I’m a longtime fan of the kind of gnostic sci-fi glitch that typifies the works of Philip Dick, and has been most popularly embodied in that klieg light falling from the sky in The Truman Show. It‘s those moments of deja vu that signal a change in the matrix, signaling things are not what they seem and functioning as the fulcrum of a complete inversion of reality. It was therefore with some delight last Wednesday that I found my e-mail in-box deluged with links to a news photo of an anti-American rally in Pakistan featuring a large photomontage poster of Osama bin Laden and, over his shoulder, Sesame Street Muppet Bert.
At first, like everyone else, I assumed that this was a masterful media prank by some Photoshop wizard. But then both Reuters and AP wire services issued assurances that the photos were undoctored, and diligent Web surfers found the original Bert & bin image on a second-generation “Bert Is Evil” site — the popular original detailed Bert’s affiliation with Hitler and the KKK — in Edmonton, Alberta. Experiments showed how a Google search for bin Laden turned up many of the images in the poster, including the one with Bert. Improbable as it seems, the Pakistani designer of the poster had either inadvertently included the anal half of the Sesame Street odd couple, or had a serious death wish.
AP tracked down the poster maker, Mostafa Kamal, who proclaimed his ignorance of all things Sesame. Back in the States, the Children‘s Television Workshop issued a strongly worded statement: “Sesame Street has always stood for mutual respect and understanding. We’re outraged that our characters would be used in this unfortunate and distasteful manner. This is not at all humorous. The people responsible for this should be ashamed of themselves. We are exploring all legal options to stop this abuse and any similar abuses in the future.” Meanwhile, a small buzz began to build in chat rooms that the Bert image might actually be some kind of signal to terrorists: When you see the face of Bert, deploy the envelopes of inert white powder!
This is political art at its best, and all the more cutting-edge for the fact that it appears to have been generated unintentionally, thrown up by an unpredicted, unsupervised collision of free information. What simpler way to point up the utter silliness of all this moronic primate chest thumping (and worse), or snap the public‘s minds to the essentially fictional nature of propaganda, including the local variety? Why is communication impossible at the supposed highest levels of our culture when a few proles on the Internet can punch a hole in the fabric of consensus reality with a few keystrokes? And how does Ernie feel about all this?