Can a functional democracy and a leaked celebrity dick pic achieve synergistic balance?
That’s the question posed by the Hollywood elite — specifically Chris Evans, an actor whose stardom will ever be affixed to his role as Captain America in Marvel’s Avengers movie franchise. On Saturday, Evans posted a video to his Instagram account that showed a brief glimpse of his phone’s camera roll. Before he could delete it, sharp-eyed viewers noticed a meme of Evans’ face with the text “Guard That Pussy” as well as a picture of shadowy boner that most concluded was his. On social media, fans argued for his privacy and posted wholesome, non-nude photos of the beloved hunk, but a leak is a leak. People saw the dick.
Evans addressed the “embarrassing” incident with good humor and — building on a self-appointed role as a spokesman for political engagement — used the opportunity to remind his enormous Twitter following to vote. The comment has since drawn over 1 million likes.
With fewer than 50 days until a U.S. presidential election that Trump’s critics frequently describe as do-or-die, the social pressure to vote is at an all-time high. This anxiety unhappily coincides with Americans’ growing distrust in their own elections — whether because of Trump undermining their integrity, foreign and digital interference or fears that the very infrastructure of our democracy will break down in this time of proliferating disaster.
More than any coverage of what a Biden presidency or second Trump term might look like, we are besieged with headlines that alternately wonder “What If Trump Loses and Won’t Leave?” and warn us “If Trump Loses and Won’t Leave, It Could Get Ugly.” That is, we are already projecting a murky or contestable outcome in November, something that leaves the nation’s future up to rickety Constitutional mechanisms for apportioning power. This arena of legal wrangling has a dismal history; in 2000, a full recount would have shown that Al Gore had won Florida and thus the presidency, but the Supreme Court halted that measure in a decision that scholars have characterized as beyond their authority and an unlawful infringement on the state’s right to decide how citizens voted.
We know, too, that “Just vote” (or, in Obama’s formulation, “Don’t boo, vote”) is not an effective answer to voter suppression and legislative efforts at disenfranchisement. The thousands of mail-in ballots rejected in every major election cycle are undeniably still votes, but their intent is lost; from an administrative point of view, these aren’t votes at all. Next you have the issue of limited options. The voting-hype crowd is predominantly liberal, or at least anti-Trump, but woe betide you if you dare to announce an interest in some third-party candidate, even if you live on a solid-blue coast.
So you are stuck with a Democratic party that at best refuses to run on policies wildly popular within its base, and at worst mocks them as unfeasible. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last year dismissed the progressive Green New Deal proposal for addressing the climate crisis as “the green dream or whatever,” while Senator Dianne Feinstein brushed off youth activists pressing her to endorse it, saying, “you didn’t vote for me.” Their home state of California (and the entire Western seaboard) is currently blanketed in suffocating smoke from a record-breaking wildfire season fueled by climate change. This is where voting has gotten us.
The limits of electoralism — particularly in a country where you may ascend to the presidency after losing the popular vote by millions — have often been reflected in organized protest. Between the fumbled response to a deadly pandemic and unchecked police violence, 2020 has many seeking other ways to influence the course of the American project, and rejecting the notion that merely voting is sufficient, or that constituents can somehow enact necessary reform through support for career politicians who largely don’t represent them.
Into this fraught scene comes poor Chris Evans, who, having served as the fantasy character of the country’s best inner self, is expected to be its civic superego in real life — though also accessible enough that he can inadvertently expose his genitalia to the masses. To atone, as it were, for that error, and reassert a winking, wholesome patriot image, he pivots to the “Vote” memo, which is not really an encouragement to make your voice heard so much as requesting help in kicking Trump out of office. It’s an admittedly cute way to shift the narrative, and in turn, people gushed about him.
But imagine, for a moment, the apathetic non-voter spurred to action after they saw Captain America’s hard-on. Should that inspire the rest of us? If you’re for getting rid of Trump at all costs, maybe it does. Alarmingly, though, this is easier to envision than a world in which our entertainment icons are not obliged to beg us for the bare minimum of democratic participation. Evans is a sweet, well-intentioned guy who felt compelled to remind people they have a say in local, state and federal leadership because those very institutions have methodically stripped away any sense that they reflect the will of voters. Liberals swooned over his tweet because, whether they’d admit it or not, they realize that a hot celeb’s lighthearted humility and humor regarding an accidental dick reveal is probably a better pitch for their party than the actual nominee can provide. The seemingly universal interest in Evans’ package is a convenient stand-in for Biden’s “unity” message. Voting, and the urging to vote, becomes a kind of meme.
We will lose everything when votes are seen as purely symbolic. Amid electoral dysfunction, authoritarian crackdowns, disinformation and euphemistic media, that is the way things are trending. Millions are ready to vote in 2020, yet half of voters expect to face difficulties in that effort — obstacles they will courageously face, despite the personal toll. They are already doing the work asked of them. It is up to those on the ballot to use what power they have to keep this path clear in the months and years to come, and to demonstrate that their constituents’ needs can be met through the existing process. Otherwise, it’s just a pageant, and we’re all too happy to change the channel.
Unless, of course, there happens to be a notable penis on the screen.