In times of trouble, countries tend to retreat into the soothing dreams of a fictional, more glorious past. We see this in nationalist projects throughout history, leaders calling their people to reclaim some sort of lost greatness by hearkening back to utopian visions of what came before. America, in recent years, has wrestled with competing notions of what it actually is as a country, its collective identity twisted up by modern politics that force a reckoning with either the trends that led to the present day or, in the worst cases, a fascistic desire to simplify the complexities of the nation through erasure and hatred.
Somehow, thanks to a Snapchat filter, we now have the intersection of these tendencies wrapped up into a single, completely bewildering package. Welcome, friends, to a montage of American presidents airbrushed into women.
NowThis tweeted out this line-up of presidential portraits run through Snapchat’s gender-swap image filter, and introduced the thing with a caption that, with quiet despair, reads: “Thanks to a Snapchat filter, we can have women presidents.”
The clip runs through a whole bunch of leaders, their familiar features vaseline-coated and altered to look like cloudy-eyed, partially-drawn police sketches from throughout the annals of American history. As if the weird Snapchat filter wasn’t enough, each president is given a new name to more clearly illustrate a version of history where everything was exactly the same, but the presidents weren’t dudes.
Watch the clip for yourself and find your memories of the last decades filled in with new names and photos of the gloriously-maned “Barbara Obama,” the sneering smile of platinum blond “Donna Trump,” baby-faced “Beth Clinton,” and a deranged-looking “Gwen W. Bush.” Casting further backward, the video encourages us to consider an alternate history where the U.S. was led by “Abby Lincoln” and “Georgia Washington,” as well as goddamned “Andrea Jackson” and “Rashida Nixon,” “Linda B. Johnson” and “Winona Wilson.”
Trying to identify the point of this project is difficult. Is it, per the “thanks to a Snapchat filter” introduction, a pessimistic suggestion that only shitty dudes will lead the country going forward? Or is it an attempt to reframe centuries of frequently horrific leadership through a funhouse mirror version of history that suggests something better lurks in the past, just waiting to be pulled out and centered?
Whatever the case, it’s weird.
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