Matt Epler's politically-charged Republican butt plugs have been stopping up the internet for the past few days. This isn't surprising, as butt plugs are fun enough in their own right, but the NYU master's candidate's Grand Ole Party ass corks are more than sex toys, they're 3D sculptures of data visualization that don't just tickle you're booty hole, they actually help you think about politics and the pleasure (and pain) of the electoral process. Each of Matt's plugs represent the approval ratings of a former Republican presidential candidate measured over time.
His poop plungers are so impressive, they were featured this week at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program showcase alongside a bunch of boring shit that we've already forgotten about because they didn't combine anuses and politics. We had a chat with Matt about his work.
"The Romney" Grand Ole Party Butt Plug
VICE: Out of all the ways to physically represent data in a 3D manner, why the butt plug?
Matt: To be honest, this all came about because of a pop-up ad. I got a random pop-up featuring a butt plug (it's not what it sounds like). I had been so obsessed with trying to come up with a project idea for my data class that when I saw it I immediately thought, "Hey, that looks like a line graph." Putting data and butts together, I quickly went to Santorum, and from there the project took care of itself. There's also just so many hilariously bad puns with the anal angle, and I'm a sucker for that.
What determines the girth and size of the butt plugs?
The width of each piece is determined by the percentage of approval among registered Republican voters. The height is time, spanning from December 5, 2011 to April 1, 2012. This data comes from Gallup's site as a downloadable spreadsheet. More specifically, this set focuses on people with income under $90,000 (aka those of us who don't own NASCAR teams).
I see that Rick Santorum's butt plug can't stand up straight? Why is that?
That's partly due to the material used (silicone), but mostly it's because when he started out, his ratings were between 3 and 5 percent. Sure, he got popular later, but as an object, he doesn't have enough support to stand straight.
With Mitt Romney as the clear GOP presidential nominee, what kind pain or pleasure should we expect from his butt plug?
The more popular they are, the harder they are to take.
To what extent does data visualization need a boost of excitement and interactivity?
It could use a lot more imagination. There is, however, a ton of great art being done with data that really stretches the boundaries of the practice. Unfortunately, this isn't considered data representation. I'm thinking of Spencer Finch, Natalie Merbach, and Mark Hansen.
What's needed for the field to really break open?
The numbers people and the creatives need to walk a mile in each other's shoes. I give a lot of credit to Jer Thorpe, my instructor at NYU for making me think about how to approach data visualization with the other four senses, and removing it from a static screen. I think that's really the next step we should be looking at. In the case of this project, not only can you hold it in your hands, but you can get another, more intimate physical experience and I think that's fantastic when you think about how data can affect us.
This project obviously deals with politics, but is there some political agenda going on here?
No, there isn't any view, really. My assignment was to make a data visualization and I found it difficult to stay objective with any data set I chose. I quickly realized that the entire process of data visualization is a series of subjective choices. So I wanted to take an extreme stance in response to "objective" data, make it physical, and have some fun. I suppose it was easy for me to choose the Republicans to poke at because I think they're just completely crazy this year. But I could easily do this for the Democrats as well. People just have to realize that this isn't only about pain, but it can also be used for pleasure!
I know that you're making and selling these yourself, but do you have plans to find investors?
I would be thrilled if someone wanted to produce them. I could even see this as a way for the sex toy market to make some really interesting moves into current events. The possibilities are endless.
What's the feedback been so far from customers?
The first question I get is "have you done user testing?" The answer is no. But a few have placed orders and I'm looking forward to their feedback. More generally, I get a real kick out of people slowly figuring out for themselves what they are when they first see them. In a show setting, there is no overt reference to their true purpose. Several people asked me at first why I had made giant chess pieces. It was really fun to break the news to them with a flick of The Paul for emphasis.
What are the most popular puns among the customers thus far?
Romney: "He's gonna be hard to take."
Santorum: "Should have had a bigger support base."
Gingrich: "Starts out OK, but halfway through you're really gonna regret it."
Paul: "He's consistent. Once he's in, there are no surprises."
Perry: "All bark, no bite."
Bachman: "You won't even know she's there."
Watch how Matt's anal dongs were made below: