Giving the finger to Trump - and why it went viral

Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

This photograph of a cyclist giving the middle finger to Donald Trump's motorcade was widely shared online over the weekend. As The Guardian writes:

The woman on her bike was photographed raising her middle finger when Trump’s vehicles passed her on their way out from the Trump National Golf Club on the banks of the Potomac river, on the outskirts of Washington DC. She repeated the gesture when she caught up with the motorcade.

Why was this photograph heavily circulated on the internet? I would argue it's because it makes a visual connection to an iconic protest image - namely, the famous "tank man" photograph taken during the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989 (although, as a matter of fact, there are at least four different versions of this iconic photograph).

Photograph: Stuart Franklin

Photograph: Stuart Franklin

In recent months, a number of other photographs arguably went viral because they made reference to the "lone protestor" theme iconised in the "tank man" image(s) - most notably, the photograph of Ieshia Evans at the Black Lives Matter demonstration in Baton Rouge and the photograph of Saffiyah Khan at an English Defence League rally in Birmingham.

However, in the case of the lone cyclist giving the finger to Trump, the visual connection to the iconic "tank man" photograph is even more pronounced. First, the vehicles in the motorcade - boasting thick armour and bullet proof windows - bear a strong resemblance to tanks. Second, the bicycle was the principal mode of transportation for common people in late-1980s China and, in fact, bicycles feature strongly in the imagery of the Tiananmen massacre (see below).