The Greek myth of Medusa takes many forms, but the most common is this: Medusa was a woman who, having angered the goddess Athena, was made into a monster. Athena punished Medusa by turning her hair into a writhing tangle of serpents, and then by ensuring that anyone who looked into Medusa’s eyes would be turned to stone. In shaping their story of a gaze made violent, the creators of that early democracy were prescient about the man who has tried to destroy ours. Donald Trump’s head may be covered in spray rather than snakes, but he is a Medusa all the same, reconfigured for the age of mass media: Once you look at him, your fate is already sealed.
Last night, the 45th president became inmate number P01135809 of Georgia’s Fulton County Jail. Trump had his mug shot taken. It was shared with the public. We looked, of course. And he was prepared for our gaze: hair, makeup, angle, pose. In the portrait—it is a portrait, in the end—Trump glares directly into the camera. He seethes. He glowers. He turns in a studied performance. Photos like this are typically exercises in enforced humility. Trump’s is a display of ongoing power. He treats his mug shot as our menace.
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