Cheer Up Charlie
Intentionally wearing a shirt in solidarity with the movement to free political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, I interact with the "American soldiers" (actually German actors) at the reconstructed allied checkpoint between East and West Berlin--posing in a few pre-determined, patriotic photographs.
I then walk to the edge of the checkpoint, looking up at the elevated portrait of a young male in uniform, symbolizing the West/USA and begin singing aloud to him "Cheer Up Charlie", from the original Willy Wonka film.
The tone of the song as it exists in the film is somber, reflecting a working class mother's hope that her disillusioned son learns to keep his head up and continues to follow his dreams, despite life's economic and biological setbacks. It is a song about perseverance, about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, about the underdog becoming a leader; it is a tune promoting individual tenacity and cunning, with the promised outcome of upward social mobility so characteristic of the "American Dream".
In cheekily directing the song to this theatrical memorialization of the foreign occupation, I hope to create a dissonance that problematizes the historic character of U.S. interventions--outwardly altruistic, but ultimately motivated by perceived gains.
Joined by friends and fellow performers, the song was repeated a few times--the street was full of tourists and passing locals--and the "commander" of the German actors politely came up and reminded us that the man in the large photograph was not Charlie--in fact, there was no "Charlie".
Link to a short excerpt of the performance