The disappointing reality of Portland’s ‘Naked Athena’: ‘Revolutionaries’ thought-police themselves into apologizing
When the Portland protester anointed ‘Naked Athena’ told her story, the soaring narratives grafted onto her by eager journalists were laid bare as aspirational fiction. But the same could be said for the whole BLM ‘movement.’
Naked Athena, a sex worker named Jen in “real life,” stunned the nation when images circulated of her cavorting in nothing but a knit cap and face mask as Portland police fired pepper balls at her bare feet. The same officers appeared to turn tail and flee when confronted by her exposed genitalia as she sat down spread-eagled on the pavement.
Whatever one thought of the stunt, the footage was arresting. Jen was hailed as “the hero our country needs now” as writers scrambled to project their own ideas about the demonstrations in Portland and across the country onto her nude flesh, practically drooling over the literal blank slate they’d been presented with. Storytellers know a hook when they see one, and the naked lady performing what looked like interpretive dance (or ballet, or yoga poses, depending on the writer) in front of heavily armed riot cops was nothing if not a hook.
Then Jen had to go and spoil it by giving an interview to Portland’s Unrefined Sophisticates podcast, in which she revealed her ‘protest’ was based on nothing more than a spur of the moment decision to strip off. Admitting “there wasn’t a lot of thought that went into it,” she told the podcast host “there’s almost not anywhere that you can’t find me naked.” While she propped up that somewhat anticlimactic explanation by adding “my nakedness is political,” and suggesting the stunt came from a “deep feminine place” within her that “felt provoked” by cops fronting like they were warriors, the absence of transcendent political declarations issuing forth from this stranger-dubbed Goddess of Wisdom was a bit of a letdown.
Jen seemed to sense this, and sought to explain herself further. Her “message,” she said, was “we’re all out here, these protesters, [and] the only thing we have in common is, we have masks on and we’re out here at night. None of these people have weapons. Empty their pockets, take off their clothes – nobody has weapons here.”
Later, she summed it up more succinctly: “I just wanted to make some feds uncomfortable.”
It wasn’t the Earth-shattering statement we’d been led to expect from fawning article after sycophantic tweet hailing her as Lady Godiva, Joan of Arc, and, well, Athena rolled into one. But it’s probably unfair – not to mention unrealistic – to expect real-life Jen to deliver an explanation worthy of the icon she spawned. Jen even told the podcasters she thinks of ‘Naked Athena’ as a figure separate from herself and talks about “her” in the third person.
After all, the lack of a considered political manifesto behind her stunt mirrors the lack of direction behind the demonstrations that have seized the nation’s attention (with a lot of help from the media establishment) for the past two months. The establishment’s official storytellers would have us believe the massive protests that broke out following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis were a spontaneous yet coherent and unified popular outcry against entrenched American racism – and indeed this narrative has been used to shove a stilted, corporate-safe parody of “tolerance” down the nation’s throat, characterized by self-flagellating seminars on “White Fragility” and groveling apologies for ‘insensitive’ social media posts.
But the reality is much messier. A huge number of Americans driven half-mad with cabin fever over months of coronavirus lockdown saw in the protests a chance to escape, to get outside and socialize while venting the socially-unacceptable rage that had built up over job losses, sudden poverty, and the very real, very damaging isolation from loved ones imposed by cruel and stupid government policies. Are they anti-racist? Sure, most people abhor racism, no matter what the media claims. Are they against police violence? Of course – even many police officers were repulsed by the brutal video of Floyd’s killing.Also on rt.com Al Capone would be proud – Chicago is the corrupt, crime-infested murder capital of the US, a glimpse of a dystopian future
But the majority of so-called “anti-fascist” protesters would be unable to cough up a coherent definition of the fascism they’re supposedly fighting against, or explain how the government of President Donald Trump embodies it more than, say, Barack Obama or George W. Bush. They’re no more able to articulate how “fascism” supposedly sprung fully-formed from Trump’s spray-tanned forehead in 2016 than Jen was able to muster the expert social justice babble her media biographers indirectly demanded of her with their call-outs (the irony of a Times or WaPo writer calling someone else privileged notwithstanding).
While insisting she’d tried to “educate herself” about how her stunt would have gone down differently had she been darker-skinned or heftier, her attempts to apologize for her “privilege” (as a “non-black person of color” who apparently identified as white most of her life) came across even more stilted than the usual white mea culpas. Jen literally begged forgiveness for her erstwhile whiteness while acknowledging her stunt had briefly eclipsed the larger protests: “I am sorry for taking part in a society for so long that was built on principles of separation and oppression for financial gain. I’m sorry it took me this long to get around to the aspects of understanding that I hadn’t gotten around to yet,” she intoned in between self-administered cracks of the mental whip.
I truly apologize for any harm, any feelings of sadness or grief or anger that my actions might have caused.
Her clumsy apology was nominally addressed to black people who might have felt upstaged by her nudity, but she might as well have been apologizing to the oppressive system she was supposedly protesting. With that statement, Jen effectively joined the drab, cowed masses scanning the headlines for ideas on what to feel guilty about next, and utterly neutered, even negated her own protest. Her media critics might be happy (though they’ll doubtless find fault with her groveling), but any rebellious spirit onlookers might have glimpsed in her gutsy demonstration was effectively tamed. It wasn’t the Portland riot cops or President Donald Trump who made her meekly bend the knee, either – she did so preemptively, beaten down by her own internal thought police.
‘Naked Athena’ – silent, bold, defiant – might have inspired other rebels, but Jen – who came off as an inveterate rule-follower under her free-spirited sexually-liberated patter – certainly won’t. It’s her right to tell her story, of course, but the disappointing reality behind the largely-fictitious icon reveals just how much a successful uprising relies on skilled storytellers to uplift the masses – and how those same storytellers can keep them down. If the people crying out for change in the streets are at the same time cringing back in fear, preemptively apologizing lest something they do or say hurt the feelings of a more oppressed group, they will remain forever ineffective.
This state of fear-based paralysis is precisely where the narrative-managers want them – and where the Trump administration wants them. Any suggestion these forces are at odds is laughable. The protesters (indeed, all Americans) have a lot to be angry about – entire generations have been occluded from the American Dream – but casting everything in terms of race litters the proverbial playing field with broken glass and land mines and guarantees few will be brave enough to take the first step toward a genuine, multiracial class consciousness. The revolution will not be apologized for.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.