The annual “Idiotarod” cart race through the streets of Brooklyn is always full of whimsy and satire. This year it added some political flavor. The theme: “Make America Fun Again.”
On Saturday, January 28, the group that runs the event, Idiot Labs, held its 13th annual race, which started at Brooklyn Bridge Park and took teams through parts of Boerum Hill and Gowanus. Loosely inspired by the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, participants decorate a cart and dress to match the theme while “racing” to three checkpoints, which happen to be bars.
Eighteen teams took part this year, each with a variation on the theme and most of them poking fun at the contentious political climate. They ranged from teams like “Make America Goth Again”—whose cart was a voting booth where anyone could cast their vote for goth icons like Edward Scissorhands and Robert Smith from The Cure; to “Occupy Sesame Street,” which stood firmly against “tickle down” economics; to the ACA or “Affordable Candy Act” team. Sherry Smith, a member of Idiot Labs, explained that the themes of the race tend to reflect pop culture. “And right now, the pop culture conversation is heavily focused on this ridiculous political situation that is begging for satire,” Smith said.
Participants overwhelmingly agreed. Victoria Hagman, 35, of the “ACA” team said, “I feel like people were really looking forward to coming together and doing something creative.” ACA’s costumes consisted of bright candy colored wigs and blow up Gummy Bears strapped to their backs. They chanted “Yes we can-dy!” along the route as they handed out sugary treats to participants and bystanders.
Many of the participants felt the tension between the seriousness of the political climate here at the anxious start of 2017 and being able to just enjoy the day. Jesse Alexander, also 35 and from the ACA team, said he had been approached by a man on the street who was upset that so many people were putting energy into this event. The man told Alexander that they should be “throwing Molotov cocktails and be on the White House steps.” His response was that “people need fun in these times too.”
Another politically charged team was “Aliens Against the Wall.” Made up of mostly immigrants, team members felt the need to make a bit of a statement even if it was light-hearted in nature. One of its organizers, Cristel Jusino Diaz, 30, said that “it didn’t feel right if we didn’t do something that wasn’t related to something that we really care about.” She also noted that some of her teammates left the event early to head to the demonstration at Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in Cadman Plaza, where a New York federal judge was issuing a temporary stay preventing detainees from being deported.
At the checkpoints, teams were required to complete a series of challenges to earn points. They included one station assigned to “Kellyanne Connedway”—obviously a parody of the counselor to the President. Ms. Connedway, who said she holds a Ph.D. in “alternative facts and tongue twisting,” held down participants’ tongues with a depressor while forcing them to say comical phrases.
Another challenge was to get a green card from “Doctor Pepper,” a woman wearing a beard and speaking with an eastern European accent. She demanded participants kiss her knee and then blow up a balloon until it exploded. They were then granted a green card and were able to complete other challenges. When news broke that President Trump’s ban on immigrants would actually include people with green cards, she slipped out of character and pulled her beard down, exclaiming, “What?!”
The final stop of the race was Gowanus Ballroom where awards were given out for various categories and the carts were ceremoniously destroyed. This year a large hydraulic press did the job. Organizers had rigged the device to look like a giant mouth of Donald Trump. A man dressed like an extra from Mad Max stood atop the press and shot-gunned beers to the blaring sounds of Motörhead, Pantera, and other guitar-heavy rock music.
Eventually the banner of Trump’s face came down and the crowd gleefully danced on it. Still, while thousands gathered at airports around the country to protest Trump’s executive order regarding immigration, some revelers again wondered if it was okay to be having fun. Jusino Diaz from Aliens Against the Wall pointed out that you have to also take care of yourself, and that sometimes, “dancing and having drinks with friends is just what you need.”