By AJ Fabino
Amid the blur of bright lights, flashing cameras, and tweets, emerges an image of a polarizing man — stern and unyielding.
Former President Donald Trump’s mugshot will remain throughout the annals of history and become an emblem of our age — a reflection of society’s obsession with controversy, celebrity, and capitalism.
Trump, now inmate number P01135809, revels in the prime-time attention. Naturally, he utilized the arrest not as a moment of humility but as a potent tool for brand expansion.
The symbolism behind the mugshot was never lost on Trump; he understood its value from the moment the flash struck. Smug and weary, the 45th president saw beyond the split-second photograph, envisioning merchandise and more.
No less than 90 minutes after leaving Fulton County Jail at 7:55 p.m., the Trump Save America Joint Fundraising Committee began selling mugs, T-shirts, and other household items emblazoned with the mugshot and slogan “Never Surrender.”
Trump also reappeared on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter, after a conspicuous silence post-Jan. 6 insurrection — a testament to the magnetism of the imagery.
Right-wing supporters took to websites like Etsy and Redbubble to hawk items. After all, the mugshot didn’t just represent Trump — it signified rebellion, resistance, and an easy buck.
The commodification of Trump’s mug shot image, worn with pride or irony, found its way into nearly every facet of the internet.
Trump’s inclination to cash in on the image is reflective of what actress Jane Fonda did in the 1970s.
Fonda, a luminary in her own right, but for the left, transformed her 1970 arrest — a mark of civil disobedience and anti-war sentiment — into a symbol of resistance. Like Trump, she understood the power of image, but while Fonda’s mugshot spoke of civil resistance, Trump’s portrays a different narrative: one of political defiance.
The former president’s story doesn’t end with physical goods. His non-fungible token (NFT) collection saw a surge in sales, upwards of 1,200% as well.
Then, there’s the interplay of the past and present. The superimposition of Trump’s mugshot on iconic album covers blended reverence with ridicule, the profound with the profane.
Yet, underlying all this is a stark reality — the commodification of a controversy.
Whether it’s Rudy Giuliani’s ironic “America’s Mayor” merchandise or the mimetic computer-generated Trump mugshots sold ahead of the real deal, the driving force is consistent: controversy sells.
In an era where every click is commodified, where narratives are woven into merchandise, and where moments are immortalized as memes, the Trump mugshot saga is just a chapter in a long story of our society’s interplay with scandal and salesmanship.
Produced in association with Benzinga