Art After Trump: some thoughts, and a poem

15-bks_artaftertrump_nov2016_02Last Thursday, over one hundred artists, writers, musicians, and otherwise creative people came together to put on Art After Trump, a marathon-style series of readings and performances in response to the election. Hosted by Hyperallergic, The Creative Independent, and a number of other organizations and publications, the event spanned over six hours and exposed an avalanche of raw emotion.

Every participating reader was asked to limit their performance to two minutes, but as you can imagine, many people went on much longer than that (it turns out that it’s pretty hard to shrink a slithering pile of election-induced emotions into two itty-bitty minutes). I was slotted in to read a poem toward the end of the evening, but I ended up leaving before my turn simply because I ran out of steam (as did the rest of the audience — six+ hours of emotion is hard to endure, and by midnight, the thinning crowd showed signs of a vast, multifaceted exhaustion). But the poem that I assembled still feels worth sharing, since the process of writing it was an interesting one.

A little stream-of-consciousness tour through my Art After Trump thought process…

When asked to come up with a two-minute response to “Art After Trump,” my initial idea was to write something about mixed realities, filter bubbles, and about how conflicted I feel regarding the internet’s role in creating this mess. This quickly became much more than a two-minute reading would allow me to get into (I ended up exploring alternate realities through the lens of The Games of Nonchalance, the alternate-reality game I used to work on in 2009, when I lived in San Francisco) so I decided to instead pivot and plunge into another related topic: how the alt-right has turned intellectualism into something to be scathingly hated, and how social media has been the perfect mechanism through which to manifest this hatred.

Understanding the ways in which fine art, higher education, and intellectualism are demonized is incredibly important, though terrifying. At worst, understanding this means owning up to the hard truth that art and literature may be unable to have any real impact in the grand scheme of things, simply because those whose minds we seek to change may actually have been taught to view art and culture as an enemy to be avoided at all costs. We see this behavior veering its ugly head when Trump says things like, “I love the poorly educated! We’re the smartest people!” to cheering crowds.

In this way, history has been repeating itself since the dawn of time. As intellectuals, philosophers, artists and thinkers, our weapons are our words, ideas, and pictures, but unfortunately, these often have little to no impact when held up against hate, religion, and other dogmatic ways of thinking and being.

A few apt quotes:

The philosopher has never killed any priests, whereas the priest has killed a great many philosophers.
― Denis Diderot, 1774

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause; and I was not without hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy of the present age would have put an effectual stop to contentions of this kind.

― George Washington, 1792

We thought the internet would help us get out of this cycle by enabling more people around the world to have access to education, but in fact, it’s making it much worse. By enabling small pockets of misinformed people to influence larger audiences who lack critical thinking skills, a snowball effect has been created, where any morsel of information can be taken out of context and spun into a gigantic whirl of misinformation. One of the more recent examples of the alt-right using the internet to demonize art and intellectualism is the #SpiritCooking debacle, a ridiculous incident in which John Podesta’s leaked emails exposed the possibility that he had attended a “Spirit Cooking”-themed dinner at performance artist Marina Abramovic’s house. Upon further research, these manic Reddit detectives unearthed the fact that Spirit Cooking is a 1997 video artwork in which Abramovic paints spooky recipes on a white wall with pig’s blood. With this tantalizing morsel, the alt-right immediately did what they do best, and used this knowledge to fuel an internet shit storm all built upon accusations that Podesta, the Clintons, the Obamas, and most other democrats were in cahoots with Satan (a totally logical and rational mental leap, eh?). This was just four days before the election.

screen-shot-2016-12-18-at-8-30-10-pmFast forward to last week, when yet another insane conspiracy theory involving Democrats’ connection to satanism began to gain traction on alt-right Reddit and Twitter: enter #PizzaGate. There’s no way I can eloquently explain the still-unfolding debacle, so I’ll simply link you to the NYTimes’ attempt to explain the conspiracy theory.

Why bring all this up? In a nut shell: filter bubbles have created self-perpetuating pockets of people who exponentially egg each other on to create vast alternate realities in which misinformation rules all. And what’s hard for me to understand is who these people actually are. So, this brings me back to Art After Trump, and my quest to present all of my post-election confusion, rage, and sadness in a two-minute, bite-sized morsel. My idea: investigate the alt-right and try to understand them as people. To do this, I decided to go deep into the #PizzaGate hashtag and try to understand and empathize with the conversation. I spent several hours reading thousands of #PizzaGate tweets, clicking into the Twitter profiles of some of the most active #PizzaGate conspirators, and trying to get to a place where I understood what was going on, and what we might be able to do about it.

TL;DR I trolled the #PizzaGate trolls, took notes, and compiled their tweets into a poem.

After attempting to humanize alt-right Twitter users by reading their social media posts, most-circulated articles, conversations, and even trying to stalk their personal Facebook profiles, I can’t truly say that I understand the alt-right any better. I tried, and the thing that really stood out to me was how desperate these people seemed to ridicule, hate, and shit on liberals. If anything, this experience made me more mad, sad, and more confused about how there could be so many people out there who see no benefit in hearing out those whose opinions differ from their own.

Regardless of this sad experience, I did piece together the following poem, which is mostly pulled verbatim from #PizzaGate tweets and related conversations I found during my research. Some words have been altered to achieve my creative vision (i.e. to rhyme). It’s an aggravating read, and would be funny only if it wasn’t so scary. But the truth is scary: real people are using the internet to write inflammatory, made-up, hate-fueled messages all day, every day, and this is a huge part of why Trump was elected.


#PizzaGate Conspiracy Theory Poem

Corruption doesn't mean you need
Everything that comes into your feed.
Do you even have a link to source?
Stand strong my friend, they are in full force.
We reject the attacks on the election,
And work toward stopping child molestation.
We try time & time & time again — 
But truly, it’s a troll infestation.
Degrade and destroy, degrade and destroy,
YOU’RE MISINFORMED, it’s all a ploy. 
Add this to the pile of filth I guess,
And pray, pray, pray against spirits of darkness.
I’m committed to checking my facts,
And to giving hat tips to user @robpaxt.
I just googled and screenshotted
To elaborate on that statement,
Made regardless of my political affiliation.
Teach me how you be so eloquent with your wit —
Did you get banned from the subreddit?
Memes! Pope Francis.
MEMES! Served fresh all day!
1,000 pages of leaked emails say,
Crooked Hillary will lead us astray.
Even before publishing Anthony's weiner chat
We saw the Kool-Aid Man wearing a #MAGA hat.
He said, go away you reality-denying flat-earther,
You didn't even watch the video.
U think the soul comes later,
Although you never knew
That life could be so much better.
The mind is not a vessel to be filled, 
But a fire to be kindled.
Liberals will never realize
Pedophilia can’t be normalized.
Trump’s just like a really cool grandpa,
Come to liberate us from the bourgeois.
In other news: a black man elected to be
The most powerful man on Earth, twice,
Claims there are still legacies of slavery.
That entitled jerk will soon be out of work.
The election wasn’t rigged, your party just flopped.
Let’s make fun of them until they stop.
Don’t tell me to relax.
These are the facts. 

If you’d like to learn more about Art After Trump, know that the full audio from the evening’s performances is streaming this weekend on The Creative Independent.