When you enter the DigBoston newsroom, the first thing that you see—parked on a shelf above some vintage Royal typewriters—is a piece of art depicting former US Congressman and eternal human stain Newt Gingrich soaring through the air, shirtless with his arms spread wide like plane wings. It’s not merely a single flying Gingrich either, it’s hundreds, a ferocious flock of far-right turds born from the mind of filmmaker and artist Rod Webber.
Webber’s known for many DIY creative and reportorial endeavors, starting with his visiting—some might call it trolling—politicians while they’re on the stump, sometimes just to give them flowers, but on occasion to get up on stage and entertain. He also sometimes dresses like a clown. If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, you may be thinking of perennial political icon Vermin Supreme, who at this point I should not have to explain to people. As observers may have guessed, while they each march with a unique purpose and approach, upon working the protest zone with one another, Rod and Vermin bonded swimmingly. So much so that the former made a documentary, This Is Vermin Supreme, about his friend and associate.
With a rough cut screening this Weds, May 2 at the Norwood Space Center, we asked Webber about his new project.
Is Vermin a celebrity at this juncture?
But of course. Vermin has always been a celebrity. There was never a question. We could quibble about the meaning of “celebrity,” or which timeline we’re talking about within the multiverse, but I see it as this: Vermin’s got more charisma in his little pinky finger than any mainstream celebrity I’ve met, and I’ve met my share. It’s on them if they haven’t caught up yet.
Case in point—the movie opens with Vermin challenging the actors from the Lord of the Rings to an imaginary battle with Narnia. The crowd went wild and knew Vermin immediately—but Sean Astin and Elijah Wood were bewildered. About an hour later, Astin called over to us, conceding that he had just done a crash-course in Vermin Supreme. The two of them spent the next six minutes talking about anarchist philosophy—Peter Kropotkin and mutual aid, and all that good stuff. By the end of the encounter, Vermin had Sean reading lines for his 2020 campaign commercial.
So, yes—it’s an Andy Warhol world, and Vermin has grafted himself into the public psyche as the world’s greatest boot-headed dictator, even if you don’t know it yet.
What is the difference in reaction to Vermin out there in the real world, or at least the political world, to what it is online?
Vermin is like a comic book superhero—so that all depends on whether you’re talking about the mild-mannered pot-smoking boot-free political philosopher who literally has a secret hideaway in the woods called “the compound,” or … whether you’re referring to the larger-than-life persona who darts in and out of campaign events sporting a galosh on the dome, a red cape and a stuffed pony under his arm. This also depends on which cult of Vermin online you’re talking about—there’s the memes and the goofy cub-reporter articles about him, but he’s got the Rainbow [Gathering] fans, and occupier fans, antifa fans, and the libertarian fans … and some of those groups mixing together outside of Verminism could be like fire and ice. That said—somehow it works, because he is a unifier, and they all rally around him regardless of whether any of it makes any sense whatsoever.
More recently, he’s been hitting the comic cons, for which he’s had to devise a policy for the simple act of getting around. At times, he is so mobbed by people wanting selfies that we have to ask folks to let us take 10 steps before the next selfie with Vermin is taken. I guess the main difference between people online and IRL is like anything—online is full of trolls, but in real life, the trolls can’t survive in the magical aura of the boot. He has certainly got some real life enemies—but Superman can’t be Superman without Lex Luthor, and Batman couldn’t be Batman without his villains.
The politicians have got mixed reactions and strategies for dealing with either of us. Vermin can freak them out when he gets on the bullhorn and starts shouting, “Come out with your pants down and hands up.” And he loves to hit ‘em up about ponies, mandatory dentistry, time-travel and zombie awareness—which Ted Cruz even included in one of his speeches (which, unlike Hillary Clinton, he at least attributed it to Vermin.)
One of my favorite in-real-life reactions came from my kill ’em with kindness approach. On the last day of the New Hampshire primaries, we doggedly chased after Chris Christie, Vermin doing his thing, while I kept trying to get Christie a flower. After several misses, we finally beat him to [a restaurant] where he was speechifying to the meat lovers inside. Knowing Christie is a Bruce Springsteen fan, I memorized “Born to Run” and brought my guitar along. With Vermin singing the chorus through his bullhorn, Christie, we are told was afraid to come off of his tour bus. We were just having fun, but I guess that “pursuit of happiness” isn’t a thing in Christie’s world. Eventually, the cops said protesting had to take place on the street—but I assured them I was singing as a supporter; after all, Jeb Bush and John Kasich had me up to sing a bunch of times. Why not Chris? I would think he’d have some fun with it, but eventually they got the owner to ask me to leave.
So, there’s a complicated reaction by the politicians, but being a man of the people, the real people in real life have got nothing but love for Vermin.
Is Vermin Supreme a disruptor, as they say in the startup world?
I’ve heard plenty of politicians claim “the world needs disrupters.” I’d agree with that, despite the intent of the politicians.
But yes—Vermin is a physical shock to the system. His whole appearance is designed to make people feel there was a rift in the time-space continuum, and this guy just stepped in from another dimension—which again, is exactly what Sean Astin said. No matter who you are—Bob the comic book nerd to the President of the United States, seeing that boot is an “oh fuck” moment.
Do you or anybody else have some kind of running list of the extremely powerful people he has photobombed, so to speak.
I think it might be easier to come up with a list of people he hasn’t—and that’s including the general population.
As someone who is closer to Vermin than most, deep down how pissed off was he that his whole pony-based economy election strategy has been co-opted by everyone from Stephen Colbert to Hillary Clinton?
Vermin doesn’t approach anything from a place of anger. He truly wants free ponies for all. I’m not saying he hasn’t retained an intellectual property lawyer, but he definitely wants free ponies for all. Also, ponies are currency, as we all know. Make sure you have your pony with you at all times.
I know that you have always rejected the Vermin understudy label; but despite doing your own thing, from the handing out of flowers to your visual art, it may be true that Vermin will need somebody to fill his boot eventually. How many more presidential races do you think he has in him?
There is only one Vermin Supreme. That’s all there ever can be—that’s all there ever will be—and I think Vermin can run for as long as he wants to, unless his body gives out, or he declares a Highlander system to be put in place, at which point I suppose I’d be willing to cut off his head and bolt it to a robot, or whatever he asks.
Of course, the real answer to this question has been answered in depth via Vermin’s novel iPony: Blueprint For a New America, in which Vermin describes a future with Vermin Supreme as the President of the United States. So, you will just have to buy the book.
However, if worse comes to worst, and the book is off for some reason, I assume he will just keep traveling back in time and jumping into his younger self. I really don’t see any problems with this strategy.
This is really an art film. Part longform meme, about a meme, if that makes any sense. Camera angles aren’t uniform, there’s a cornucopia of mixed visual media, etc. How do you describe the project?
In the future, all movies will be movies about memes, full of Dutch angles and a total disregard for the fourth wall and cut at such a frantic pace that it will be unclear to the viewer whether they are watching a film or being snatched up for the rapture.
Vermin and I wanted the film to be fun. I may be biased, but I can’t get enough—so, if forced to review my own film, which you have put me in the position of doing, it’s fun. It’s poignant. It’s a side of politics you’re not going to get by turning on CNN or Fox News. It’s the 2016 election through a kaleidoscope clown-car lens—which is the truth of how it went down. It’s the Trump rallies, it’s the protests, it’s Standing Rock, it’s Vermin and Becky’s 30th anniversary. It is a movie everyone should see, if not for you, but for the sake of your children, and your children’s children. This is how it really went down. This is a movie you can’t live without!
When will it be ready for public consumption? What’s the game plan here?
This is just a rough cut. That said, after the second visit from the FBI in September, my trip to Los Angeles was hastened along. I was there for six months (minus a couple trips back for film festivals and Vermin-related activities). And, while at the American Film Market, I received a number of offers, including offers for [other docs] Flowers For Peace, the War of North Dakota, and one other untitled project featuring Stan Lee.
I was most impressed with Nathan Oliver, who I met at the Market and just released a film starring Malcolm McDowell on Showtime and Redbox. Per his suggestion, we added motion graphics and a song by See This World for the opening credits to get your blood pumping and right into the action. Naturally, we’ve still got more tweaks to make the audio and video looking a little slicker. We’ve been working with Steve Onderick, David T. Grophear, Greyson Welch, and the guys from In League Press to inject more awesomeness for your enjoyment.
While the slickifying takes place, we’ll be pushing the business end. We’ve got interest from a couple companies and will likely be meeting with muckety mucks to cross the bridges of necessary evils to ensure that Vermin is brought to a whole new level in the months to come.
See the uncut version of This Is Vermin Supreme, along with a doc about poetry slams in the ’90s called Wordstruck, during ArtWeek at the Norwood Space Center this Wednesday, May 2. For more info visit norwoodspacecenter.com.
A Queens, NY native who came to New England in 2004 to earn his MA in journalism at Boston University, Chris Faraone is the editor and co-publisher of DigBoston and a co-founder of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. He has published several books including 99 Nights with the 99 Percent, and has written liner notes for hip-hop gods including Cypress Hill, Pete Rock, Nas, and various members of the Wu-Tang Clan.