Trumped is the New Jossed
In this year’s political fanfiction, it’s hard to keep up with reality
by Anne Jamison
A content warning for readers: this piece contains references to sexual assault.
“I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me.”
As a few media outlets remind the general public every four years, fanfiction featuring politicians as characters is a thing or, as these articles inevitably term it, a “strange” or “wacky” world. In Political RPF (real person fiction), as it’s known, candidates and other world leaders sometimes discuss policy, sometimes have sex, and often do both at the same time. The Paul Ryan/Mitt Romney pairing produced my favorite illustrative example of the latter, as Mitt cries out in the throes of ecstasy, “Screw me like we’ll screw the poor!” (This line was highlighted in The Atlantic’s 2012 RPF coverage and before that made the rounds on blogs, but the original is still available for $0.99 on Amazon).
Despite the perpetual bemusement of the press, this kind of political commentary is nothing new. Porn and parody have a long partnership, and while the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom may not be known as a scathing satire on the nobility’s war profiteering and exploitation of the lower classes, “the gentlemen’s” unfeeling depravity does comment on precisely that—in relentless and encyclopedic detail. Of course, a lot of today’s political RPF is nowhere near that brutal, explicit, or even that political. 2012 saw touching romances between Barack and Michelle, Barack and Rahm, Barack and Joe, and even about pairings without any Obama at all.
But there’s been something of a falling off in political RPF focused on the American election in recent days. It’s not hard to imagine why. So often, fanfiction is born of the powerful desire for more—and it defies belief that anyone, anywhere, could possibly want more of this election. I’m not one to kinkshame lightly, but I think we can agree that wanting this election cycle to last one second longer would be more perverted than the darkest knottycorner of the omegaverse.
That may be part of the problem with the “enthusiasm gap” in American Political RPF circles. We lack stamina. Stam-in-a.
Another challenge for RPF ficcers is competition from the 2016 campaign itself. When according to a recent poll, 19% of the Florida electorate believes Hillary Clinton is an actual demon (another 14% isn’t sure but thinks she just might be), that Hillary x Good Omens fic begins to looks a little tame. Say you start researching an idea for a Trump!Cthulhu AU but stumble across this sentence: “I shall never sleep calmly again when I think of the horrors that lurk ceaselessly behind life in time and in space, and of those unhallowed blasphemies…known and favoured by a nightmare cult ready and eager to loose them upon the world”—at which point you realize that Trumpism is Lovecraft canon complete with all the awful racism and…and… and where do we go from here?
Back to the heady days when “Trubama” made North American hearts sing with hope and promise? When Elizabeth Warren was finally giving Bill Clinton a run for his money in romancing his wife? When “Crubio” dallied with the Zodiac Killer, and Trump/Putin was a crack ship instead of actually being investigated by the real FBI? We were so young then…but now it’s November. We “know too much, and the cult still lives.”
Sure, there’s some comfort in crackfic—as TV Tropes defines it, “any story whose premise and events would be completely implausible in canon.” Crackfic doesn’t tend toward the subtle, and often these stories’ impact lies in conceptual rather than narrative power. Once you know Donald Trump is making fanart and fanfic about Adolf Hitler, do you need to know more? (spoiler: Trump soon murders Ted Cruz and uses his body as a ritual sacrifice to summon Hitler from the dead and then compounds his crime by appropriating culturally-insensitive Japanese outfits). Kanye West is Donald Trump’s vice president—they kiss! But they quickly get into a nuclear war with North Korea. Trump/Shrek is also a thing. HAHAHA! Sure, they both want to build a wall, but like Trump would ever get in bed with some…green…creature…Just look at this ridiculous prompt: “Trump Campaign Embraces Another White Supremacist Symbol: Pepe the Frog” Oh, wait, that one’s a headline. Never mind.
That’s the problem we’re seeing. Even crackfic gets Trumped, which is like getting Jossed—the term comes from what we olds called it when Whedon would show up and undermine our fanfic with his own silly ideas about his shows—but Trumped is the opposite, and worse. Let’s just say, in terms of “events completely implausible in canon,” you find a storyline featuring the Republican nominee as the the first candidate openly favored by the FBI, the KKK, and the KGB. That’s a fic you’d want Jossed. Getting Jossed breaks your fic from canon, but getting Trumped makes it canon, and where “canon” is political reality, that’s a real problem.
So if reality is Trumped, you may ask bitterly, why should fic be any different? Because that’s its whole point! Political RPF is where we get our own back, where the powerful are forced to do our bidding! But with Trump, it’s like the system is rigged.
Take the story “Trumpalicious,” a 2nd person reader insert story (pairing: Donald Trump/Reader) written in November 2015.
In this story, “you” are a journalist. You see Mr. Trump notice you at a debate, and about a week later, you’re called to your boss’s office. “Mr. Trump wants to talk to you at the Trump Tower tonight, his personal suite,” your boss tells you. He insists that you go, with an admonishment not to keep Mr. Trump waiting. When you arrive, Trump brags about his wealth. He offers wine, you refuse, but he gives it to you anyway.
So far, so Crosbyverse creepy.
Still interpreting the situation as professional, you take out a notebook to begin the interview. Trump asks bluntly if you’ve ever had sex before and begins thrusting in his chair. You get up and say you need to go, but Trump then “rises hastily before taking you by the waist and forcefully bringing his lips to yours” at which point “you submit to his power.”
As often happens in romance narratives (and only in romance narratives), here Trump’s unwelcome manhandling leads to ultimately enjoyable if dubiously consensual sex, all in a campy atmosphere. The story transforms the uncomfortable situation into the author/reader’s controllable fantasy and the scene’s coerciveness is recalibrated to bring sexual pleasure to the narrator. Apparently unwelcome advances in fact coincide with her unspoken but genuine desires. That’s how ravishment fantasies work—but it’s how harassers like Trump think real life works.
The story may have read like crack in 2015 (unless you’d ever lived in New York and listened to the radio), but now? Even the details uncomfortably mirror Trump’s boasts about his nonconsensual kissing and groping of women as well as the way a growing number of his victims now describe how Trump harassed and assaulted them while they tried to do their jobs—including, recently, a journalist from People magazine. When Trump forcefully brought his lips to hers while his pregnant wife was in the other room, that journalist didn’t submit—but she also didn’t come forward until almost a year after “Trumpalicious” was written because she’d been advised it would hurt her career. Nor did the adult movie star who was invited to Trump’s hotel room, and who only recently explained that when she arrived with some friends, “he grabbed each of us tightly in a hug and kissed each one of us without asking permission.”
The difference is that in the fanfic, “you” have been lusting after him all along. In the fantasy, “you” are transformed from powerless object to desiring subject, but more importantly, the fanfic author is really in control of the scene, and thus for space of the story, at least, has power over Trump. In political RPF, fanfic writers mold politicians to their will. Even presidents and billionaire wannabes must do their bidding. Unlike a real version of the depicted coercive situation, “you” the reader are free to stop reading, and the writer may stop writing. The contact between reader and writer is consensual, and either may leave at any time.
But the story got Trumped. “Trumpalicious” encourages readers to do what the news cycle has forced so many of us to do to the point of nausea: put ourselves in the shoes of Donald Trump’s harassment and assault victims. This was easy to do precisely because so many of us have been in the position of being sexualized—or worse, harassed or grabbed—in a professional situation, felt we had to go along with it, hesitated to say no forcefully or complain for fear of professional consequences. These memories were brought to the fore by Trump’s “braggadocious” Access Hollywood tape, and we recalled them to one another. We couldn’t just leave the story. And now, “Trumpalicious” is transformed from a ravishment fantasy into a confirmation of Trump’s fantasy: that the real women wanted it all along.
So far, at least, we are safe from the fanfic future. But for how long? Election 2016 has inspired plenty of dystopian fic—stories set in the world created by a Trump presidency. In “Trumperica,” citizens are sorted into castes and tracked by a “Cardex” device that catalogues and responds to any anti-Trump speech. This world is not canon yet, but given the recent tightening of the polls, the potential Trumping of dystopia cannot be discounted.
Perhaps our last happy refuge is the ever popular High School alternate universe fic—however accurately political rivalries and pettiness may map on to an AU, the only way Trump is getting into a locker room full of high schoolers is if, well, he’s judging a beauty pageant. The point is, he hasn’t shown any ability yet to actually bend time, Eldritch Abomination or not.
So by all means, welcome to Prez High, where winning sophomore Barack Obama is president, new boy rich kid Donald Trump creates a stir, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio complain about it: “‘So just because he’s rich, he gets fans just like that? Makes me sick,’ shuddered Ted in disgust. ‘Ted, near enough anyone who goes to this school is hella fucking rich.’” McCain is the janitor. Nixon is the bus driver trying to keep the unruly Bush boys in line. Joe Biden eats ice cream, and Hillary and Bill are the Big Couple on Campus. This fic ships Trump with his own ego and has so much else to recommend it, partly because while it is still posting, it harkens back to that kinder, gentler time when there were so many candidates to make fun of, and no one knew which one of them might be president.
I’m convinced that the best solution to Trumping is to embrace it from the outset, and that’s been the strategy of the one story that’s been saving my sanity since June. From the point of view of political satire, characterization, topic-appropriate use of social media, and sheer response time, the political RPF that wins this election year is not posted to any fanfic site: Owen Ellickson’s Twitter saga “Trump Leaks.”
The author, a television writer whose credits include “The Office” and “The King of Queens,” may not himself be immersed in the fanfic community, but the serial does full-on embrace such fanfic tropes as tentacles and, early on, animal penises. (Trump tweets: “John Kasich’s corkscrew-shaped penis allows him to have sex with other ducks, like a dog. You call that leadership? A disgrace! #MAGA”)
Plot, cast, and character development are fed by current campaign news, so that Ellickson’s Trump and “RealDonaldTrump” respond to events almost in synchrony. So in addition to the most-needed-ever comic relief, the feed also provides a condensed chronicle of the election’s most disturbing and incredible turns:
The “star player” here is an ADD Trump who seems to revel in his own worst flaws and laugh at earnest advisors’ attempts to ignore or correct them. It captures the mind-bending unlikelihood of Trump’s candidacy, with “the nominee” himself ahead of the game in understanding that Trumpism plays by different rules.
Unlike Paul Ryan and other feckless advisors, Leaks!Trump has no qualms about his own racism and sexism and consistently points out the absurdity of those who pretend they feel otherwise while still supporting him:
At this late date, sometimes looking back at earlier tweets can produce a sense of nostalgia—points at which Clinton was 10 points ahead in swing state polls, for example, or those halcyon days when it seemed like a clear history of sexual abuse might be enough to turn even white men away from Trump. At other points, we’re only given an eerie sense of how nothing has changed:
Trump Leaks is also a funny-yet-solemn reminder of the steady drum of racist commentary, political idiocy, naiveté, and cravenness that has driven the Trump campaign without ever managing to stop it. And while “realDonaldTrump” may believe—perhaps rightly—that the American public will forget any news story within the space of three weeks, Leaks!Trump understands that this far outpaces his own attention span:
If Leaks!Trump can’t have Mario (the Super kind) as his VP pick, his main source of enjoyment is in seeing how far he can get Chris Christie to abase himself before Trump finally tells him he won’t be choosing him. As for Pence, Trump finds him unspeakably dull. For months, Leaks!Trump is unable to remember who Mike Pence is, although he does express relief that he’s white, at least—although even this quality gets monotonous:
Still, he buckles down and decides to show his running mate his top strategy:
Trump Leaks’ genius is in how devastatingly close it stays to “canon”—which in this case, depressingly, is the craven cast of characters advising “the nominee.” Trump is Trump—but what’s their excuse?
Thus it should come as no surprise—and doesn’t—when, in another particularly ficcish development, Roger Ailes shows up to advise the Trump campaign…as a literal monster, a squeaking, squishing, rapey squid.
Tentacle porn has apparently long been canon in the Foxnewsverse.
One element Trump Leaks has in common with “Trumpalicious” is that it marks the extent to which Trump’s serial harassment of women has been known long before the Access Hollywood tape emerged and the recent barrage of sexual harassment and assault accusers came forward. But Trump Leaks’ satire makes it clear how visible this all was was long before Republican leaders began worrying about their wives and daughters—a worry that is by now at least three weeks ago, so by “real Donald Trump’s” own logic, no one cares.
With less than a week to go before we see whether the campaign can Trump even the worst dystopian political RPF, we may want to turn to the politics of other nations for our political RPF needs. Some of the current American Election RPF is written by Brits longing to escape the trials of life in the Brexitverse—the author of Prez High is a very impressive fifteen year-old from London. So over here, we may explore the emerging Theresa May/Jeremy Corbyn ship—heating up over the past couple of weeks—or the over 15,000 Duterte fics on Wattpad (Wattpad is huge in the Philippines). Now, come Tuesday, all these verses may be Trumpism crossovers—but until then, “for what do we live but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”