The White House has decked its halls for the holidays. And just like last year, its trimmings look more frightening than festive at first glance.
If you were one of many people who thought last year’s White House Christmas display was bizarrely ominous, moody lighting and barren tree skeletons looking like the backdrop of a horror movie — well, then, I can’t wait to hear what you think of the 2018 holiday look.
Melania Trump reportedly spent months working on this year’s decorations, which she unveiled in a series of Monday morning tweets.
And to be fair to the first lady, this year’s holiday designs are considerably more inviting than last year’s, with lots of color and warmth.
But they haven’t been able to ward off the revival of last year’s Evil White House Christmas meme — mainly thanks to one specific decorating choice on Melania’s part.
Perhaps determined to continue signaling disregard for her critics, Trump has repeated the idea of horror-tinged White-House decor in at least one corner of the place, lining an entire hallway with blood-red Christmas trees that immediately reminded gawkers on social media of fun holiday movies. Like Stanley Kubrick’s Christmas classic The Shining!
Melania's Christmas decorations look like they're straight out of the Shining pic.twitter.com/mVMY7yuxIZ— Emily C. Singer (@CahnEmily) November 26, 2018
It’s that time of year at White House ... pic.twitter.com/7BEQ28neLj— ✨Rey Skywalker ✨ (@Rey_Sistance) November 26, 2018
... to say nothing of other tales of merriment and delight:
Bold choice going with decorations inspired by the Handmaid's Tale. pic.twitter.com/Ze2kZX65lp— Nick Jack Pappas (@Pappiness) November 26, 2018
Horror movies and Handmaid’s Tale references reigned, but even the more whimsical takes on the return of the Evil White House meme tended toward darkness.
This year's White House Christmas decor = Dead yip-yip aliens from Sesame Street pic.twitter.com/qOMBsLaVJW— Hubert Vigilla (Baby Please Come Home) (@HubertVigilla) November 26, 2018
You forgot about the essence of the game. It's about the cones. pic.twitter.com/ma6gAjC7AT— ⒜⒭⒤⒞ (@aric) November 26, 2018
This is a Doctor Who Christmas Special villain, isn’t it? They’re animatronic muppets from a planet with a super-high Scrabble score.— CZEdwards aka Renaran Black, Mother of Exiles (@CZEdwards) November 26, 2018
They’re sentient polyester planning to set themselves on fire in solidarity with the urban-wild land fire interface.
Carry on. pic.twitter.com/NsmL0WrqdA
The horror meme response illustrates just how embedded the divide between the Trump administration and the public has become
As it did last year, the Evil White House Christmas meme speaks to the broader polarization between the public and the presidency, and the sense that the White House itself has become a visual representation of what many people view as the real-life horror being carried out by the Trump administration.
Since Donald Trump took office, it’s become commonplace to comment on his administration through horror memes — remember the creepy pope photo, or the Orb? — and now it looks as though turning the White House Christmas display into an annual grimoire is slowly becoming an unexpected tradition.
And the fact that the White House kicked off the annual post-Thanksgiving celebration of its holiday look while children were being tear-gassed at the US-Mexico border made the situation even grimmer for many.
Nothing puts “Christ” in Christmas quite like launching tear gas at desperate poor people with children. pic.twitter.com/k6JshgrWBB— Stone Cold (@stonecold2050) November 26, 2018
Welcome to Christmas at the House of Horrors— Ellie (@ellievan65) November 26, 2018
Only things missing are the puke green jacket, sickle and hammer wreath, elves in handmaid costumes, children in cages, the fragrance of tear gas and sound of Kid Rock’s “Red Neck Paradise” blaring pic.twitter.com/4FCT7AULT8
Additionally, the inclusion of Christmas ornaments reminding the viewer to “Be Best” — in support of the first lady’s initiative to focus on “the major issues facing children today” — struck many as particularly insulting.
Dear @FLOTUS,— Andy Behrman (@electroboyusa) November 26, 2018
You're a mother. And you're an immigrant, too. How do you feel about #TearGas being used on women and young children seeking asylum in the United States?
It's time for you to #BeBest and speak out, #MelaniaTrump
All work and no play makes Melania be best pic.twitter.com/az9DduNTa2— Lauren Duca (@laurenduca) November 27, 2018
One thing that’s strikingly different between this year’s Evil White House Christmas meme and last year’s is that this time around, no one’s making jokes about Melania being “trapped” or imprisoned in the White House. The notion that the first lady was somehow a victim of her husband’s tyranny may have reigned for much of the first year of Trump’s presidency, but her controversial choice of jacket over the summer, as well as her dubiously chosen African safari gear, seems to have established her as a villain in her own right.
Consequently, it makes perfect sense that meme culture — which tends to reflect our collective social and political anxieties — has jumped at the chance to revive the Evil White House Christmas meme, but in a darker and more pointed fashion. To many, the jokes feel almost perfunctory now, and the overlay of references between the Trumps’ real-life actions and the stuff of horror films feels less ironic and more like a form of obligatory commentary.