It’s hard to think of any horror or dark absurdity this endless election season hasn’t already visited upon us. October alone brought a dozen sexual abuse and assault allegations against Donald Trump, persistent questions about Russia’s possible behind-the-scenes role in his campaign, plus a renewed FBI inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails, thanks to a separate investigation into Anthony Weiner allegedly sending photos of his dick to a teen. What haunted house could possibly compete?
[Warning: This article contains many, many spoilers]
So it’s not quite accurate, then, to say that Creative Time’s Doomocracy is just a haunted house, or just about this uniquely terrible moment in American politics. Instead, celebrated Mexican artist and activist Pedro Reyes has created an ambitious immersive experience at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a manic, playful, occasionally overextended tour of the national psyche that begins at the election but sprawls out to touch the grimiest corners of our culture. Reyes keeps a light touch: nothing in Doomocracy is actively scary or particularly upsetting, even, perhaps, when it should be.
One of the most effective set pieces comes earliest in the show: visitors are taken in an unmarked van from a waiting area to where the haunted house is supposed to begin. Audio from InfoWars plays in the van; two hosts complain to each other about Syrian refugees and the “pussification of America.” On the way, the driver is pulled over by uniformed officers — it’s intentionally unclear whether they’re police or military — who accuse the guests of trespassing, jostle them out of the van, and line them up against a wall.
With flashlights shining in their faces and their hands forced onto their heads, guests are loudly interrogated with a series of random, disorienting questions: “You know any terrorists? Just answer the question! Nobody try to be a hero!”
It ends abruptly, and suddenly you’re discharged into an eerily quiet pea-green room dotted with flickering lights and voting booths. A sugary-sweet elderly lady clutching a tiny dog does her best to make sure you never pull a lever.
“I can’t find your name here,” she tells one visitor, running a quill pen across a page of gibberish. She lowers her voice, conspiratorially. “I would be surprised if Satan himself removed you from this list.”
The polls close abruptly, and nobody gets to vote. From there, Doomocracy opens outward into a series of meticulously designed, often beautiful tableaus that touch on everything from America’s gun glut to our enthusiastic, ongoing destruction of the environment. Big Sugar is another successful target, weirder and more darkly funny than it sounds, featuring a child’s mock funeral and a tiny coffin designed to look like a sprinkled doughnut.
Another particularly excellent room looks like a visit to a national park, until you realize the park ranger is wearing a uniform from someplace called NaturCorp and is making an enthusiastic case for privatizing the parks, something that has actually been proposed by the GOP.
“Who isn’t willing to sacrifice a little something for a whole lot of profit?” the NaturCorp ranger beams, as he directs everyone to put on a pair of VR goggles. A tour of a perfectly lovely virtual forest is complete with what feels like real leaves and pinecones crunching underfoot; it’s only when you take off the goggles that you discover the reality has grown far, far darker, more trash-strewn, and a little demonic.
Not every room works equally well. A visit to a boutique called Breathe, which sells “pure Himalayan air” drags, as does a classroom scene that unsurprisingly works in references to both corporatized education and school shootings. Some rooms are more immersive and interactive than others: a visit to a doctor’s office starts with questions about “how often you cry” and ends, of course, with guests walking out with their pockets stuffed with needless pills and prescriptions. (It’s best to strike up a conversation with the anxious, pale woman in the waiting room, who’ll tell you a hard-luck story about problems with her prescription, hinting poignantly at painkiller addiction without being too obvious.) A tableau that’s supposed to be about abortion and slut-shaming, personified by a set of pious Christian teens mock-burning an unwed mother at the stake during a high school talent show, is as disjointed and overstuffed as it sounds.
It’s a little surprising that an artist from Mexico working in the U.S. doesn’t have more to say about border politics or Trump’s proposal to build a big, beautiful wall; Doomocracy touches on that one only obliquely. But Reyes’ goal isn’t to be frightening or particularly grim. His past works have tended to be leavened with elements of hope, like melting down guns to be turned into shovels in Culiacán, a city with a particularly deadly epidemic of gun violence. But in a season like this, where hope is a little harder to come by, Doomcracy’s subtle, wry, and occasionally twisted humor is a refreshing substitute.
Tickets to Doomocracy are completely sold out; sign up for a waiting list here.