As The Daily Wire reported this morning, outrage has erupted over a meme played at a pro-Trump conference in Miami over the weekend. The parody video shows Trump shooting a bunch of media logos and media members. Few people at the conference saw the clip, as it apparently played in an empty side room somewhere in the Trump resort where the event was held. Trump himself obviously had nothing to do with the video and the event organizers claim (credibly, I think) that they didn’t know about it and didn’t approve it.
The Daily Wire notes that the controversial meme has been on the internet for a year without much notice. Only now, because of the media, do we all get a chance to see the thing that the media says might inspire violence against the media. If they were really concerned about the mystical powers of memes to inspire mass shootings, you’d think they would have just ignored this one and let it remain in obscurity.
But this controversy is interesting for a different reason. The meme makes use of a scene from the film “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” released back in 2015. In the original scene, Colin Firth’s character murders an entire church full of people in the Deep South. He shoots a woman in the face at point blank range, guns down dozens of other churchgoers, cuts someone’s head off, lights another guy on fire, and impales someone with a stake. But this is supposed to be alright, I guess, because everyone has been driven insane by a toxic gas. Plus, the church is a Westboro Baptist-stlye collection of crazy racists and homophobes.
Still, if a jokey meme showing Trump shooting news logos is “problematic” and even “dangerous,” then isn’t the original jokey scene showing a guy murdering churchgoers also problematic and dangerous? Yet, unsurprisingly, the media had little to say about the fictional bloodbath when it was first filmed. In fact, what little they did say was outright celebratory. The Washington Post, which labeled the Trump meme “vile and horrific,” used very different words to describe the scene on which it’s based. In a 2015 review of the film, Washington Post writer Michael O’Sullivan was positively rapturous, calling the cartoonish carnage “balletic” and a “masterclass.” A more recent article in The Ringer says the church massacre is the most “well regarded” moment in the film. The site concurs that the scene is indeed a “masterclass.” We should also note that the movie received generally positive reviews at the time of its release, earning a very respectable 74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
Personally, I don’t care much about the original scene or the meme. Both are probably in poor taste, but they’re too over the top and absurdly gratuitous to have any sort of profound impact on the viewer. I doubt that anyone will be inspired to shoot up a church because of “Kingsman,” just as I doubt that anyone will be inspired to kill media members because of this meme or any meme. But if you take the position that the meme is awful, vile, evil, and dangerous, then you must say the same about the scene that made the meme possible. If you claim that the meme encourages violence against the media, then you must claim that the original scene encourages violence against Christians. There is just no way to separate the two.
The situation for the original scene is not improved much by the fact that the victims are all Westboro racists. First of all, that’s how Hollywood sees all Christians. For Hollywood, there really is no difference between a Westboro church and any other church. Especially in the south. Second, making them bigots was obviously a cheap narrative trick designed to give the viewer permission to take delight in their mass execution. In reality, we would hopefully all agree that it is not okay to randomly mow down racists at church. Or maybe we can’t agree about that. Either way, there is no reason to panic over the meme if you didn’t panic when the movie came out four years ago.