Review: “Message to Mr. Trump (why I climbed your tower)”

The most interesting thing about artwork on the Internet is how truly occult it can be. There is a level of anonymity afforded to online artists that is totally unprecedented, and the result of this anonymity has been a vast wasteland of pieces whose origins and intentions are largely untraceable. This series will be an exploration of Internet curios without a background story. We are going to play cultural detective and attempt to discern, to the best of our abilities, the meaning and the rationale behind these curios, and hopefully invite some well-deserved critical discourse to them in the process.

Case File #4

Video Title: “Message to Mr. Trump (why I climbed your tower)”

Story: On August 10th, a nation watched, mildly curious, as 19-year-old Stephen Rogata slowly suction-cupped his way up the Trump Tower in New York. Innocently dubbed a “real life Spiderman”, Rogata conquered 21 floors of the 68 story building before NYPD officers snatched him away through an open window.

At first, the stunt was received in the manner of a flash mob, a “cool” little live-stream sideshow enacted for no greater purpose than shaking off the hump-day blues. But revelations surfaced in the hours following Rogata’s capture that made it clear he was no Philippe Petit-style harlequin. A video was discovered entitled “Message to Mr. Trump (why I climbed your tower)” that revealed Rogata to be, at the very least, politically motivated, and at the most, completely insane.

“Message to Mr. Trump” shows Rogata standing alone in a room staring off into a corner clad in a now iconic Under Armour sweatshirt. He opens his monologue with the comical assertion that he is dressed to be unrecognizable (despite the fact that we have a full view of his face), and then launches into a strange explanation of his tower-climbing antics; he claims that he is an “independent researcher” who is “seeking audience” with Trump to discuss an important matter, and that he is using a life-threatening stunt to garner attention and prove his seriousness about this potential summit. The whole speech is delivered with the tenor of a fancy super-villain.

The Mystery: The first question, on which all the others rest: is Rogata completely insane? Is he a paranoid personality infected with delusions of conspiracy or is he some kind of political subversive driven by a vague rage in the style of the Living Theater? Or is he a comedian?

And then, what are his plans? What does he want to discuss with Trump? What does he mean by “independent researcher”? In what subject? And how did he get so good at climbing?

What We Know: We know a bit about the who, but not very much about the who.

We know at this point that the Trump climber and the video guy are the same person, Stephen Rogata, a 19-year-old resident of Great Falls. His original name is actually Michael Joseph Ryan, altered in court in 2015. Like most famous eccentrics, Rogata was once a non-famous non-eccentric, a typical teenager described by one classmate as a “normal high school guy”. Rogata is alleged to have worked as an intern at the Fairfax Country Republican Committee, and has presumably been a life-long conservative. CNN reports indicate that recent years found Rogata becoming paranoid and obsessive over a “political internet project”.

Rogata’s username on YouTube is “Leven Thumps”, a reference to a character in the fantasy series by Obert Skye. In Skye’s series, Leven Thumps is an “offing”, a being with the power to see into the future and manipulate fate. Not a bad reference as far as cool political code names go, although the implied claims of superhuman importance don’t do much to allay whispers of craziness.

While these facts are all well and good, they still do little to get to the root of Rogata’s mind. We know he’s more or less the “real deal” regarding eccentricity, but we still don’t know the specifics of his scheme.

Final Thoughts: What nobody seems to be interested in is figuring out the more minute details of this peculiar case. And Rogata himself doesn’t seem to be all that interested in helping us understand.

In many ways, Rogata is the kind of figure that emerges whenever the world seems to be teetering on an especially slender axis. His persona is characterized by a spirit of anarchic opportunism; like Bernard Goetz, his formerly nebulous weirdness has been given shape by a storm-troubled zeitgeist. However, Rogata seems to be a little different than many political stunt crazies in the past. He has no manifesto, no flag. He traffics in vague suggestions of conspiratorial designs without going into what those designs are. He is like the inverse of the Unabomber: everyone knows who he is but nobody knows what he’s about. Like his hero Trump, he isn’t exactly clear about the details, only the assertions.

Time will tell what Rogata’s legacy will ultimately be. Signs point to “Wikipedia curiosity”, but then, maybe he really does have some interesting plans and concepts that will leak out in further videos. The language of this review might appear dismissive towards eccentrics like Rogata, but ultimately we do believe that voices are meant to be listened to, and ideas outlined. After all, Rogata’s earned it; not everyone believes in something strongly enough to fly headfirst into a reckless endangerment charge for the sake of its expression.

And the video: the video is something of an instant classic. Like most YouTube gems, it looks like nothing special but is characterized by enough little quirks (the tone of voice, the sweatshirt, the hair, the posture) to make it instantly recognizable. Parodies already abound, the highest compliment that can be paid to the iconicism of weird shorts like this. Perhaps he has a future in campaign managing?