The scandal is brewing in Hunter Biden’s new art gallery in Manhattan, where a collaboration with prolific street artist KAWS is interpreted as pro-cop propaganda. At least, that’s what an assortment of angry social media posts would have us believe.
In “Defend Our Future” large KAWS brand vinyl figure sculptures, painted black with a bold blue stripe running from head to toe, take care of the smaller pure white KAWS figures. Metaphorically, these “Blue Lives Matter” characters are white saviors.
But there is a problem with outrage: this work of art does not exist. Neither does the gallery (although Hunter Biden painted), nor any of the other scandals associated with the gallery, called Playground. Among these scandals: Pete Buttigeig was reportedly seen at a private opening having an affair with a woman, and KAWS ‘work could have been fabricated in a private prison.
These fictitious developments, documented on Instagram accounts @maincharactersandevents, @playgroundcanalstreet, and @victimstrong, are the invention of the artist Brad Troemel, whose flagship project, a Tumblr blog collective called “JOGGING”, peaked in 2016 with a glut of right-wing anti-Obama conspiracy theories.
Back then, Troemel’s work, co-created with artist Edward Marshall Shenk, took the format of Boomer memes, pixelated images with multiple typefaces, and poorly cropped inserts from TV shows like family guy. They were born out of real conspiracy theories that circulated on Reddit and 4Chan, like the revisionist 9/11 documentary Loose Change, or Christian conservative Christine Weick. theory that Monster energy drinks carry the symbol of the beast. Troemel’s Instagrams are a revised iteration of this work, updated for today’s internet culture.
His photoshoped posts and staged Instagram stories mostly take the form of blog headlines and social media screenshots, although a compelling clip from a fictional podcast, “The Straight Talk Express,” invited with Brace Belden from the TrueAnon Podcast, makes the story more believable. Troemel tries to comment on disinformation from the internet, social media and media ecosystems. Her fictional scandal features internet personalities who are just celebrities to those who are extremely online, like Caroline Calloway, who in this world has 3D printed a pirate version of the KAWS toy, dildoed and shared exclusive videos with his only fans. Every action has a reaction, every post builds on the last, and everything in @maincharactersandevents points to Hunter Biden.
“Everyone is involved,” Brian Friedberg, senior researcher at Technology and social change project at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy, Motherboard said. Friedberg, who has followed Troemel’s work for years, told me how Calloway became such an important part of the story. But when I tried to confirm whether or not these underage celebrities were colluding with Troemel, I just stumbled into dead ends. In the spirit of the art world gossip, which feeds the content of @maincharactersandevents, Friedberg was relaying second-hand information overheard by a friend. I tried contacting Troemel for more details, but he did not respond to my messages.
“I feel like he portrayed an artistic representation of descending from a rabbit hole,” Friedberg said, and one way to interact with Troemel’s project is to dive into the hole yourself. rabbit. To unravel the mysteries of @maincharactersandevents, I read every post, perused the comments, visited tagged profiles, and Googled the gossip to see if any reputable posts actually reported them. None of this was real.
The Georges Bergès gallery, which represents Biden, did not respond to a request for comment.
Knowing about Troemel’s work, I had previously suspected that the Instagram account was a hoax, but others can easily navigate it as the project hops the shark on numerous occasions. If Pete Buttegeig Went Straight On The Cover Of Time did not report it, then the Buttegeig Private Jail for the canceled Spectrum Correctional Center should have done so. If you go to the @maincharactersandevents instagram account and read the posts in chronological order, the story is linear and easy to follow.
But Troemel understands Instagram and knows that when posts appear in a feed organically, taken out of the context of the entire story, they are easily mistaken for reality. When the first images of “Defend Our Future” hit the web, the comments were a mixture of outrage and admiration. Loyal fans played the game (“Need to have a mini statue for my kaws [sic] coat. #backtheblue #copwife “), while unsuspecting users, perhaps led to the thread via a friend’s Instagram story, expressed disappointment or outrage (” we live in a hellish landscape !! “and” how is that real. “) If only they had dived into the rabbit hole before commenting.
Even bogus memes can be harmful: they are reproduced, remixed, and re-shared until their origins become uncertain and become benchmarks for future discussions. Fake memes especially thrive on social media, where people can work together to explore the depths of a rabbit hole. Thanks to this community, they begin to believe in their own mythology, even to the point of alienating their friends and family.
But unlike the dark world of 8Chan, @maincharactersandevents’ narrative is relatively shallow and too focused on the island art world. Even as Troemel’s account network continues to grow, all you need to do is follow a link or two to find out about Troemel as the author of the memes, and the rabbit hole ends.
If Troemel had taken care to obscure his identity, perhaps he could become the art world’s own Q. Instead, he imagined himself to be a clumsy and particularly prolific music lover.