Now he’s out in public and everyone can see presents a fractured narrative about an unnamed man whose racial identity is continually redrawn and contested by clusters of impassioned narrators. The film is composed of fragments of found video blogs made in the early days of the Obama era, a period many believed would be “post-racial” but instead ushered in a new era of racial discord. Now he’s out in public and everyone can see explores this new landscape, one where mass media are transformed into social media, cascades of disinformation, rumors, and insinuations spread across global electronic networks, truths and falsehoods become nearly impossible to distinguish, and reality is splintered and recast through numerousinterpretations and retellings.
Originally presented as a multi-channel gallery installation in 2012, Now he’s out in public and everyone can see has been expanded and made into a film that will be released in early 2017.
Now he’s out in public and everyone can see is a narrative constructed from numerous video blogs or vlogs downloaded from YouTube from 2009 to 2011 – the early days of social media – to tell a troubling story about race and class in America in the Obama era. Multiple speakers recount and reenact a series of viral media scandals involving four famous African American men, which are woven and blended together into a single narrative. The man in question – who remains unnamed – is both vilified and celebrated for crossing conventional racial lines, and serves as a screen onto which a divided public variously projects fantasies, fears, or lived realities about race, class, and gender in America.
Like a chorus in a Greek tragedy, ordinary people interpret and reflect on the supposed misdeeds of current day kings, Gods, and idols. Scripts, handed down from the mass media, are rehearsed and refracted across racial, class and gender lines, while shared language – variously angry, racist, ignorant, judgmental, philosophical, adversarial, or insightful – cuts across the different scandals. As words and talking points repeat, the interchangeability of the tropes across multiple events reveal the relentless racial turmoil and unrest within American public life.
Linked together by shared phrases and responses to the scandals, or in some cases, conspiracy theories, speakers often appear on the screen clustered together by race or gender. For many of the white vloggers, the access to power the protagonist has gained creates unease and mistrust, and they question the legitimacy of his “true” identity. For clusters of African American vloggers, the man’s blackness, and the threat of violence against him, is produced once he steps “outside his home” into public space, in other words, when he is seen by others. Each group seems to suggest that the scandal in the narrative is in fact blackness – the very fact of blackness in public life.
The film focuses on not just verbal descriptions of an unseen man, but the assertion of public visibility by the vloggers themselves, and the pointed if unintentional ad-hock public portraits they produce from the privacy of their homes. They record themselves as they drink beer, sip wine, and take drags of cigarettes, and perform monologues in front of webcams in bathrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms, in front of American flags and unmade beds, with handmade graphics decorating their make-shift sets.
Viewers are drawn into the production of the narrative, acting as detectives, searching for clues identifying the man in question – recognizing, or not, the popular news item, the scandal and the allegation. The full story is never revealed. It is always partial and without resolution, waiting to be filled in by the viewer herself.
Now he’s out in public and everyone can see is an early document of emboldened populist sentiment that has taken hold of American public life today. It addresses the enabling of populism by social media, and its exasperation by racist fears of changing demographics and resentments about chronically unfair redistribution of wealth, the result of over 25 years of neoliberal policies. While social media promises greater democracy by allowing more people to be seen and heard in public, it has delivered instead disunity and fragmentation of public life. Now he’s out in public and everyone can see explores the fragility and dissembling of contemporary public life, an early warning of America’s now threatened democracy under the Trump presidency.