Do you remember Amalia Ulman?
She became known almost five years ago for creating one of the most poignant art projects of our time.
“The digital artist spent four months curating an Instagram profile that documented the life of a wannabe it-girl trying to make it in LA. First, she was a young girl in virginal pastel-hues who loved brunch and cute bunny rabbits. Then, a sugar baby posing with a gun and fanning fat wads of cash. Finally, she found redemption and became a clean-eating wellness goddess. At the point when almost 90,000 followers were invested in Ulman’s life, she announced that it had all been a hoax. The performance piece was titled ‘Excellences & Perfections.’”
This week, Ulman released a book detailing the how and why of the project. In her own words, “I manipulate my own online presence in order to show how easy it is to manipulate an audience.”
Keep in mind, the ‘Excellences & Perfections’ project took place almost five years ago, back before we’d ensconced ourselves so completely in the all-encompassing shroud of social media, before even the advent of the term ‘fake news.’ If it was easy then, it seems obvious it would be much more so now.
Here, the conversation becomes a sort of ‘part two’ of last week’s This Week in the Narrative, which discussed the type of fictitious characters that now dominate the political landscape — ‘Mayor Pete,’ ‘The Donald,’ ‘Scranton Joe,’ and so on.
Now, and historically, many politicians seek to influence the narrative around themselves or their campaigns using partial-truths and outright falsehoods. That is, many try to create a character to ‘manipulate an audience.’
What Ulman shows us is just how easy this can be in an age of social media.
Thus we are left, online and in politics, with a push and pull between the public’s unprecedented access to information, and their subservience to social media, their existence as “an audience hungry for their expectations to be reaffirmed.”
If nothing else, observing this tug of war can make unpalatable politicians more interesting to watch.
For example: This week, the ‘Mayor Pete’ character was under siege when the brother-in-law of Mayor Pete Buttigieg proclaimed on national television that the narrative around Buttigieg’s husband had been manipulated for political gain — specifically, around his alleged ‘shunning’ by the family when he came out as gay, as well as his “rags to riches” story.
Combined with the obvious manipulation of an Ivy League consultant like Pete Buttigieg pretending to be ‘Mayor Pete,’ an ordinary guy from small-town Indiana, and one might begin to wonder what other parts of the narrative are simply an invention of this consultant.
Of course, Ulman has shown us that you do not need to be an alumni of Harvard, Oxford, and the most powerful consulting firm on earth, as Pete Buttigieg is, to create a successful character. In fact, you don’t even have to be an artist …
The character Ulman created in ‘Excellences & Perfections,’ which launched her success as an artist, has been described as “a tragically exaggerated caricature of the brainwashed narcissist.”
Does this sound like anyone else we know?
It’s unclear if the current President of the United States is a high-level art connoisseur. Seems doubtful. But it appears he understands all too well the art form revealed and described by Amalia Ulman.