We Spoke To The Artist Behind The Darth Vader Viral Election Sign

Photo from Flickr/aloha75

Editor of The Vocal

Approx 11 minute reading time

“Together we can rule the galaxy”

Finally, a candidate I can get behind” came the Reddit post. It didn’t take long for the Star Wars election sign to go viral. First spotted in Penetanguishene in Ontario, Canada, the sign quickly captured the hearts and minds of Star Wars fans, disillusioned voters and people who haven’t yet heard of this Mr Vader candidate.

Darth Vader

Just in time for the upcoming election in Canada and 123 days before “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” zooms into theatres, the whole thing is an interesting look into why these seemingly small acts take off so quickly and what the people or even artists behind the experiments are thinking when the idea first strikes them.

I started seeing the signs all over my timeline. This was not because I am an undercover Canadian, masquerading as a Star Wars election enthusiast. It turns out I already “Internet knew” the artist behind the viral stunt Nic Gorissen. Feeling pretty chuffed at internet friend karma finally paying off, I was intrigued and approached Nic for an interview, and he happily agreed, although he did think it was a bit much for me to fly to Canada. Luckily, thanks to email and the internet, he managed to answer a few questions for me quite rapidly.

It wasn’t long before I realised that, unlike Darth Vader who speaks with laboured difficulty, he had a lot to say on the issues of voting, democracy and people power.

TVCL: How did this all start? Describe the seed of the phenomenon.

I made three signs to start with.  My neighbour saw one on my lawn and his friend asked if he could display one on his.  Over the weekend, people stopped to take pictures at his property and eventually it made it to Reddit.  From there, it just exploded to Huff Post, national radio stations and TV interviews.

TVCL: How many signs are there in total?

There are nine signs in total.  Only two are currently still on display – the other seven have been stolen and do not appear to have been re-deployed.

TVCL: How on earth did you come up with this genius idea?

Facebook is awash with infographics trying to shame non-voters into action. The assumption appears to be that non-voters are lazy. I think we’re disenfranchised and hopeless but I’m not sure about lazy. After getting into an argument about my right to abstain from participating in a political farce, I wanted to ruffle some feathers.

People don’t seem to realise that it’s easy to package something awful in a way that seems safe.  You can take poison and wrap it in glamour and it becomes not only palatable, but desired. So we take a man that is an icon of pure evil, apply a nice font, and arrange it in a familiar way and it becomes respectable; normal. I want people to see that glamour hides the truth. But even worse than that, once people get a taste for glamour, they don’t want the truth any more – they want the sugary substitute.  People have a taste for drama rather than truth.  Truth is unfamiliar and painful – it requires humility and deep self-honesty. Glamour, on the other hand, asks for nothing up-front, promises everything, and when it fails to deliver we’re left looking for the next sugary showcase to keep our minds off the loss and betrayal we just experienced.  So not only is it hurting us, but when someone comes along to help us and speaks the truth, we say “fuck off away – what you’re saying is painful and we don’t want that.”

People are willingly choosing something under the guise of change, but they already know nothing will change.  The system doesn’t want to change and it won’t elevate people to positions where making changes are possible. So no matter who you vote for, you always end up with a politician in the position. You end up with someone who chose politics as their career, not someone who cares about people or justice or the spiritual well-being of humanity.  You end up with someone who is a professional popularity contest winner. The only person who could possibly hold the position with any modicum of integrity is someone who is absolutely terrified by the responsibility and absolutely doesn’t want the position.  Anyone who would want the position should be instantly disqualified because they obviously don’t take it seriously enough or, if they believe change is possible from within the system, they’re too naive to be responsible or effective anyway.

Voting for one Darth Vader or another, you still end up with Darth Vader. You always end up with someone who wants power over others because the people who don’t want power over others don’t run for office.

TVCL: Why do you think it went viral?

I think it went viral because people like Star Wars and the new movie has them hyped.  I wish it was deeper than that, but I doubt it. Hopefully something registers with them on a subconscious level – that such a character being “in control” is a strikingly real comparison to the current state of this and many other countries. I don’t get the impression that most people really understand that it was an art piece but, I guess that’s the great thing about art – it works on whatever level the viewer is at.

TVCL: Are you Banksy?


TVCL: What would happen if Darth Vader actually did run for President or leader, or whatever the elections are in Canada?

The same thing that happens with most elections – he’d get a shot based on some rhetoric about the Rebel Alliance being a terrorist organisation, maybe hold on for two terms, then the Rebel Alliance would hold office for a term or two based on evidence that Darth’s military spending is out of control, citing the exorbitant cost of the Death Star. Ad infinitum.

TVCL: Can you explain the election situation in Canada? I really have no idea about it at all. Are you voting for ministers in this election?

Each “riding” votes for a Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons and represent that riding.  The party that wins the most seats in the House of Commons is the “winner” and the leader of that party becomes the Prime Minister.  So we are effectively voting for both our local riding and the Prime Minister.

TVCL: Do you know much about Australia’s political situation? If you had to compare Australia to Canada, how do we come up?

I don’t know much about what’s going on in Australia but Tony Abbott seems like a bit of a knob.  I suspect you have a similar problem as Canada and America which is that there does not appear to be enough well-educated and compassionate human beings to offset the negative effect of the selfish and opportunistic. Democracies, republics, and constitutional monarchies still suffer from the ignorance of the masses who simply aren’t aware of the damage that they cause and aren’t aware that there is a better way.  Your refugee situation is an ongoing humanitarian crisis which absolutely serves no purpose and could be solved within an hour if your government wasn’t completely insane.  It’s an obvious sign that something is very broken.

People are blinded by the illusion of having a voice. When we raise that voice and it’s not heard then we’re forced to realise that we’ve given away our power. If we don’t come to that realisation, it’s just because it’s too painful to admit. And if we do come to that realisation the options are to violently overthrow the system that is causing suffering “out there” or to change ourselves “in here” such that we accept the limitations of the system, ourselves, and of our fellow humans. The system has no real authority over us, but it’s terrifying to challenge the illusion of that authority because we are conditioned to keep ourselves safe. But safety (or the illusion of safety) is not the entire source of happiness or freedom.  Even if it is a component of happiness, why should we choose safe misery over dangerous happiness? We are conditioned in such a pernicious manner that the unravelling of that conditioning often precipitates a full-blown psychological catastrophe.  And we’re conditioned to avoid that too!  So we’re all trying to stay safe and maintain a stranglehold on whatever level of control we seem to have acquired.

If you see Tony Abbott as a scared child who is acting irrationally, you maybe don’t trust him to continue making decisions for you, but you’re closer to understanding and closer to forgiving him for being a scared irrational child.  It’d be nice if everyone could be that empathetic but at this point I’d settle for people just being aware that they’re giving irrational children nuclear weapons to play with, and we’re expecting them not to make things go boom. We have to take on whatever responsibility is ours and leave the rest up to the universe but the first step is to determine what our responsibility is – to find out what we’re choosing consciously and subconsciously.  If we keep getting the same result, are we going to keep asking the same questions or are we going to become aware of the futility of those old questions and ask new ones?

I don’t think people should stop voting but what a revolution if people did – everyone would be able to say “I didn’t vote for you, and your value system does not reflect my own and thus I am not subject to your rule.”

TVCL: What’s next for Darth Vader and the Darth Club?

I think I’ve made the statement that I wanted to make. Or at least, I’ve made the statement to the best of my ability. I’m getting thousands of requests for signs but I don’t have any desire to make more.  I can’t sell them as it would be a copyright issue (so if anyone starts making/buying/selling them, it has nothing to do with me!)  Fact is, even if I made a hundred more, they would likely get stolen and it would absolutely not be worth my time or money.  

The township has cautioned me that if they receive any complaints that they would have to take the signs down which, although I appreciate their situation, is a bit of a legal grey area. Firstly, most of them have already been removed.  But secondly, these are technically not campaign signs – they do not say “vote” or “elect” and obviously Darth Vader is not a human who exists or who is running for office.  As such, there’s no reason why the signs would be governed by the local campaign sign bylaws (although on each sign, I have asked people to respect those bylaws with regards to placement so as not to interfere with legitimate campaigns.)  I think the campaign has run its course.  I’ll continue to pursue other avenues for my art.

It was probably naive to think that people would re-deploy stolen signs, but I had hoped people would adhere to the ‘rules’ of the game. To be optimistic: there are just a lot of collectors who want to keep a sign because it says Darth Vader. To be realistic: there are probably some annoyed political supporters who are just destroying the signs.  No way to know for sure!

TVCL: How would you want people to take action? Should they steal the signs and put them up at election places? Can you describe the Utopian ideals of the Darth Elections?

I don’t want to endorse a non-voting ideal even though that is my own personal choice.  I want people to seriously think about what they’re doing when they vote for someone and consider if it’s likely that the person will come good on their promises or be responsible when they don’t. I want people to understand that politics is not the same as governance.  We need people to take care of public property and services – we need governance.  But politics is a separate beast that continues the tradition of high school popularity contests – it has nothing to do with managing the finances of a population or seeing to their safety and wellbeing.

I am encouraging people to re-deploy stolen signs but since most of the stolen signs have simply disappeared, it’s not likely that anyone will get a chance. It’s actually illegal to place campaign signs at polling stations, so don’t do that!

If I’m pressed to answer what the ideal might be, I have to admit that the world already appears to be an ideal place for maximum karmic payoff.  If the world did not allow for the myriad of suffering that it does, it would not be a suitable place to experience the outcome of our choices or to learn from them.  So if we’re in an ideal world already, my complaining about it is just an artefact of human ego and it’s just something I’ll have to learn to deal with.