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Is Melania Trump's White House Christmas aesthetic angelic or horrific? Depends whom you ask.

For some, the first lady’s attempt to ring in the holidays was The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Parker Malloy/Twitter
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Depending on your social media platform of choice — and whom you follow on it — Melania Trump’s November 27 reveal of this year’s White House Christmas decorations was either a magical glimpse of a stunning winter wonderland or a nightmare pulled straight out of a horror movie.

And those opposite reactions to Trump’s attempts to deck the presidential halls indicate just how divergent the narratives around the first lady have become.

Melania Trump’s Christmas aesthetic is either a horror show or a lovely ode to “traditional values”

First, there were the ballerinas. A trio of dancers from Hartford, Connecticut, performed the “Nutcracker Suite” for the first lady as part of the White House’s annual public holiday celebration. This year’s theme, chosen by Trump herself, was “Time-Honored Traditions,” in honor of past Christmases at the White House. But on social media, the theme was less American Presidential and more American Horror Story.

On Twitter, critical responses to video of the scene — most notably the one below, which was captured and circulated by the Hill reporter Judy Kurtz — focused on Trump’s rigid pose as she watched the performance.

Though in video of the event that was captured by Reuters the first lady can be seen smiling briefly as she greets the audience, in the most viral images she seems to stand awkwardly, immobile and unsmiling with her hands at her sides — an eerie image that immediately inspired comparisons to ghosts or creepy children in horror movies.

Comparisons to Black Swan and The Ring were rampant:

Trump’s stiff body language also inspired plenty of jokes.

Then there was the unveiling of the White House holiday decor — including via this photo released by the first lady’s communications director, which subsequently drew comparisons to The Shining, American Horror Story, and “the Sunken Place” from Get Out:

That the apparent “darkening” of the White House Christmas decor from the Obama administration to the Trump administration also functioned as an eerie metaphor for the current political climate also didn’t go unnoticed:

But not everyone was so quick to judge — and in some corners of social media, particularly on Instagram, both the photos and the narrative were much brighter:

(However, it’s worth noting that many of the more praise-filled posts were also accompanied by hashtags like #BuildThatWall, #DrainTheSwamp, and #LockHerUp — the kinds of messages that remind us that even in seemingly bright moments, the Trump White House is still affiliated with many very dark things.)

The horror meme response illustrates just how complicated the narrative around Melania Trump has become

The inclination of many to turn the current administration into a horror meme — remember the creepy pope photo, or the Orb? — has undoubtedly been boosted by the current first family’s tendency to pose stiffly and unsmilingly for public photos.

And this Christmas decor debate certainly isn’t the first time that Melania’s posture or fashion choices have either come under fire or elicited a grandiose amount of patronizing sympathy — two very different sentiments that have each inspired backlash in subsequent hot takes about the first lady’s degree of agency over her own life. On at least one occasion, according to a recent conspiracy theory that also became the butt of many online jokes, she’s been replaced by a body double.

No matter your opinion of Melania Trump, it’s clear that her time in the White House so far has been marked by scrutiny. And she’s currently ringing in Christmas at the White House in an era when’s word of the year is “complicit.” The narrative surrounding her routinely diverges when it comes to the question of how “complicit” you believe her to be in her husband’s presidency.

Consequently, it makes perfect sense that meme culture — which tends to reflect our collective social and political anxieties — has regularly commented on Melania Trump with the central theme of how well she fits in or doesn’t fit into the White House environment. Horrorizing the first lady by presenting her either as a trapped victim in a body-snatcher trope or an ominous Ghost of Christmas Doom is a way of dealing with the many narratives surrounding her, while still doing what social media users love to do best: point and laugh.

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