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.
Just your average day covering FLOTUS and ballerinas at the White House... pic.twitter.com/BlCNR7OhwW— Judy Kurtz (@JudyKurtz) November 27, 2017
The huge glasses, standing stiffly alone, her obvious awkwardness. That's not a criticism. The woman looks absolutely miserable all the time, even when ballerinas perform for her.— Lisa Bonanno (@TrustissuesLisa) November 27, 2017
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.
I really did not expect the Suspiria remake to be so edgy. pic.twitter.com/LOiznA7nxY— Look out honey coz Im using technology (@MrPaulDuane) November 28, 2017
Comparisons to Black Swan and The Ring were rampant:
This creepy video of Melania Trump watching ballerinas looks like a sequel to Black Swan https://t.co/b1wgK9vDxt— The Cut (@TheCut) November 27, 2017
My first thought was Sadako. pic.twitter.com/pnpIUCRo09— Dazed Bee (@dazedbee) November 27, 2017
Trump’s stiff body language also inspired plenty of jokes.
MELANIA: “What is it like for your body to be free?” https://t.co/F50fo4kGih— Jess Dweck (@TheDweck) November 27, 2017
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:
I scrolled by this photo of actual White House holiday decorations four times before I realized it was not from a production of Macbeth pic.twitter.com/yUOVYsCAuD— Joseph Scrimshaw (@JosephScrimshaw) November 27, 2017
Why do the White House Christmas decorations look like the stick labyrinth at the end of Season 1 of True Detective pic.twitter.com/jl0mHJjgRb— Super Deluxe (@superdeluxe) November 27, 2017
I wasn't sure whether Melania's White House Christmas decorations were more Pan's Labyrinth, It, or Stranger Things, so I combined them all. pic.twitter.com/FKkcVHcxlM— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) November 27, 2017
Needs more blood pic.twitter.com/7BEPYwCRYd— Andrew Long (@andrewlong166) November 27, 2017
Here's Melania's decoration video set to the theme song from "Halloween" pic.twitter.com/a0Xezd7GwK— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) November 27, 2017
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:
Our #firstlady #MelaniaTrump is really getting into the Christmas spirit. #MerryChristmas #flotus #melania #whitehouse #thewhitehouse #christmasspirit #myflotus #Politicsasusual #mainstreammedia #buildthatwall #maga #trumptrain #safespace #happyholidays #lovetrumpshate #politicallycorrect #deplorables #conservatives #draintheswamp #americafirst #potus #trump2020 #presidenttrump #donaldtrump #makeamericagreatagain #election2020 #winning #politics
Today #FirstLady #MelaniaTrump unveiled the #WhiteHouse #festive #ChristmasDecor . She also enjoyed a performance of #TheNutcracker and spent time with young children making garland and more Christmas crafts. The children told #Melania she looks like an #angel . #FirstLadyMelaniaTrump #FLOTUS #WashingtonDC #WinterWonderland #Christmas #MostWonderfulTimeOfYear #MerryChristmas #Ballerinas #Angelic #Queen #FirstLadyFashion #ModelStatus #USA #MAGA #MakeAmericaGreatAgain #MakeChristmasGreatAgain # #
(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 Dictionary.com’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.