With Caitlyn Jenner’s public debut dominating the news cycle this week, people who are uncomfortable that Bruce is now Caitlyn are trying to tear her down by claiming she’s not a real American hero, like The Troops. This is a bad and disingenuous argument, which makes it all the more satisfying to see it buried under a heap of sweet, sweet irony.
Jenner may have come out as a member of one of the most persecuted groups in American society and agreed to reveal her years-long private journey to millions of viewers, but that’s not “real American courage,” says one Terry Coffey, who posted the photo above. It’s been shared 765,000 times. Now, these soldiers you see in the photo—one carrying his injured comrade toward safety, the other covering their backs with his gun—they’re as real and courageous as it gets.
Except that they’re not real at all.
As Coffey learned once his post blew up on Facebook, the photo is actually of an imaginary scene by artist Mark Hogancamp, whose brain was seriously damaged in a brutal attack outside a bar in 2000. After coming out of a coma, Hogancamp began to cope with his neurological injuries and memory loss by building himself a new life: a 1/6th scale World War II-era Belgian town called Marwencol, populated by Barbie dolls and army men.
The soldiers in the photo are miniature players in Hogancamp’s internal drama, brought to life only in his imagination and his photographs.
The deep layers of irony in Coffey’s Facebook post don’t end there, though. When five men kicked Hogancamp nearly to death—in fact, his memory loss is so severe that he considers himself to have died in the attack—they did it because he enjoyed wearing feminine clothing.
When Mr. Hogancamp returned home after the beating, he discovered a closet full of women’s pumps and boots. “Do I have a girlfriend?” he asked a friend. “They’re yours,” the friend replied. “You collect them and you wear them.” Mr. Hogancamp then learned that the men who beat him did so after he told them he was a cross-dresser.
There are people out there willing to put someone in a coma for wearing heels, but apparently there’s nothing real, brave, heroic, or American about what Jenner did this week.
The photo that accompanied my words yesterday to highlight “true bravery,” was chosen from a quick image search. Just wanted something to fit my words. This afternoon, I wanted to find out who the photographer was, so I could credit his work.
In an ironic twist, I have discovered that the photo is part of a documentary created by a man who was beaten nearly to death outside of a bar in 2000.
After spending 9 days in a coma, suffering severe brain damage and being unable to walk or talk for a year, he chose to deal with the pain of the tragic event, by creating an imaginary world of characters and photos and stories, all set in WWII. His work is the subject of an upcoming documentary.
Why was he nearly beaten to death by 5 strangers?
Because he was a cross-dresser.
I could have chosen any one of hundreds of photos depicting bravery, but I chose this one. Do I think it was an accident?
No, I don’t.
What happened to this man was cruel, wrong, and unforgivable.
Hate helps nothing
Love wounds no one
and God heals all.
(and irony makes you think)
That “upcoming documentary” is Jeff Malmberg’s Marwencol, named for Hogancamp’s fictional town. It actually came out in 2010 to rave reviews and copious film festival accolades, and you can stream it via the SundanceNow Doc Club.