Warning: This article deals with subjects intended only for adults (mainly those who retain infantile longings and fears)
The infamous pee tape, (hereafter PT) that allegedly showed Trump recorded by Russians as he watched or experienced prostitutes performing a golden showers show in a Moscow hotel is now debunked. Apparently, as early as January 2017 the FBI knew the tape was unverified, highly dubious, and that there was compelling evidence early on to dismiss statements as fabrications. (1)
Well, it always was a bit beyond the pale of believability. For the media however, the story was too good to be false.
“Donald Trump ‘Pee Tape’ Exists, Multiple Witnesses Back Shocking Story In Dossier, Bombshell Report Claims” (Jonathan Vankin, Inquisitr, September 4, 2017)
“The Pee Tape is Real*” (Dan Savage, The Stranger, April 13, 2018)
“BuzzFeed Fighting Lawsuit by Proving Trump ‘Pee Tape’ Is Real” (Sajae Elder, complex.com, Feb. 13, 2018)
“Maddow reveals more information about the Moscow Pee Tape” (Frank Vyan Walton, Daily Kos, March 13, 2018)
Most media acted as though the PT likely existed but they were careful to interject words such as “alleged” and they prefaced if the tape existed, and then went off analyzing and speculating as though it indeed did exist. The conditional statement functioned as implication.
The PT story was admittedly good at hooking the contemporary psyche in order to captivate and reverberate. Of course unverified media hype played a crucial role in the awareness, and when combined with anti-trump posturing, produced a winning combination for a narrative that was all but impossible for partisan members to let go. It was so delicious; they really, really wanted it to be true. And besides, it was simply more fun to promote it’s existence than it was to dismiss it.
Never was particularly plausible though. There was too much up front shock value, too many inconsistencies, and there were far too many suspensions of disbelief and breaches of normal protocols that would have been required for the thing to exist.
When I think about whole the PT discourse, I think about the work of artist Marcel Broodthaers that seems to come closest to the way all this PT stuff operated. In particular I recall a picture, I seem to recall it was in Artforum but can’t find online, that showed a picture of mussel shells filling the basin of a urinal. This would be Broodthaers, but let’s follow an artistic stream.
Broodthaers was a Belgian artist. He operated in the realm of poetics, readymades, and critiques of art and institutional structures. His creative practice was short, as was his life. Works often walked the line between art-recognition and an overabundance of metaphors. One of my favorite pieces is a drawing that depicts tangled arms and hands of a figure. Higher on the page is the shadow, cast by the arms and hands, of a cat. The work is titled La souris écrit rat (A Compte d’auteur), 1974. That “rat” is an anagram of “art” references many of Broodthaer’s earlier works that were titled “This is not a work of art.” In turn, the drawing references Duchamp’s readymades as well as to René Magritte’s painting that depicts a pipe and the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” titled The Treachery of Images (1929).
Broodthaers, with the mussels and the urinal, mocked Duchamp’s well known sculpture titled Fountain, of 1917 that consisted of a urinal with the name R. Mutt painted on its side. Broodthaers inserted himself, so to speak, by dumping mussels, moules-frites are sort of a national meal in Belgium, into the urinal and art discourse. Later in 1996 Sherrie Levine produce Fountain (Buddha) a gilded bronze cast urinal that I position as an influence upon Maurizio Cattelan who in Trump’s inaugural year produced a solid gold toilet titled America (2016) for the Guggenheim Museum. For those not up on contemporary art, you can see how quickly the subject and conent is as much about networks of discourse as it is about the thing itself.
Now, I’m not a psychologist but it seems fairly obvious that this example of pee receptacles demonstrate a theme of Freudian genital psychosexual focus tied to power structures. In other words, the theme was a one that captured public imaginations on a deep infantile level. The subtext was Oedipal embarrassment, the awareness of genitals, and for boys the accompanying desire to possess the mother.
Pursuing the idea further, stories of urination in the art world abound. They are sticky because they challenge normative behavior, in addition to however they function psychologically. There is the ongoing tale of Jackson Pollock publicly urinating into Peggy Guggenheim’s fireplace during a party. We think of Warhol’s Oxidation paintings in which he coated canvases with copper paint and then urinated on them to cause a color change. Andreas Serrano’s Piss Christ, in which a photograph of a small plastic crucifix was put into a glass tank of urine, inflamed believers everywhere. There are many, many other works. In more bourgeois culture there is a joy in putting a decal on a pickup trucks of Calvin peeing (of the Bill Watterson cartoon Calvin and Hobbes). Visitors to Brussels rush with giddiness to see Manneken Pis, the little sculpture of a boy urinating, a representation of the Belgian zwanze, a way of life and also of humor in which stories, not altogether true, are exaggerated in order to make fun of themselves and of the viewers. The discouse layers and causes a sense of bewilderment about what it means, what it means to deal with all of this as humans, but we can’t figure out and. connect all the layers and meanings so we focus on the details of the story before us.
All this leads me to Stephen Dixon’s short story The Leader. Hitler is coming to town (an opening phrasing like in the old song ‘Santa Claus is coming to town!’) and he wants a girl (the word used throughout the story). The house madam has been contacted. Fourteen of the girls are directed to get into their “finest finery” and they are limo’d over to the hotel. All throughout the story, the girls speculate on the type of girl Hitler likes and they consider what it might mean to service him. “It’s like a fantasy come true” says one of the girls. At the hotel they are lined up for inspection. Hitler walks out in full uniform with a pistol and swagger stick. Eventually, he chooses Gerta, the narrator. She is accompanied by handlers to the hotel room where she strips and awaits the leader. Hitler eventually enters, dressed with a robe over his uniform, and they talk for a long while about the Moselle wine and the small headcheese sandwiches set out on a silver tray. The story is typical of Dixon’s style. It is a taut mix of dialogue and thought, with short plain descriptions that ring like a hammer on an anvil. We are disorientated as Dixon undertakes a nearly demonic problematizing of every minor event and scene similar to what we see in Ken Russell’s movie Gothic (1986). Over the course of his career, Dixon was prolific, writing 17 novels and approximately 500 short stories. He died recently on November 6, 2019. I have always enjoyed Dixon, finding the reading of his stories much like sharpening a knife on a whetstone. He’s on Donald Bartheleme’s team for sure, but Dixon is less absurd. He focuses on the way in which attempts to find meaning in life must first pass through minutia, although even after the analysis and attempt, meaning may not become known. So, now, back to the story. After a long while Hitler disrobes. He lies on his stomach and he says nicely, “I want you to urinate on me.” Gerta asks where and he answers, “Waist up, but principally on the top of my head. Now please.” Beyond the Oedipal, we are aware of the inerior/exterior of the person. It is disgusting when people stick licked fingers in our ears, when they sneeze on us, when they spit on us. But this reverses when it comes to intimacy boundaries around body fluids are dissolved.
So we see that doubling inherent in the PT. Norms and their psychology are exposed. There is also a reversal of the position of dominance, the Leader or President takes a submissive, perhaps humiliating position. This is important to the narrative because it challenges the historical phallic braggadocio of males in power. Think back to Lyndon Johnson bragging about “Jumbo,” displaying it, and urinating in the parking lot of the House Office Building. And of course we know of Bill Clinton’s escapades and accompanying description by Paula Jones. (1) So there’s apparently a thing with male power mongers and their wee willies. My grandfather used to talk about the book Yellow River by I.P. Freely meaning too that this pee pee fetish has been on the mind of the American people for a long time. In The Leader, Dixon pushes the ideas beyond the person. His story becomes History with the double Waffen SS as the connection. The girls consider what it must be like to have sex with myth, with a chimera, almost with history itself. The story becomes a zwanze; Gerta is mildly embarrassed by what she did, is Hitler embarrassed? we don’t know; we are slightly titillated and embarrassed in reading the story. Once all is said and done Gerta’s done nothing but expose Hitler to her waste, although everyone, his handlers, the other girls, will think something more sexually expected happened, but Gerta isn’t allowed to tell, so the speculation and myth will spin onward, with greater and greater mystique. True there wasn’t a tape…or. maybe. there. was. Any takers?
(1). Felten, E. (December 9, 2019) Watchdog: FBI Knew ‘Pee Tape’ Highly Dubious, Didn’t TellTrump. Realclearinvestigations
(2)What Is All This, Fantagraphics Books, Reprint Edition, 2012. Dixon is a writer that The Los Angeles Times said would “rewire your circuitry.”
(3). Heer, J. (March 4, 2016). The Presidential Penis: A Short History. The New Republic.