of it, in American culture--the figure of the child functions as signifier of purity, goodness, and futurity, not to mention conformity to heteronorms. In such a culture, the childless and middle-aged Francis and Claire Underwood (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) appear cold and calculating when set beside the Conways. (1) While the assumption that childless couples are cold and calculating would typically be an example of spurious stereotyping, the Underwoods do embody these qualities in their demeanour and politics: they are so cold and calculating that Season 4 ends with the two of them looking on unblinkingly as the US hostage they have refused to save in the interest of not wanting to be seen negotiating with terrorists is beheaded. (2) The only time the cold and calculating image of the Underwoods appears to be a front is when the Conways visit the White House with their two children, an event that seems to provoke feelings of envy in Claire for one fleeting moment. As she watches Hannah dealing with her children, it appears as though she could be imagining what it might feel like to be Hannah or, for that matter, Will and Hannah Conway--that is, the enviable and easy-to-love couple that the US public would likely elect. Many might assume that such a couple would do a good job governing the republic, in part because it embodies the very values the public champions. The child--or, in this case, the children--function here to separate the wholesome presidential couple from the unwholesome one. The Conways' children and the Underwoods' lack of children, as well as both couples' attitudes toward children and the parents of children--the beheaded American has a daughter--immediately cast them on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
A similar distinction has been emerging in press coverage of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie, on the one hand, and newly elected US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania, on the other, despite the fact that both couples have children. Just as Will and Hannah's carefully cultivated image of warmth and spontaneity contrasts Francis and Claire Underwood's killer detachment, Trudeau and Sophie often function as a convenient foil for Trump and Melania. Notwithstanding the fresh-faced adorability (3) of eleven-year-old Barron--the youngest of Trump's children and the only one he had with Melania--the Trumps are being painted as the kind of family that fails to live up to US values and sensibilities, akin perhaps not so much in appearance with but certainly in the spirit of the Underwoods. (4) What we might call the "Disney code" separates politicians such as Trudeau and Conway from the Trumps and the Underwoods, investing them with the kind of childishness that "good"--as opposed to "bad"--kings are made of.
Indeed, I focused my last editorial on the election of Trump, using Steven Almond's characterization of the new US president as a "child king" to remark on how the figure of the child fuelled US political discourse in the months leading up to and immediately following the election. The focus seemed fitting given how difficult it was at the time to ignore the fear and moral panic that the idea of a Trump presidency provoked. For those of us who work in the field of young people's texts and cultures, the whole affair proved even more impossible to ignore given how the figure of the child functioned discursively as the imagined casualty of a Trump presidency and a convenient trope for what many considered to be Trump's juvenile behaviour. The disparate roles this figure is called upon to play, particularly in times of unrest, has much to do with where the dominant conception of childhood in the US came from in the first place. Philosophy and women's and gender studies scholar Joanne Faulkner points out that alongside the "achievement of 'adulthood'"--defined as the embrace of will, reason, and autonomy--the Enlightenment bequeathed to us "an internally conflicted conception of childhood" (2). It is conflicted, because, in Enlightenment terms, childhood is at once an immature state that the modern individual wishes to repudiate and something he or she wishes to harness in their endeavour to become innovative as well as autonomous. Returning, for a moment, to Trump, it is precisely these qualities that he fails to manifest. Trump embodies the "bad child," defined in this case as one who is led rather than leads, a characterization that once again feeds into those aspects of childhood rejected during the Enlightenment. Referring to Immanuel Kant, Faulkner argues that
Through Enlightenment, we were "released" from an immaturity associated with reliance on external agencies of knowledge and action: "we are in a state of 'immaturity' when a book takes the place of our understanding, when a spiritual director takes the place of our conscience, when a doctor decides for us what our diet is to be." (1)
The image of big trains "training" smaller ones that Patrick Cox describes in the article that opened our last issue captures beautifully how Trump is being constructed by pundits, journalists, and cartoonists, particularly in relation to Mike Pence and--beginning in earnest early this year--Steven Bannon, both of whom seemed well positioned to play the "real adult" training the "child king" in the wings. (5) Vancouver artist Pia Guerra capitalized on the Bannon-as-adult/Trump-as-child trope in her political cartoon picturing a diminutive Trump sitting on Bannon's lap, pen in hand as he signs an executive order while a much larger, smiling Bannon, one hand grasping Trump's elbow, asks "That's it, who's a big boy now?" The speech bubble above Trump reads, "I'm a big boy" (see fig. 1). This cartoon emerged just after Bannon's appointment to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council and Trump's subsequent travel ban, of which Bannon was the alleged architect. Both the appointment and the travel ban infuriated Guerra. (6) Not content to simply sign an order that exacerbated Islamophobia and put the lives of numerous refugees and travellers in danger, Trump made a spectacle of the signing by turning it into a ceremony during which he proudly held up the signed document for all to see. The footage of this signing became a meme that went viral as more and more people digitally wiped the page Trump is holding and wrote in their own "fake orders." (7) Trump having already been likened to a child, these versions of the page are more reminiscent of the old Etch A Sketch screen than an executive order. Among my own favourites is the version of the order picturing what looks like a child's drawing of a "kat" uttering a "meow" (see fig. 2). The meme makes a mockery of Trump's arrogant style of leadership, which sits uncomfortably beside his lack of knowledge and education. Always the failed adult, Trump is doomed to inhabit, not those qualities associated with the child that might gain him respect--those same qualities that many during the Enlightenment would have associated with the birth of the modern individual--but those which consign him to the realm of the "immature." In Enlightenment terms, Trump has clearly not achieved the kind of consciousness that would allow him to be recognized as a responsible and autonomous adult--or so he is represented.
As I suggested at the outset, the figure of the child has also underwritten dominant representations of Trudeau, who was elected in 2015, just one year prior to the election of Trump. In Trudeau's case, it is the "good" as opposed to the "bad" child trope that comes into play. Attesting to just how much physical appearance determines one's reception in North American society, part of Trudeau's success in being defined in this way has depended on his youthful good looks. In addition to provoking fanfic (8)--some of it very very dirty (9)--Trudeau's good looks have stimulated no end to speculations about which Disney prince he most resembles. (10) If Trump is child king--think Game of Thrones' Joffrey Baratheon--then Trudeau is apparently Prince Eric from The Little Mermaid (see fig. 3). The fact that he is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was seen as a hip and youthful leader in his own right, makes the comparison fitting. Further making good on the Disney comparison is the happy, heteronormative, family-friendly image that both Justin and Sophie Trudeau have taken great pains to cultivate. A quick scroll through their various social-media posts (11) reveals a seemingly endless round of slickly edited family event pics: from cycling together to painting indoor murals together, the Trudeau family is hip, young, and middle-class perfect, so much so that one cannot help but think of the Conways' equally saccharine social-media presence on House of Cards. (12) In keeping with Trudeau's image of the carefree yet responsible Disney prince--always attentive to his lovely princess and their three children, not to mention other people's children--Will and Hannah's social media feed, supposedly uncensored and made available to the US public within the fictional world the show depicts, presents the picture of the ideal modern family that has repudiated those characteristics of childhood considered "bad" and cultivated those associated with the "good."
The Trudeaus' eagerness to capitalize on Trump's Scrooge-like contempt for immigrants--including child immigrants--only enhances this picture. In contrast to Trump, Trudeau has been so successful on this front that a Syrian couple actually named their newborn baby after him (Pelley). In their comparisons of Trump and Trudeau, many conclude that where the former is old, rude, ugly, cantankerous, and aggressive, the latter is young, polite, handsome, "sunny," (13) and compromising. This is in contrast to the treatment Trudeau and Obama received in the media: rather than pitting the two men at opposite ends of a political spectrum, many North Americans inserted them into a bromance narrative that quickly became known as "TruBama." (14) The relationship Trudeau has so far established with Trump is viewed as antithetical to the Trudeau/Obama relationship, and this, I submit, has a lot to do with Trudeau's resemblance to the "good child" figure. The bromance--rooted in the post-millennium "Man of Feeling" (15)--relies on constructions of adults as children since the potential threat of homosexuality that emerges when straight men engage in intimacy must, in accordance with the logic of a homophobic society, be redirected to a "safe" (read: nonsexual heteronormative) space. (16) As the plethora of bromance films that have emerged on the Hollywood scene since 2005 demonstrates, the construction of such space relies on the kind of play one cannot help associate with children in North American culture, a fact that helps to explain the predominance of "dick and fart" jokes in bromance films. Like the Obama/Biden bromance, then, the Trudeau/Obama bromance positions one of the men as the "child" in the relationship and the other as the "adult." Already cast as the adult in his bromance with Biden, and Trudeau being the younger man, Obama is once again positioned as the adult in his relationship with Trudeau.
Trudeau himself has been more than willing to play into this dynamic; during Obama's visit to Canada on 28 June 2016, he declared that the word "dude-plomacy" is a more accurate description of the dynamic he enjoys with Obama than "diplomacy" (Kohut). For his part, Obama has not been shy about noticing the number of grey hairs on his head compared to Trudeau's. While it is true that both men engage in childlike banter, only Obama accepts the role of the adult, playing to the hip youthful image on which Trudeau capitalizes. As my fellow editor Louise Saldanha suggested in her comments on my last editorial, there is something racist about this dynamic, as it seems as though the white man always--regardless of his age--is cast in the role of the "boy" who can laugh off his duties and responsibilities in favour of "fooling around" while men such as Obama are continually pressed to prove that they really are "men." There is also something vaguely sexist about the ways in which the bromance--particularly in its invocation of homosociality and homoeroticism--engages top/bottom politics. Even here, the white man can apparently afford to play the "bottom" since, thanks to white male privilege, he has little to prove, particularly in a society where bromance provides a safe transit through which white heterosexual men can explore and subsequently reject homosexual urges and practices. (17) In the early twenty-first century, "bottoming"--frequently more symbolic than literal--can function as a currency of sorts, a way for white cis men to claim a masculinity that appears on the surface to be liberated or feminist but which in reality remains complicit with older, more misogynist modes of masculinity. In this way pretensions to bottoming often serve as alibis for sexist and misogynist discourse and behaviour. Despite its "cutesy" facade, the bromance genre festers with racism, sexism, and homophobia, (18) a fact we would do well to remember whenever #TruBama shows up in our social media newsfeeds.
For all that, more recent representations of Trudeau suggest that he may not be such a "good boy" after all. What initially appeared to be strengths--his unerring politeness and his willingness to compromise--often now appear to be weaknesses, as the "good boy" tries too hard to be liked. Smug smiles in Parliament, a tendency to respond to questions with empty platitudes, a failure to listen to criticisms at public meetings, and the insistence on supporting laws, policies, and projects that many associate with his predecessor have further revealed cracks in Trudeau's dudeboy (19) facade. The Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Dimension is explicit about this turn in face: pictured on the cover is a caricature of Stephen Harper, who has just removed the Trudeau mask he has presumably been wearing since the 2015 election. The speech caption above him reads "Surprise!" The meaning of this political cartoon is clear: Trudeau is no different than Harper. As with Trudeau's playing-up of TruBama, his performance as--and here I borrow Faulkner's words--a "pure and fresh, playful and inventive" Prime Minister, "unencumbered by tradition, innocent of guile," and "embodying potentiality and a vulnerability connected to a taste for the new" (2) is revealed to be exactly that: a performance. According to Pamela Palmater, a contributor to the same Canadian Dimension issue that features a "Surprise!" Stephen Harper, Trudeau has done "very little substantive work" with respect to his commitments to Indigenous peoples, including establishing a national inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls, lifting the 2% cap on First Nations funding for social programs, increasing funds for First Nations education, implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's (TRC) Calls to Action, and reviewing and repealing Harper-era legislations that have a negative impact on Indigenous peoples. Instead, Trudeau has deferred the spending of any funding allotted to First Nations until after the next election and relegated Indigenous peoples themselves to "interest groups." He has moreover failed to provide a budget line for the TRC Calls to Action and approved the Pacific Northwest LNG pipeline, effectively reneging on his promise "that Indigenous peoples would have a veto on all land development" (Palmater 6).
Other left-leaning critics have also taken Trudeau to task, accusing him of perpetuating the conservative agenda of his predecessor in his rush to approve extractivist projects, remove regulations on business under the guise of "free trade," and privatize public assets. Michal Rozworski suggests that what Trudeau's rhetoric--"all the right noises about First Nations, public transit and the fight against climate change"--is designed to conceal is a pro-business stance: "The Liberals offer a tweaked neoliberalism that can still thrive in an age of stagnation, a 'neoliberalism-with-a-human-face' that hopes to cut off the threat of Left populism at the pass" (30). In a similar vein, Jordy Cummings remarks on how Trudeau's endless marketability as a seemingly benevolent, hip, "bare-shirted princeling," (20) continually detracts attention away from his "belligerence and hypocrisy":
This of course is the insidious danger of Justin Trudeau. He is the embodiment of the "edgy white liberal," a living Ted Talk, a cosmopolitan George W. Bush with Jeb Bartlett's politics. But his image has been carefully state-managed, obscuring politics that track much further right than his shirtless photobombs... are designed to suggest.
Cummings takes issue with Trudeau's privileging of private corporations over workers--he cites the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) as an example--as well as his failure to move meaningfully on climate change. Trudeau's deplorable treatment of migrants, his lack of genuine concern about and inaction on poverty, and, finally--flying in the face of his purportedly feminist leanings--his inaction on much-needed improvements to family planning and abortion services in the Maritimes only further perpetuate the image of a vain yet empty and uncaring leader. Cummings concludes with the bold assertion that "Justin Trudeau represents everything wrong with politics in advanced capitalist countries right now," largely as a result of the veneer of cosmopolitan benevolence he has put on the face of a conservative government.
What all of these left critiques of Trudeau insinuate is that lurking just beneath the glamorous, family-friendly visage of the Disney Prince is the establishment politician many of us knew was there all along. If there is a common refrain among Trudeau's critics, it is that his rhetoric has not fooled everyone: Trudeau is simply one more politician in a long line of politicians willing to do or say anything to get elected. His reneging on the promise of electoral reform is, perhaps, most exemplary of this self-serving stance. One could even argue that he has been keen to capitalize on post-bromance masculinity, declaring himself a feminist, but without abdicating the more traditional markers of manhood, one of which is the refusal to genuinely engage feminists and feminist issues. The heteronormative sheen of the Trudeau family's social media feed suggests at the very least that Justin remains firmly attached to the institution that the bromance film frequently manifests anxiety about, namely marriage.
The kind of caricature of Trudeau that features on the cover of the Winter 2017 issue of Canadian Dimension could also apply to Trump, whose election promises are beginning to look cheap as he increasingly turns out to be not a man of the people but a corporate lackey. His replacement of Obama's Affordable Care Act with one that will likely put twenty-four million Americans out of health care by 2026 is only the latest of many examples of his favouring profits over people. Yet despite his shameless pro-business stance, Trump experienced a brief upsurge in popularity as a result of his bombing of Syria on 7 April. Trump had decried Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians one day earlier, remarking that it "choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children." Trump elaborated that "[e]ven beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack" (Rosenfeld). In an opinion piece for The Guardian, Owen Jones sarcastically quipped, "So now we know what it takes for an unhinged, bigoted demagogue to win liberal applause: just bypass a constitution to fire some missiles." However, as Jones's sarcastic tone insinuates, what really enabled Trump to win liberal applause in this instance was not just his willingness to take military action in response to the killing of civilians, but what many took it to mean: that he cares. Jones cites Mark Sandler, who, in the New York Times, wrote that Trump "reacted viscerally to the images of the death of innocent children in Syria." Never mind that Trump enjoyed a chocolate cake with Chinese leader Xi Jinping while bombing Syria (21)--he did it for the children. In his No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive, Lee Edelman could not have put it more accurately when he asserted that the "Child remains the perpetual horizon of every acknowledged politics, the fantasmatic beneficiary of every political intervention" (Introduction). The "Child," capitalized in Edelman's book to emphasize its constructedness as a figure, operates on different levels, standing in for the "good" and embodying the "bad" depending on what is convenient. In the case of Trump, one might imagine the reverse of Trudeau's caricature: a beaming Trump having just removed an actual Donald Trump Billionaire Tycoon Adult Costume Mask (22) to reveal, and I here once again call upon Faulkner, a "pure and fresh" Trump, one who is "playful and inventive, unencumbered by tradition, innocent of guile, embodying potentiality and a vulnerability connected to a taste for the new." Okay, maybe that's a stretch, especially given how the shine of what some took to be Trump's brief flirtation with compassion has already worn off. (23) Still, the rapidity with which tropes can be flipped on their heads is telling here. The fickle ways in which "the Child" comes to bear upon both the Trump and Trudeau phenomena shows just how easily a seeming expression of care for children is capable of transforming one from the "bad seed" into the "good child." The opposite is also true, as a declared antipathy toward children will earn you the label of "bad seed."
What these uses of the child figure disappear are the voices of actual children who become the casualties of the same military actions that politicians say will save them and who are left to absorb the shock of pro-business policies. These children are fighting back, not just in the US but elsewhere in the world. In the United States, twenty-one plaintiffs between the ages of nine and twenty are suing the government for placing them in danger, reasoning that "[i]f climate change threatens their future," then "the government has violated their constitutional right to due process" (O'Rourke). In Canada, young people have taken Trudeau to task for not keeping his election promises, going so far as to heckle and turn their backs to him in protest--the Canadian Labour Congress National Young Workers' Summit, held 25 October 2016, is but one example. More recently, Trudeau faced more angry protest and tough questions, many of them from young people, while on his cross-country tour. Meanwhile, in India, nine-year-old Ridhima Pandey is suing the government for failing to implement laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As in the past, young people are refusing to silently occupy their assigned place as mere objects to be manipulated on a political playing field. By raising their voices in the present, they are helping to pave the way toward a better future.
All the pieces in this issue take the voices of young people seriously, a task that necessitates not just listening to young people but also a willingness to continually subject the language that we use to discuss them to rigorous critique. Significantly given the tenor of this editorial, Perry Nodelman underlines the importance of challenging assumptions about childlikeness in "David A. Carter, Alexander Calder, and the Childlikeness of the Moveable Book: Children as 'Children of All Ages.'" In his analysis of Alexander Calder's mobiles and David Carter's pop-up books, both of which he reads within a larger context of art that attempts to recover a child's view of the world, Nodelman emphasizes that childlikeness, far from being the sole purview of children and childhood, is often seen as a valuable means of escaping the rigid boundaries that adulthood imposes on individuals. At the same time, the freedom and anarchy that such art seems to promise is belied by the ways in which it limits mobility. The supposed purity and freshness of a childlikeness that is at once playful and inventive but unencumbered by tradition and innocent of guile is therefore itself a mirage. Just as Nodelman asks whether play and mobility can be essentialized as "childlike," we might question the persistence with which the "Child," childhood, and childlikeness are fetishized in contemporary cultures.
Adding another layer of complexity to this discussion of the way in which the child and the childlike is perpetually connected to pleasure, play, and mobility, Julie Anne Work-Slivka, in "A Rhizomatic Exploration of Adolescent Girls' Rough-and-Tumble Play as Embodied Literacy," considers how the play of adolescent girls participating in an elective beadwork class counts as literacy. There is something of the anarchic here too, as unstructured play is characterized as a means of testing boundaries, though in this piece Work-Slivka engages actual play as opposed to representations of play or toys and books designed to incite it. Her research makes an important intervention in contexts where play is approached, not as a valuable mode of learning, but as something that detracts from it. Work-Slivka points out that protocols designed to exclude play can have particularly negative effects on children and adolescents who are for one reason or another consigned to the margins.
Along with Nodelman and Work-Slivka, Lykke Guanio-Uluru advances her argument in "Katniss Everdeen's Posthuman Identity in Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games Series: Free as a Mockingjay?" by way of an object of analysis that many would not take seriously: the cover art of the various editions of the books that make up Suzanne Collins's Hunger Games trilogy. Like mobiles, pop-up books, and adolescent play, the Hunger Games cover art interpellates young people in ways that exacerbate and challenge presuppositions about adolescence. While the image of the posthuman that graces the covers of the books clearly capitalizes on the "cool" with which posthumanism is often connected, it also anticipates and reflects the problematic nature of Katniss's "unnatural" relationship with the Capitol.
Jennifer Hardwick engages the voices of young people in her article, entitled "Identity and Survival in the Multimedia Art of Street-Involved Youth." Through her research encounters with the young producers of Another Slice, a multimedia blog produced in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Hardwick problematizes discursive constructions of homelessness and street life, particularly as these pertain to youth. Her piece criticizes the construction of street-involved youth as "homeless" and, in turn, the spaces they inhabit, as social problems. It does so largely through the voices of young people themselves, a move that runs counter to the usual sidestepping of young voices in academic and other treatments of street-involved youth. Significantly, Hardwick employs the word "re-storying" to make a case for viewing youth street involvement and street life from a perspective that privileges the stories that young people themselves tell about their experiences. Another Slice offers one example of a text that both exemplifies re-storying and provides a rich resource for those interested in developing nuanced readings of youth street involvement and street life.
"Jessie Willcox Smith's Critique of Teleological Girlhood in The Seven Ages of Childhood: 'Sans Everything'" tackles a series of seven early twentieth-century paintings by a prominent woman illustrator in the United States. Here Amanda M. Greenwell argues that contrary to most readings of Smith's work, which uphold the notion that Smith illustrated and thereby celebrated quintessential childhood, her Seven Ages of Childhood actually launches a powerful critique of the presumably "natural" arc the lives of girls were expected to follow. Smith's work captures the changing nature of "girlhood" during the period in which she lived, showing that discursive constructions are necessarily always in flux.
The review essays in this issue likewise consider the instability of various terms and figures, from "defiance" to "postcolonialism." In "Rethinking Street Culture: Enacting Youthful Defiance?," Angela Dwyer explores the implications of terminology for understanding street culture, emphasizing the ways in which language can have deleterious effects on young people. Rob Twiss's review of Virginie Douglas and Florence Cabaret's edited volume of essays La Retraduction en litterature de jeunesse / Retranslating Children's Literature, entitled "La litterature de jeunesse entre les langues et a travers le temps," is presented in both its French and English versions to honour its focus on translation. Twiss argues that Douglas and Cabaret's volume considers translation not just in relation to language but also culture. Reflecting some of the contributors' analyses of picture books found in the volume, "culture" is not just manifest in the written text but also illustration, which, as scholars of children's literature know from the work of Nodelman and others, enjoys a conflicted and frequently contradictory relationship with the written text in children's picture books. In "The Terror of Childness in Modern Horror Cinema," Max Bledstein intersperses his review of Markus Bohlmann and Sean Moreland's volume of essays Monstrous Children and Childish Monsters: Essays on Cinema's Holy Terrors with brief analyses of films that engage the same themes as those taken up in the volume. These analyses pay homage to and complicate the analyses of films produced by the volume's contributors. Erin Spring's "Adult-Child Negotiations of Environmental Encounters: Mediating a Future of Hope" explores six children's books about the environment. She finds that while some contemporary works constitute politically important interventions into discussions about the relationship between young people and the environment, many merely reproduce oppressive ideas, in this case the notion of the child as being "naturally" close to nature. Finally, my own review, entitled "Childhood, Children's Literature, and Postcolonialism," considers three scholarly monographs that explore texts for and about young people hailing from Britain, South Africa, and Australia. All of these books highlight the continuing need to be critical of how the figure of the child is recruited to disparate political agendas even as it is being reclaimed in the very places that Europeans consigned to the "primitive" realm of childhood during the long period of colonialist imperialist expansion.
How the figure of the child will feature in political discourse in the future remains to be seen. In an era when it has become the norm to recruit social media to one's political cause, it seems as though the possibilities of using this figure are endless. From carefully curated images of family bliss to the appropriation of those characteristics associated with good childishness, politicians are leaving no stones unturned when it comes to capitalizing on the child. After all, to fail to turn the child figure to one's advantage is to risk becoming the Underwoods. Frequently imagined as something that tempers--even domesticates--unwholesome drives, the child's status as symbol is nowhere more evident than in the realm of politics. As the articles published in this issue attest, children's literature and culture is hardly exempt from these politics.
(1) Lest this seem too radical a statement, consider Iben Thranholm's RT News piece, in which she blames feminism for producing political leaders who choose to remain childless and, seemingly as a result of this self-imposed "lack," perpetuate globalism and mass immigration. She argues that the "defining characteristics of feminism are not femininity and fertility, but barrenness and infertility." According to Thranholm, what leaders such as Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May, and Angela Merkel share, beyond their origin in a toxic feminism, is a lack of loyalty to family, nation, culture, religion, and tradition, a stance manifest in their openness to migrants (this generalization actually falls apart in the face of May's anti-immigration stance). In a move that infantilizes migrants, she then argues that in their willingness to provide safe havens to refugees and immigrants, Macron, May, and Merkel may be compensating for their childlessness: "Perhaps childless political leaders live out their need for exercising parental responsibility and self-sacrifice by inviting in migrants as a kind of adopted children." The contradictions multiply throughout the piece: childless leaders don't care about children or families, but they do care about migrants whom they see as children they can adopt; in doing so, these leaders reveal a commitment to the nation-as-family willing to take in new members. It's clear that Thranholm's real problem is, simply, xenophobia, as she sees protecting the nation's biological children as being preferable to transnational adoption. As if to cut off such a charge at the pass, she uses Islam--which she sees as being family-and-child-bearing-friendly--as a positive example. Yet even here she reveals her Islamaphobia: "Islamists need not launch a military attack on Europe or use terrorism, because a couple of decades from now they will reign by the womb, by demographic proliferation, so to speak." Not surprising, an appeal to "traditional Western values" lies at the heart of her argument. Attacks on those who have decided to remain child-free always go hand in hand with a nostalgic lament for an idealized past in which women stayed in their place.
(2) The use of the child figure in House of Cards is only enhanced in Season 5, when Melissa (Alie Urquhart), the daughter of the beheaded American--his name is James Miller (Sean C. Graham)--sees right through Francis Underwood's performance as the caring President. At her father's funeral, which the Underwoods attend, she publicly accuses him of killing her father. Testifying to the power of stereotyping, however, she can't imagine that Claire is just as cold, presumably because she is a woman. Then again, perhaps her insistence on seeing Claire as a warm and genuine person despite the fact that she has no children is a testament to changing views of women in the twenty-first century.
(3) The word "adorability" has particular resonance in affect theory, particularly that pertaining to the figure of the child. In Sex, or the Unbearable, Lauren Berlant and Lee Edelman connect adorability to Sianne Ngai's discussion of cuteness, "a taste concept... firmly rooted in visual commodity culture" (Ngai 813 qtd. in Chapter 1). Indeed, as Naomi Klein notes in her new book No is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, the Trump presidency is marked by naked corporate branding, one that includes Trump's family.
(4) If this comparison appears implausible, see Stuart Jeffries's piece in The Guardian in which Trump's statements are juxtaposed with Underwood's. Jeffries is not the first to compare Trump with the fictional Underwood: many have compared the two men's language, policies, and attitude, and some have even suggested that Melania dresses like Claire.
(5) The relationship between the mechanical and Trump-as-child trope was reinforced earlier this year by Barry Blitt's cover art for the 23 January issue of The New Yorker, in which Trump's super-sized adult body is squeezed into a coin-operated car kiddie ride. Identifying him as the US President, four American flags feature prominently on the front and back ends of the car, and two tall and very adult Secret Services agents stand guard on either side, framing and thus further infantilizing a much smaller yet big-headed and adult-size Trump.
(6) In Global News Guerra is quoted as saying, "I had to say something about this. It was infuriating.... The fact that he [Bannon] was a man who has no right getting security clearance, getting on the security council and replacing pretty much a military adviser. That doesn't make any sense" (Slattery).
(7) See Ashley Hoffman's report on this meme in Time for more details.
(8) For examples, see Archive of Our Own at archiveofourown.org/tags/Justin%20Trudeau/works and Wattpad at www.wattpad.com/tags/justintrudeau.
(9) See Russell Smith for details.
(10) See Jeremy Hazan, Sam Reed, and Nicole Yi.
(11) Justin and Sophie Trudeau's Instagram accounts are particularly revealing: see the justinpjtrudeau and sophiegregoiretrudeau accounts.
(12) There is also a connection here to Prince William and Kate Middleton and their attempts to create a perfect yet accessible heteronormative young family. They still retain a royal sheen but carry with them "new" feminist and other ideologies. I thank fellow editor Naomi Hamer for seeing this connection.
(13) Daniel Dale uses the word "sunny" in his "21-point comparison" of Trump and Trudeau. The word is apt when one considers the Trudeaus' social media accounts: both Justin and Sophie choose to post photos of themselves in which they are smiling.
(14) It didn't take long after Trudeau and Obama's first meeting at the White House on 10 March 2016 for the Internet to concoct the #Trubama hashtag on Twitter. See Tanya Chen for examples of tweets that transformed an otherwise standard political relationship into a bromance.
(15) In his introduction to Reading the Bromance: Homosocial Relationships in Film and Television, Michael DeAngelis locates the beginning of the bromance era quite precisely in 2005: "Skateboard magazine editor David Carnie is often credited with having originated the term in the 1990s, but 'bromance' did not begin to appear regularly in American media until 2005, around the time of the release of Judd Apatow's The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (1). Although the seeds of bromance can be found in the buddy film, which also features homosocial love, it deviates from this genre in bracketing the love story with scare quotes, "signaling a romance that is never actually or intentionally romantic but that gains cultural currency by adopting the pretext" (11). In part, bromance owes its emergence to the increased visibility of homosexuality, which in turn has meant decreased social stigma for those who identify as LGBTQ and an eagerness on the part of cis straight men to explore homosocial bonding by appropriating the codes governing homosexuality (9).
(16) DeAngelis explains that the term "bromance" often attempts "to secure the nonsexual nature" of the relationship, "providing both the celebrities and the media with a means of dispelling sexual intimacy while also highlighting the 'innocence' of the male-male bond" (2). "Bromance," he elaborates, "thus maintains a dual ideological function: its mythical meaning-making strategies provide a way for straight men to be intimate, and its narrative structure serves to contain and direct this intimacy in ways that ensure its accessibility to its mainstream and heterosexual target markets while also refraining from alienating viewers who do not identify as heterosexual" (13).
(17) The bromance is not entirely successful in this, however, as its attempt to redirect homosocial and homosexual energy to the "safe" heteronormative realm reveals anxieties both about same-sex bonding and the presumed stability of heteronormativity. DeAngelis argues, "Bromance qualifies as queer in that it renders heteronormativity strange, placing the familiar in an unfamiliar light so that it is no longer comfortably situated as the 'given' or default mode of cultural perception" (24).
(18) Freelance writer Sady Doyle concurs, arguing that "the 'bromance' genre has always been defined, not only by sexism (the men seem to love each other primarily because they aren't women: women, in these movies [Bruno and Humpday], are awful), but by homophobia." DeAngelis also sees the bromance as a homophobic alternative to and rejection of women; see especially pp. 4, 5, 8, and 12. In addition to the films Doyle mentions, DeAngelis references Superbad, The Hangover, and Knocked Up as examples of contemporary bromances. Seth Rogen is in two of these films--Superbad and Knocked Up--as well as in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, cementing his reputation as an actor who has helped to shape bromance as a film genre.
(19) The dude, typically a white cis male, is a stock figure in the bromance film. The ease with which Trudeau is slotted into a bromance with Obama--and, now, French President Emmanuel Macron--is made possible, at least in part, by his willingness to play the "dude," a term that has accrued many connotations since its appearance in the late nineteenth century, including, in order of its march through time, the dandy, the urbanite (especially one staying at a US ranch), the surfer, the bro, and even the slacker (Jeffrey's character in The Big Lebowski is a perfect example of this particular connotation). What the term has retained throughout all periods is key to understanding its function in the bromance. As J. J. Gould points out, "when I call you dude, there's a whole range of things I might mean--you'll understand me from my intonation and the overall context--but each time, I'm also reinforcing a specific kind of social relationship. No matter how I use the word, it always implies the same thing: solidarity without intimacy. It says close, but dude, not too close." Even when dude applies to women, Gould insists that "it still works as a way of establishing solidarity without intimacy."
(20) Although one wouldn't think so when considering The Big Lebowski's Jeffrey--and indeed, the multiplicity of unattractive slacker dudes that populate bromance films--the frequent sightings of Trudeau bare-chested feed into his dudeboy persona. The appeal of a hip, young, good-looking Prime Minister with nicely sculpted abs lies in the amenability of this image to stand in for the nation itself. With Trudeau at the helm, Canada appears just as hip, young, and good looking, not to mention healthy: the dudeboy nation that retains the coolness of the "Dude" while also seeming professional. Nothing could be more antithetical to the much less attractive Trump, who engenders an unappealing image of the US as a racist protectionist. Cummings's characterization of Trudeau as a "princeling," moreover, is appropriate here when one considers that Prince Eric--the Disney prince with whom Trudeau is most compared--is more of a "one of the guys" prince than the "standard 'charming'" (Musker qtd. in Kurtti 170). Drama and theatre studies scholar Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario explains that Disney's Prince Eric, introduced in the 1989 film The Little Mermaid--one of the films produced under Team Disney, the executive management group led by Michael Eisner that was established two decades after the death of Walt Disney--marks a shift in the company's representations of princes. Deviating from the standard Prince Charming who had dominated productions during the Walt era, Eric displays a "physical confidence" and a power in the torso (Do Rozario 48-50) more fitting of the late 1980s dude than, say, the prince of Disney's 1937 Snow White or 1959 Sleeping Beauty. One could argue that The Little Mermaid's introduction of a new, "less prim, more democratic" princess, meaning one less attached to elite social status and possessing "the grace of a sportswoman" (Do Rozario 45, 46), demanded a strong, good-looking prince who could also be rescued. Do Rozario observes: "Ariel performs underwater feats and rescues Eric from drowning in a storm: lifeguard rather than ballerina" (46). She argues that while Disney's Magic Kingdom offers the illusion of "a timelessness detached from social progress," the studios and the marketers continuously update and re-invent this timelessness, making for "a sporting challenge to the status quo" (36, 57).
(21) It should be noted that in an interview with Fox Business Network following the bombing, Trump actually said "Iraq" instead of Syria. See Krol for details.
(22) Amazon.ca, among other retailers, sells such a mask: www.amazon.ca/Donald-Trump-Billionaire-Tycoon-Costume/dp/B016C9GLBY. The mask metaphor is apt these days. Klein points out that the Trump presidency has done away with the mask previous administrations wore to conceal their affiliation with corporate America: "Now the mask is gone. And no one is even bothering to pretend otherwise" (Introduction).
(23) Evan Osnos, a staff writer for The New Yorker, concurs: "the Syria attack only briefly reversed the slide in Trump's popularity; it remained at historic lows" (36).
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|Publication:||Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2017|
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