So vast, sweeping, and complete is the madness of this election cycle, you might wonder if we’d all somehow slipped into an alternate reality — one where up is down, back is forth, and a racist Swiffer WetJet can garner half the vote.
Uncomfortable in our seats, we’ve watched what was once political theater degenerate into an upsetting spectacle, veering ferally between theater of cruelty and theater of the just plain absurd. That fourth wall which once suggested a border between the players and the audience has been torn down as recklessly as other walls may soon be put up. And social media has cast each of us as a lead in this pointless tragicomedy — 219 million characters in search of an author. If most of the seats at the next debate are taken by rhinoceroses, none of us can act surprised.
So how best to navigate the surreal Upside Down of this election, where everything is familiar but nothing makes sense? Of what use are our critical faculties while we’re sinking in quicksand? How can we get our bearings when the intellectual and moral physics that keep everything in place have upturned? My answer, for the time being, is Super Deluxe.
If you waste enough time on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve likely encountered Super Deluxe through the online video network’s massive payload of viral videos. Launched by Turner in 2006, Super Deluxe lasted only a year before it was folded into AdultSwim.com. But in 2015, Super Deluxe was reborn anew, and has been churning out videos to YouTube at a clip of about eight to 10 per week (in addition to healthy output on Twitter, Vine, and Facebook Live).
Super Deluxe videos are a diverse array, ranging from live game shows where contestants are zapped with electricity as punishment for incorrect answers, to various series (like Nathan Fielder’s “David”) and shorts (like Twitter icon Joanne the Scammer’s “Caucasian Living”), plus a reported 25 or so original series currently in the works.
But the SD videos that most regularly catch my eye (and endless replays) come from one source: the modest garage studio in Bethlehem, Pa., belonging to video editor Vic Berger. Through his pitch-perfect blend of surrealism and satire, Berger’s crudely skillful manipulations of footage from the campaign trail have emerged as some of the most salient political commentary you can find online.
Berger, who started out as a musician and graduated from Berklee in 2004, cut his teeth as a video editor by cutting deeply weird Vines of various of his pop culture fascinations — Guy Fieri, the Beach Boys’ Mike Love, and most frequently, Chubby Checker. But once the parade of Republican presidential hopefuls started lining up and rolling past, the pull of the political was too much to resist. He crystallized Jeb Bush’s chronic awkwardness, Ted Cruz’s unshakable creepiness, and Ben Carson’s . . . unique charisma.
An unsettling edit he posted to YouTube of Donald Trump’s triumphant literal descent into his candidacy caught the eyes of Super Deluxe — and for good reason. Trump glides up and down the escalator, as though the universe were second guessing itself; the camera zooms in on his mouth, obsesses over the flicking of his tongue; and the speech itself is mangled anew into a tirade that manages to be more offensive than its source material. It’s both silly and savage — exposing Trump’s absurdity by trumping it. Super Deluxe took him on full-time, and his work now toggles between the fun-houses of politics and pop culture (of special note is the masterful “Is Everything Okay With Paula Deen?”).
“I don’t really like to argue politics with people or even really talk politics with people because I feel like you never really get anywhere,” Berger tells me. “I’m also not very quick on my feet. I always feel defeated. But this is a way of being able to get my view out there.”
Berger’s edits, with their fever dream non sequiturs, mouth noises, and uncomfortable silences, have become something of a crucial enzyme in the post-political-event digestion process. In Berger’s hands, Trump’s recent hair-tousling visit with seeming-BFF Jimmy Fallon is transformed into a psychotic/sycophantic circus, and the raw crazy of the first presidential debate is refined into haunting abstractions.
Berger makes his case by stripping out any semblance of sense, and pulling us through the political looking glass. His now-trademark blasting airhorns have a far longer echo than the average sound bite.
“I’m at the point where I don’t find him funny anymore,” Berger says of Trump, “and I think a lot of people are feeling that way.” And while his work, once made merely to make himself laugh, has now accrued something like an actual audience (and urgency) as the big day creeps closer, he’s not looking to push an agenda so much as to preserve the strangeness of the election as carefully as he can, “so that in five or six years you can look at these things and remember what we went through.”
There’s a cathartic satisfaction that comes with spending an hour or so binge watching Berger videos — they’re funny, yes, but they also validate the feelings of utter confusion that are clouding this election for many of us. But perhaps the most important thing Berger’s bizarre visions can show us is what they’re forced to leave out — the civility, clarity, and common sense that political discourse has let fall to the cutting room floor.