by Caitlyn Luce Christensen
When I met up with Natty back in the spring to ask him whether he would be interested in doing a talk on literary hoaxsters in December, I knew that we were scheduling something far out but had no idea how much would change in that time—how much what I thought I believed or knew to be true would come into question. What is real and what is fake? How many alternate realities are we experiencing at any given moment? And when the truth comes to the surface—when monsters we assumed were dead emerge and show themselves to be very much alive—how much of that reality can we stand to see? Is it easier to continue to imagine?
In this time when everything ought to be held up to the light, examined and questioned, I have been thinking a great deal about the caricatures that emerged during this political campaign, figures who were hard to believe were real: people like Milo Yiannopoulis, Breitbart’s “dangerous faggot,” who cloaks himself in cis white queerness to spout messages of white supremacy, misogyny, and hate. His identity is, in part, responsible for his draw—a person who wields their peroxide bleached, aggressively outspoken identity to give voice to the hatred of misogynistic individuals and draw them together under the banner of “free speech.” It’s easy to disavow Milo Yiannoupolis, Donald Trump, CNN, even Hillary Clinton as a bunch of phonies—does taking off make up actually reveal a politician as real?—but that does nothing to dismantle the steadfast power of people who will continue to believe in celebrity, in the system, in the loudest speaker in the room.
If anything is more apparent now, it is that whatever individuals choose to believe is a force that can manifest itself in collective reality. Late last night, I indulged some dark curiosities and scrolled through the Twitter accounts of some people on the #Trumptrain—people who continue to believe in the president-elect, even though he has routinely proven that he is not to be trusted. What I found were individuals in not too dissimilar situations as myself. Poor. Lonely. Single. Sad. Dreaming. And I saw that they had been waiting for someone to bring them out of their loneliness and speak to their dreams. Now their dreams had become real.
Which brings me to Natty’s talk and its relevancy: what can we learn from the tricksters who know how to capitalize upon peoples’ dreams? And how can we use what we learn to manifest the good dreams that need more space in this unaccommodating world, and dismantle the rhetoric that only intends to unleash hate and harm?
I imagined making myself creating my own propaganda campaign—a planted Milo Yiannoupoulis, a #MAGAqueer character who would gain a steady online following tweeting caricatures of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, linking to Breitbart articles, spouting, at first, the same messages of anger and hate. She would engage with the isolated, lonely population of Twitter who had been waiting for somebody to come and speak to directly them through the channels leading right into their own living rooms. And when she had their attention, this character would let herself crack. She would dismantle her beliefs and gradually, layer by layer, reveal herself as human. Do you think people would listen? Do you think empathy could infiltrate the political rhetoric this way?
I don’t know whether or not I’ll do it. The project would probably take a long time—maybe even the next four years. And I’ve got a lot more studying to do before I can really get to work. Come and study with me on December 18?