Bring Back the Effigy

all I really want is for people to start burning other people

by by Gillian Brassil

illustration by by Gillian Brassil

All I really want is for people to start burning other people. Don't give me that look—you read the title, you knew what I meant.


Frankly, I've decided the time is ripe to for our nation to get its effigy on. So I whipped out my parchment and quill and then took the obvious first step of research to back up my pro-effigy opinions: I Wikipedia'd that shit. The article was massively disappointing, talking mostly about the lame kind of effigy: "a deceased person depicted in stone or wood on church monuments [that] most often lie supine with hands together in prayer." BOOOOORING! I did learn, though, that Lewes, England is by far upholding the effigy world-standard: a festival on Guy Fawkes Night featuring effigies of unpopular national figures and local officials who tried to shut down the festival! That is the kind of spunk America has been lacking lately!

I say lately, because I totally remember my high-school American History textbook being chock-full of effigy happenings. Like tarring-and feathering, burning an effigy of an enemy was a sassy way of saying, "Hey, loyalist! Suck it!" Unlike tarring-and-feathering, it did not cause first-degree burns.

Unfortunately, there is no information to be found about such spice in our country's history, because every Google search with "America" and "history" and "effigy" turns up results about Obama being hanged in effigy at a college in Oregon.

Wait - WHAT??!?!?! You are DEFINITELY thinking the same thing I am: Oregon?! REALLY?! It's true—the Associated Press reported last fall that four students were responsible for hanging a cardboard likeness of Obama at George Fox University, a private Christian school just south of Portland. 

Fellas, this is not what I had in mind.

An effigy should not be about hatred. An effigy should be about irritation, disdain, annoyance. And in the process of creating one, you should even feel a little love.

In late June of last year, I was chatting with an American History Buff that I most definitely had a crush on. He and I bemoaned the fact that the rest of the world was one-upping us hard when it came to burning figures—there were an unholy number of burning Bushes in the Middle East, but domestically, we had little to offer. In an effort to put my money where my mouth was, and also sort of to win his love, I proclaimed excitedly, "By summer's end, I shall create an effigy and we'll burn it together!" The next month or so saw little progress in the effigy department. The most I did was toss around names with said History Buff and a group of friends—should we burn Roshay, the manager of the radio station we worked at? No, because while unbearable, he's actually a nice person. Ann Coulter? Too political, not funny enough. Jeff Probst? Definitely loathsome, but many of my friends had the good fortune to have never seen Survivor so did not fully comprehend his intolerable persona. Toby Keith? Um, I don't know why we rejected Toby Keith, he definitely deserved it. We even went so far as to consider general ideas deserving of burning: junk mail, umpires, raisins. (Side note: I love raisins. History Buff apparently does not. We are not meant to be, I guess.)

Ultimately, though, the answer was clear: Ryan Seacrest! Not only did it afford a wealth of "Seacrest's out!" joke-making opportunities, but the guy was absolutely excruciating and very easy to make fun of. And there was something delightful about the irony the host of American Idol (an object to be venerated) becoming an effigy (an object to be set on fire).


Being like, um, every human being ever, I put off making the effigy until the day we had arranged to burn it. That morn, I woke up bright and early and hustled down to New Life thrift store—more irony in that name, my friends! I shopped superbly: pillows whose stuffing I could use to plump up dear Ryan, beige sheets for his skin, jeans and a t-shirt that said "WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH, THE TOUGH GO SHOPPING." I used a fuzzy golden scarf for his prickly gelled hair!

I scooted home and set to work, and in the hours I spent stitching Ryan together by hand, I felt a true affection for the effigy. Seacrest himself still repulsed me—staring at his photograph so I could craft a proper caricature was pure torture. But at least that dastardly drivel-spewer was affording me the opportunity to get crafty with my dislike of him, to sew on button eyes and a broad, creepy smile and wait excitedly for him to go up in flames that night.

Ryan actually made his premiere at our pre-effigy game night—I plopped him in an armchair and he was mistaken for another person in the room several times that evening (more and more often as we continued to drink). We sat with him, talked to him, gave him piggyback rides, but this closeness we developed was quickly forgotten when it was time to burn the motherfucker.

And so it was: a quick tie of his arms around a tiki-torch stand, a dousing with tiki-torch flame, a match held to his tufty golden mane and his head erupting into flames. Ryan burned for about 15 minutes, emitting a ghastly putrid stench (polyester pillow stuffing probably to blame) and eventually collapsing into a blackened, crunchy lump at the base of the tiki stand.
It was beautiful.

So step it up, America: bring some of that beauty into your lives. Whether your effigy is wooden or cotton or papier-mache, craft it with care and with hilarity and burn it with joy and freedom and also fire. It's time we got back to this country's roots, and I'm pretty sure that regular effigy-burning is mandated in at least one draft of the Constitution.