Life as an Extreme Sport

The Day I Culture Jammed

It all started with a casual comment by my office-mate, Jonathan. He wondered if I knew anything about Monday’s organized “fun,’ and assumed I might because I knew one of the people organizing the event, Raz. I didn’t know, and Jonathan immediately forwarded his copy of the relevant data to me. A few hours later, Raz mailed a list I participate on, asking if anyone was a Lyndon LaRouche fan. A simple question, no loaded statements; then he sat back and waited to see what would happen. Already knowing what was happening, I mailed him and congratulated him on an idea well-conceived, and thought that would be my extend of involvement. Instead, Raz mailed me back and pulled on both my allegiances as a Chiddie and as a Burner; “participate!” he ordered.

And so I did.

For those of you not familiar with Lyndon LaRouche, he is a perennial presidential candidate well known on college campuses for his rather ‘unique’ supporters, who try to sell books titled “Children of Satan III,” are fond of carrying signs accusing Dick Cheney (or whomever they disagree with) of being the antichrist or other charming sentiments, and will often follow you as you walk by, trying to engage you in conversation. If you do disagree, with them, it’s common for the supporters to start yelling that you’re a fascist or nazi. Put succinctly, they’re rather batty and quite annoying.

Raz and company had decided to do something about this.

They all gathered in the Honors lounge, it being primarily an Honors project, and then marched out to set up shop near the LaRouchies. This setting up shop primarily consisted of agreeing with everything the LaRouchies said, handing out flyers that explained various things (including how to protect yourself from the mind control waves of toasters, how obvious it is that Dick Cheney is an amphibian, and offering free goats while supplies lasted), waving signs,… and wearing tin foil hats, inviting other people to make their own hats to protect themselves from the evil, mind-control aspirations of Santa.

You see, it’s all about Santa and his jolly boots of doom.

I joined up around 1, 1:30, and promptly made my tin foil hat, ditched my bag, and started taking pictures. As amusing as it was to take pictures, especially since, by the time I showed up, the LaRouchies had given up arguing and made their own tin foil hats, I felt that I was missing out on the prime point of the event. So I put my camera away, grabbed a sign saying that mind control had kept Gary Coleman out of office and that toasters were controlling your mind, and started marching around, passing out flyers, following people walking to class, and generally getting into the spirit of things.

Wyoming does not exist. Wyoming is a state of mind. Demand accurate mapmaking now!

By 1:45pm, there were enough of us that we were making it difficult to walk through our thick crowd. The executive decision was made to do one more thing that the LaRouchies enjoy doing: marching and singing to a different location. As one, we picked up and marched away, singing March to heaven 2007 vote for Lynda RaLouche, as well as repeating our favourite slogans as loud as possible.

We were very loud.

We made the journey to the HUB and reassembled. We were numbering several dozen at this point, and anyone wanting to get into the HUB had to run a gauntlet of our signs.
Space escalators to Mars now!
Support global air conditioning!
Why are there no “B” batteries?
Dick Cheney eats kittens!
Support the candidate that supports breakfast!

I’m certain we were the bane of existence to the other groups in the HUB; one packed up shortly after we got there, and the other group made sure to complain loudly near us.

We had run out of flyers, but more appeared and we quickly folded, then went back to running after people walking by, insisting that they learn how to stop the insanity. It was around this time that I learned what my most effective chant would be: toasters are mind-control agents of Santa! Only you can prevent mind-control! Unplug your toaster now! I started to follow people, at this point having switched to the sign stating that Cheney ate kittens, asking if they had toasters. Sir, sir, excuse me, sir? Do you have a toaster? Sir! Your toaster is controlling your mind! You must protect yourself Make a tin foil hat, sir! Sir? Sir! It was also around this time that I learned some people had no taste for satire, as I was actually spit on. Spit on! Can you believe that?

Actually, what I couldn’t believe was how many people actually took us seriously.

At 2:30, we rallied for one final group chant and then dispersed as quickly as we had come together. In the span of minutes, the HUB was silent and you would never know anything had happened. I had a good laugh, posted my pictures online, to my friends list in LiveJournal and (as promised) to both a contact at the Honors club and on the UW community on LiveJournal. I assumed this was the last I would hear of it, save with the folks I had actually participated in the project with.

You know what they say about assuming…

Tuesday afternoon, I returned from class early to finish a few things before going home. I found a message from Emily telling me that I had made BoingBoing. “Eh?” I thought; I assumed that somehow my school blog had hit the front page, and I was curious what they had picked up. So I loaded up BoingBoing, and holy crap that’s my face I’m on the front page of BoingBoing as in memeME oh holy crap they linked to my gallery. I laughed, and thought “well, here goes my 15 minutes…”

Coworkers and friends spent the next few hours telling me I was on BoingBoing. It was fun to watch it spread, and to point it out to friends who don’t regularly read it. My main concern was that my server be able to handle the traffic, and I was largely grateful I hadn’t been identified in the picture.

On Wednesday, I was stopped over a dozen times between my office and classroom, as people I didn’t know recognized me from the front page of BoingBoing. They all wanted to stop and tell me how cool the protest was, how much they enjoyed it, and what was it like to be on the front page of a site like BoingBoing. I got to class, and got applause. People stopped me on break to congratulate me on an idea well implemented, and I noticed that I had to start shifting to explain that it wasn’t my idea, and that I was just the picture they’d picked. A simple cog in a larger wheel.

I left school and assumed it was done. What have we already learned about assumptions?

On Amtrak this evening, over half a dozen people have come up and said “hey, aren’t you the tin foil girl?”

In the span of two days, I’ve culture jammed, I’ve been on the front page of a popular blog, and I’ve watched how ideas move through our cultural sphere and take on a life of their own. My 15 minutes are ticking down; by the time I get back from Portland it will be well and over, and I will be left with the feeling of accomplishment, the rush of recognition, and the realization what an important function satire has in our society.

And how much fun it can be to run around with a tin foil hat on your head.