Bundles of newspapers lying in a New York street before delivery, circa 1940. Photograph by Arthur Fellig (International Center of Photography) for Getty Images.

Marilyn Minter On How Instagram Is Revolutionizing Activism

Much like cheap newspapers at the time of Daumier, Instagram has become the voice of the people, write Marilyn Minter and Andrianna Campbell, curators of the pop-up shop "Anger Management" at the Brooklyn Museum.

by Andrianna Campbell and Marilyn Minter
Oct 11 2017, 5:57pm

Bundles of newspapers lying in a New York street before delivery, circa 1940. Photograph by Arthur Fellig (International Center of Photography) for Getty Images.

Did you know Instagram started in 2010? Funny: back then, it was a novelty. We remember first looking at other people's pages as if that were enough to glimpse the world through their eyes. Then we made our own pages, which meant not only sharing, but also that eventually, our worlds would be algorithmically tailored for our delight. At times, to a fault: one of us had to stop following everyone because she was like a teenager with a new cellphone and a license to drive. The other has been driven to turn off her phone when she writes.

But despite its potential as a tool of distraction, it's also become a tool for activism. We follow political feeds. Our dear deceased friend Jim Walrod (@jimwalrod1), with his #fucktrump mantra, was an everyday reminder of resistance. It seemed crude at first, but no more so than Gail Collins's editorial reminders about Mitt Romney driving to Canada with the family dog on the roof of the car. In a world that craves novelty, we are in need of repetition. The best political Instagrammers do this and so much more, and with so much humor—something we are also in need of.

Take @brentosaurusrox: the prim doctor in white asking Trump if he's sexually active, and his response: "I fuck America once or twice a week."

It is doubly frank, first because of the language. We still expect our presidents to be cornballs, making sheepish jokes and "oh shucks"-ing it up, even if they have serious potty mouths in private. The other thing we expect is that they are in it for the greater good. Even constitutional violators like George W. Bush seemed to really believe that his compassionate conservatism would work. He seemed to have a heart. Not some huckster who would use a press conference about human suffering in Puerto Rico to plug the hats for sale on his personal website. Not someone who wants to just con you out of your last penny. But America has always liked the confidence man (shortened to con man in our present day); he was born of the 19 th century around the same time we got Horatio Alger's rags-to-riches stories. The con man and con woman are the dark side of the American Dream, of the meritocracy, and of the movement of capital. They make good no matter what, and they yuck it up on the lives of the people they deprive of their well-earned livelihood.

Speaking of some founding American stories: in the home of the Liberty Bell, Philadelphia, Sarah McEneaney (@sarahmce) paints newspaper clippings, making them more tragic in their humor. We like her #weareleaderless #tillersonisamoron from a few days ago: a man in a suit, with a tiny shrunken head, speaks.

He is Rex Tillerson, our Secretary of State, who seems to be able to call our President a "fucking moron" and get away with it. But maybe Tillerson is the real power in this administration; after all, is he not the Exxon Mobile/Russia liaison? Why are people so crude in their connections? When are money and power enough?

Enough money and power are recurring themes in Robert Hult's (@ro_hult) collages and camouflages that send Trump and team to funny places. A few days ago, he posted Trump as a sexy model for paper towels (editor's note: Hult's account is set to private). It is like he is saying, "Remember: this used to be the bombastic clown of New York." Trump was the guy heralded by Back to the Future II. He is our Biff Tannen: the bully of our age, the date-rape jock, the narcissist, and cheat of our day. He is such an archetype that at first it seemed too ridiculous. Hult says, "I depict the figures as I see them, trying to get at some essential component and using humor as a way to cast light on the Gremlins in the Administration."

Both Hult and Jonathan Horowitz (@dailytrumpet) are part of our #angermgmt pop-up shop at the Brooklyn Museum. We titled this pop-up shop Anger Management in order to highlight our response to, and our displeasure with, so many wrongs: the immigration ban; the dismantling of environmental protections; the continued violence against people of color, queer, gender non-conforming individuals, and religious minorities; the intimidation tactics of white supremacists and a blossoming Neo-Nazi movement (when we lost over 400,000 Americans fighting Nazis and fascism abroad); and the rescission of labor rights and workers' benefits.

In our daily lives, accounts like @dailytrumpet are some of the best aggregators of political content—vital to staying informed. Instagram could revolutionize activism the way the cheap newspapers did during the time of Daumier. It really is the voice of the people. It allows you to self-publish for free. If you have a good idea or a good feed, it doesn't matter if you are a famous artist or not…you have the power to communicate with millions of people all over the world.

We need all artists right now in solidarity. That is what #angermgmt is about. It is about community. Why artists, why now? As James Baldwin once said, "The artist is distinguished from all other responsible actors in society—the politicians, legislators, educators, and scientists—by the fact that he is his own test tube, his own laboratory, working according to very rigorous rules; however unstated these may be and can not allow any consideration to supersede his responsibility to reveal all that he can possibly discover concerning the mystery of the human being." Art can do this. Artists will do it.

People say to us, "Wow, you get to go to that fashion show" and "You got to hang out with this or that celebrity." The truth is most of us are weirdoes. We know what it is like to not fit in. We know what it is like to be targeted for abuse in addition to being targeted as women and/or people of color. Our empathy doesn't stem from this, but we know to look out for others and to stand up for the underdog. This is the beauty of the United States, this is its founding rhetoric, and in its best moments this is what it achieves in striving to be a more democratic body. That is why Instagram is a good platform for community sharing of visual material and that's why we search there to communally source our ideas. After all, that is where we found @sirmitchell, who made gold pins of his 45 logo for #angermgmt. It doesn't have to start from us. It starts everywhere and anywhere that there is desire.

"Anger Management" is open at the Brooklyn Museum until November 12.

Marilyn Minter