In 1933, a newly-elected president assured this country in his first inaugural address that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
More than eight decades later, a man aspiring to that same office has crafted a campaign out of little more than a running list of things to be afraid of.
Fear itself has become a major component in this election and it’s coincidental proximity on the calendar to Halloween gave the artist Pedro Reyes the inspiration to craft a haunted house envisioning a terrifying world where those fears could take us. The result is “Doomocracy,” a collaboration with the public art projects-boosting organizations Creative Time that is housed at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and is part immersive artistic political theater and part old-fashioned haunted house.
“What is interesting about a haunted house is that it’s a quintessential masochist experience,” said the Mexican-born artist whose previous works have included Marxist-themed puppet shows. “People are looking to be mistreated, and scared.”
So much political rhetoric and the content and ratings of most cable news channels certainly attests to that.
“I think that any imaginary fears like monsters or Dracula or Frankenstein are nothing compared to the fear and atrocities of contemporary politics,” continued Reyes.
At a party, Thursday night hosted by director Spike Jonze and actor and jewelry designer Waris Ahluwalia, fears about the election were clearly on the mind of attendees even if they were sipping on politicly themed drinks provided by Bombay Sapphire (The ‘Merican Dream cocktail was the clear winner).
“I think that if Trump wins, it’s gonna feel like you’re buried alive and you suddenly wake up and you’re in a coffin,” said Reyes of his biggest current political fear. He also worries that a Trump presidency will only lead us into more war. “I am just fed up of this ideology where the United States is just in such a constant fear of being attacked and where you are attacking all of the rest of the world.”
“My biggest fear is that my rights as a woman will be diminished in some way, especially if Trump gets elected,” said Rachel, a teacher.
“I think a big problem is just us becoming more devalued as a country,” said David, a marketing professional. “We’ve gotten so much worse as a country in almost every aspect, whether its healthcare, education, as Rachel mentioned woman’s rights. We’re so behind in so many countries – France’s healthcare, Norway’s prison system, Canada. Need I say more about that?”
“My biggest fear is that some of the hatred that’s been brought to light in this election will continue to grow,” said Ashley Chavis, an employee of Creative Time. A coworker was worried that he might die. “I’m being serious,” he added.
Many of those fears are reflected in the hour-long haunted house experience which will run through Sunday (though, the experience is now completely booked).
Groups of twelve are driven from the comfort of the drink-slinging waiting area to the actual installation. On the way, the white passenger van plays snippets from the online radio show of Alex Jones, a conservative conspiracy theorist who makes Rush Limbaugh seem like a reasoned intellectual. During my ride Jones was on about how President Obama wanted to overrun America with radical Muslims.
Once you reach the location, actors dressed as riot cops force you out of the van. It’s a bit of a laugh, at first. It’s hard not to take one of the faux-cops directions to “get up against the wall, pretty boy” as more of a compliment than a threat. But the mood turns more serious as participants are guided through a series of immersive rooms in which good suburban moms accidentally shoot each other with pastel-colored guns, nature only exists as a virtual reality, perky cheerleaders sing of the evils of women who would even think of terminating a pregnancy to the tune of a song from Grease, and participants are hurried around a boardroom and asked to make a business decision that will either benefit their fictitious workers or their own retirement. Surprisingly, most of the group I toured with took the self-interest option. I held out for the good of so many imaginary families and was forced to work as a berated cater-waiter in the next room.
It all ends with participants being asked to exit through one of three doors labeled with “Trump,” “Clinton” and “Third Party.” Spoiler alert: there may be three doors, but there are only two rooms behind them.
Though, despite all of this fear, attendees at the gathering still held out some hope.
“There’s been a lot of hate and fear that’s been kicked up,” said Ahluwalia. “In a sense, it’s good, because if it’s hidden then you don’t know it’s there. You pretend, ‘Oh, everything is great.'”
“Now our task is to deal with what’s been exposed and to counter that fear with love and tolerance and understanding and empathy,” he continued. “It’s not a governmental task. It’s a nation for the people by the people. It’s every individual’s responsibility to take that task on. You don’t have to do in a huge way. You do it with your neighbor. You start small.”
“I hope some of that hatred that’s been brought to light is addressed,” echoed Chavis. “We can talk about it in an open format.”
“My biggest hope is that whoever wins this election does the best they can and that we get some candidates in the future that can get us back on track to being a really great country in the world, and making the world better,” said Matthew, the marketer.
Reyes’ biggest hope was a bit more blunt.
“I really hope that Hillary wins,” he said. “I truly believe that Trump is the scum of the world.”