Michele Bachmann v. Robot
When executing a prank it is important to clearly communicate, something that didn’t happen during my face-off with Bill Clinton. Picking an obscure issue made this difficult, for it required too much explanation and backstory to successfully make my point. I was quite conscious of this problem four years later when my prankster alter ego encountered anti-gay Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann. This time I made sure my message was sharp (though still silly). “NOT ONLY ARE YOU A HOMOPHOBE,” RoboProfessor said as she got off her campaign bus, “YOU ARE A ROBOPHOBE!” I trailed close behind her and spoke through a small silver megaphone so I could be heard over the background noise.
By calling out Bachmann on an issue that was a central part of her public persona, I knew my actions would be understood—even by those who did not agree. And, boy, some folks really disliked what I did. The Bachmann supporters packed inside the Hamburg Inn restaurant booed and shoved me, and after I came out as a gay robot, some started a “Stay in the closet!” chant. “I CANNOT HELP MYSELF. I WAS PROGRAMMED TO DO THIS. I AM GAY,” pleaded RoboProfessor, further infuriating them. When a harried restaurant manager asked me to leave, I immediately agreed. After all, we are polite in Iowa.
Reporters soon came calling, and I got the chance to explain myself. But even without any follow up commentary, the prank’s point was fairly legible because I customized it with Bachmann in mind. “I AM A GAY ROBOT,” RoboProfessor said, “I OPPOSE BACHMANN’S POSITION ON GAYS, WHETHER HUMAN OR ROBOT.” I also knew the phrase “gay robot” would be an irresistible hook that could get reporters to spread the story far and wide.
England’s Daily Mail trumpeted, “Republican Candidate Michelle Bachmann Harangued by ‘Gay Robot’ on the Campaign Trail in Iowa,” and the International Business Times ran the headline “Gay Robot ‘RoboProf’ Crashes Michele Bachmann Rally in Iowa City.” Another tactical choice I made, in terms of publicizing the story, was to document the encounter. A friend followed me with an inexpensive handheld HD camera, and an hour after leaving the campaign stop I edited the material and uploaded it to the video sharing platform YouTube. That encouraged online news sites to embed the eye-popping visuals in their articles, and because the video quality was fairly good MSNBC used a full minute of the footage in its coverage. This playful source material also allowed news outlets to have fun with their reporting. “Many of her views seem to come from outer space,” the MSNBC segment began, “so what would be of little surprise that at a campaign stop in Iowa Michele Bachmann got a visit from a robot. Take a look.”