This may be why decorous members of Congress refused to engage directly with the video. It bordered uncomfortably on some of our culture’s most disturbing, albeit ubiquitous, images; depictions of victimized or brutalized women that abound in slasher films, murder mysteries, the openings of countless TV police dramas and of course violent pornography, including cartoon (and sometimes anime) pornography. As Andrea Horbinski, a historian of Japanese animation, told me, “The Gosar clip seems like an intersection of right-wing anime fandom, and the revenge-porn, or deep-fakes, impulse to keep women in their place.”
So the entire House debate centered on images that streaked through the national consciousness in a flash, then disappeared, first when they were swiftly removed from the internet, and then — figuratively — by dint of the collective refusal to confront them again. The House voted almost entirely along party lines to censure Mr. Gosar (only two Republicans, Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, joined the Democrats). But on the matter of acknowledging the power of violent imagery, the House was united in upholding a division between words and pictures.
Yet that divide lies at the heart of this matter, for no one in Congress has disrupted this division more than Ms. Ocasio-Cortez herself. In addition to being a serious, contributive member of Congress, she is also a telegenic young woman. No other new representative, not even the other Squad members, has garnered as much media attention. No one else has worn couture on the red carpet at the Met Gala, or filmed a makeup tutorial for Vogue. No one else, that is, has dared to embrace the world of pictures and popular culture to this extent.
This has only intensified her status as a lightning rod. And the power inherent in her high visual quotient is part of what led to her being featured in that violent video. It’s an attempt to use her visual power against her, to reposition her in a violent visual world that could dominate and silence her.
Mr. Gosar claimed that he chose Ms. Ocasio-Cortez because, “as a proud member of the open borders caucus, she is representative of the plague of illegal immigration.” But beyond whatever “plague” she may represent to him she represents something else that many men find threatening: the power of a woman unafraid to harness the realm of the visual, of feminine and popular culture, while remaining perfectly at ease in the traditional realm of words — the realm of Congressional speechifying.
The anime was a violent and disturbing internet meme. Perhaps greater familiarity with this visual currency could defang rather than magnify such memes. By looking away so resolutely, Congress may actually have relinquished visual power to Mr. Gosar. The proof? Minutes after his censure, he retweeted the offending cartoon.