The Margin: Will Donald Trump’s mug shot become the defining image of the 21st Century?
The world has seen many memorable photos of Donald Trump, from those of him taking the oath as U.S. president to those of him taking a swing on the golf course.
But none may prove as memorable as the Trump picture that’s likely to be taken next Tuesday, and possibly released soon thereafter. Namely, the mug shot from his expected booking following his indictment by a Manhattan grand jury.
Indeed, media, marketing and pop-culture experts told MarketWatch that such a photo, if made available by law-enforcement authorities, may prove itself the most famous image of the 21st Century — at least to date — since it shows something previously unthinkable: that a former president has been arrested.
“It could become the cultural icon of our time,” says Craig Agranoff, a Florida-based marketing executive.
Certainly, in the short term, Peter W. Cross, a former newspaper photo director turned freelance photographer, says there’s no question the image would be widely distributed.
“It will be in every mainstream newspaper in the country and probably around the world,” Cross says, adding that he’d devote an entire front page to it if he was still in the business of making such decisions.
It goes beyond just that. The photo could be seen on T-shirts, posters, coffee mugs and just about every form of merchandise that you can imagine, experts say. Agranoff says it would also likely inspire Halloween costumes.
And further boosting the image’s profile is that it will hold meaning to those who are both pro-Trump and anti-Trump, Agranoff adds: “The (pro-Trump) people who will be disgusted by it will use it for mobilization, and the people who are against Trump will use it to mock him.”
Indeed, Trump has already been using the indictment as a way to help fundraise for his 2024 presidential campaign. The Trump campaign fired off a couple of fundraising emails following the indictment to fire up his base to open their wallets. The campaign is also selling “I Stand With Trump” t-shirts, and claims to have raised roughly $2 million in grassroots donations since Trump announced his arrest was imminent.
Read more: Trump’s indictment is golden for his presidential campaign fundraising: ‘Trump is going to be able to raise a lot of money off this’
Still, how iconic a Trump mug shot becomes — again, presuming it’s made available — may depend on a key factor, according to Robert J. Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture. Thompson says it’s all about how it “delivers in its mug shot-ness.”
By their very nature, mug shots are supposed to be non-descript — they’re not magazine-worthy portraits, but identification photos, similar in that sense to the picture on a driver’s license.
But mug shots differ from a DMV photo in that they’re taken during times of distress, to say the least. The result can be something far less than flattering. Thompson points to the bizarre 2002 mug shot of actor Nick Nolte, following his arrest on a DUI charge, as the classic example.
Of course, Trump will be having his mug shot taken with plenty of advance notice — in other words, he has time to groom himself as he sees fit, even if he still might be subject to the unflattering light that’s par for the course with such law-enforcement images.
Some also expect the former president will have special arrangements made for his arraignment.
Given the uniqueness of the situation, “there is no norm for how the process will proceed,” says Guy Fronstin, a prominent, Florida-based criminal-defense attorney who once represented Jeffrey Epstein.
Here’s yet another wrinkle: There’s a possibility we may never see a Trump mug shot, even if one is presumably taken. New York has established a ban on such images being routinely released, passed as part of the 2020 state budget. But according to reports, such images can still be made available at law enforcement’s discretion.
“I think there’s leeway” for a mug shot to be released, says Diane Kennedy, president of the New York News Publishers Association, which represents media organizations throughout the state.
MarketWatch reached out to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office for comment about the potential release of a Trump mug shot, but didn’t receive a response.
Editor’s note: The author of this story once worked at the same publication as Peter W. Cross, the former photo director quoted in the piece.
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