The Joke Is On Us

 

By Crissìan Chen

 

In the opening scene of Look Who's Back (2015), a familiar face is supplanted in the middle of Berlin amidst smoke and ember. It's the same familiar face, parted hair and square shaped tuft of facial hair that would make anyone cringe. However, in this narrative, no one takes the man seriously and his demeanor is often mistaken naively as satire. He instantly becomes a sensation and an object of curiosity through the Web; the public is confused because all they see is either a crazed man or some strange new method of acting. His popularity rises with each click or view on YouTube and with each hashtag that references the man. Ironically, this is a slapstick comedy but as it progresses you find yourself sick to the stomach hoping that people would come to their senses and do something!

 

This maybe a contrived satirical novel written by Timur Vermes but we're living in it. The man who now occupies the White Castle was mocked as a joke, a reality T. V. star and a wannabe, too vulgar and kitschy to be taken seriously. The man peddled himself to the media like a door-to-door salesman and we opened the door to let him in each time, allowed him to give us his sales pitch and merely gave him a light shoo. The knocks kept coming and each time we got annoyed but each time we answered, ultimately inviting this depraved behavior to our dinner tables where our youth could see this in full view; adults engaging in schoolyard banter. What we all should have done was slammed the door on his face but instead we all have become an audience to this provocateur's spectacle. 

 

Like in the movie, we are no different than a public that enables a specter that haunts history as the object of the most heinous crimes against humanity we've seen in the West. The public is mesmerized, whether they find him an object of disgust or amusement. He offers confusing messages that make him seem aligned with certain progressive ideals. Who would have thought that the man who screamed Lügen Presse was someone who empathizes with the Green Party? Certainly couldn't the public see that the monstrous image of a man on their T. V. screens was truly the real thing rather than a comedian or method actor? Strangely, it took a leaked video footage of him killing a dog to finally get the man off air and without him it seems the ratings plunge. Not soon after does he resurface with his sequel to the autobiographical book Mein Kampf, getting his foot in the doorway once again and setting himself for a return to politics.

 

He is an oxymoron in this movie as he is displaced in our reality of a modern world where liberal values and tolerance are commonly practiced. For every person who helps him, he offers titles and personal gratitude in a boastful way indicating prestige by the mere act of encountering him. Yet each person who helps him treats him as something benign because it would simply be absurd that something böse could creep its meandering roots into our reality. What precariously follows him are an assortment of individuals with their own agendas, a mediocre filmmaker and media producers, all intending to exploit his every move. Unbeknownst to them, they themselves are the chess pieces. Projects, hype, ratings and advertisement money enables this maleficent figure to gain a platform for all to see. 

 

On television, a politically incorrect host in black face introduces our protagonist in front of a live audience. He begins with nothing but silence. The producer wonders if it's a blackout but in truth this is same modus operandi we've seen in black and white films. It starts innocently as he bemuses the audience with amazement about how thin television has become. His snarky reply is that there are only cooking shows to watch. Thereafter it becomes an opening line of how things in Germany aren't made in Germany anymore yet there still exists unemployment; a political point that has become all too familiar to us now. Everyone is attentive and ratings jump high into record numbers. “Is he an actor or comedian?” the Internet asks, but the most striking response is “he has a point though.” 

 

When he blatantly explains he uses a problematic metaphor about how the beauty of a German Shepherd would be defiled if it mated with a Dachshund, to which a breeder replies that it would be lustig. He further says that if this mixed breed were to mate with another mix breed it would not resemble the Shepherd anymore and we would have lost the characteristics of its beauty. The response is a simple “okay,” short and simple but tellingly complicit to any idea that might seem analogous. Is it comical to compare dogs to us? Was it funny to allow such notions to go past unquestioned? 

 

Upon every appearance the protagonist makes on a talk show, he sticks to the message. For every question intended to trip him, he digs deeper into the trenches and boasts gleefully of his resoluteness. Nothing seems to hinder his ideas and each trap is another point taken. The ratings follow. We are trapped in a paradox; if you disagree you follow him, if you ignore him you allow others to speak up for him. What a treacherous labyrinth of political deception the narrative for this movie has given us. It is a fictitious and normally unpalatable and alarming situation. However, before we realize it, his message has become the normal, the public imbibes to his every word as if it were a cup of morning coffee.

 

“I could shoot a man on 5th avenue and I wouldn't lose voters,” says a similar yet actual current American political figure. Like in the movie, we are finding that everyday is a media feast and every day the public is gaslit. The country is heaved into a tailspin daily in a concerted chaotic choreographed performance that faintly approximates a dog chasing its own tails. A cloud of complacency from the choir echoes nothing but silence and acknowledgement. Each tweet and outrageous statement is procured with an explanation of the constant flow of ad-hoceries that blitz the Internet and airways. The assault to our senses dominates each headline so much so that it is normalized. Comedians, reporters, and celebrities alike mock his every move but we are stuck in a never-ending hamster wheel sprint. The comedy is not where the treachery comes from this time. No, this time we have found ourselves to be the butt of the joke.

Crissìan Chen is an artist currently in transit, studying in Berlin temporarily. He graduated from MICA in 2014 with an MFA in Photographic and Electronic Media. He has been involved with the movement for the right to equal marriage and is a supporter of Black Lives Matter. His work revolves around the struggles within Queer movements and is especially interested in the study of performance through the perspective of Queer Theory.
 
The images included in this article are digital works made by Crissìan Chen in 2017. Wortigel - represents the words most associated with the President based on a survery of the general public conducted by Quinnipiac poll, May 2017.
 
Read more about the artist at crissianchen.com and contact him at crissianchen@gmail.com