Kidnapping the Jeb Bush cutout: If I did it

Satire: An act of impluse in Elrod Commons

Tyler Palicia

What inspired me to commit this heinous crime, you may ask?

Some surmise that I was driven by an antisocial tendency. Others have put forth that it was a display of civil disobedience. Some of those in the latter camp have even drawn comparisons between me and the “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square.

One professor wrote that it was a “Banksian act of artistic rebellion drawn from a transgressive desire to subvert the modern political zeitgeist.” 

Today, an acquaintance asked me at the urinal: “Tyler, was it a stab at the incestuous melee of irony imbued within the postmillennial cyber culture of meme-based iconoclasm?”

First I will tell my story and later I will do my best to explain the nuanced reasoning behind what I did. But I am not confessing to unburden myself of any feeling of shame. I merely strive to dispel some of the mystery surrounding this incident by revealing the inner workings of my plot.

Was it impulsive, or spontaneous? Those seem to be the two prevailing schools of thought surrounding my decision to “borrow” (honor violation averted) the life-sized Jeb Bush cutout. 

I suppose it is natural for people to wonder which criminal archetype I fall into. In other words: am I the unprofessional, purse-snatching punk or am I more akin to the criminal mastermind Moriarty plotting a grand scheme behind the scenes? 

While I despise the former and would like to be seen as the latter, in truth, I am somewhere in between. I had carried the intrinsic urge to have Jeb ever since I first saw him in the atrium of Elrod Commons. This is a fact I cannot deny. But I took him on a relative whim. 

It happened when I was walking back from dinner one night with my soon-to-be accomplice. It was around 9:00 p.m., and the campus was relatively quiet. She saw me looking at him through the window of commons, where he stood beside Yang under Washington’s statue. Of the three, Jeb was the most prestigious. 

My blood started pumping and beads of sweat formed on my brow. The dialogue between us was brief, but decisive. She looked at me and said, “You want him, don’t you?” A calm “yes,” was my answer. For some reason that I am still unsure of, I felt the need to suppress my enthusiasm. “Sweet,” she said. “I’ll get the door and you get Jeb.” 

We walked inside and looked around for bystanders. There was one freshman trying to use the printer. I faked my best COVID-19 cough and he left soon after. I figured we would have at least a minute of privacy, so I gave her the signal. 

It all happened in less than ten seconds — but felt like an eternity in limbo. She sprinted down the steps and swung the door open. At the same time, I ran over to Jeb and picked him up. I expected him to be heavier for some reason, but he was only a single layer of cardboard. 

The adrenaline of that moment electrified each nerve ending as I ran down the steps towards the door, like an athlete galloping in the direction of the finish line. A momentary concern crossed my mind as I got closer to the door: what if someone were to walk through it? A Public Safety officer perhaps, with a steel jaw and cold fascist gaze.

As I burst through the door, the sweet October air hit my lungs like a splash of cool water on a hot day, and I felt a sudden relief. But my catharsis receded the moment I realized we would have to contend with the well trafficked bridge to third year, our destination. There we knew people who would protect us while we lay low, assuming we could get across Cadaver.

The solution came to me as I looked up at the oak trees and noticed their branches swaying in the soft moonlight.

As luck would have it, there was a considerable breeze that evening, and I had an idea of how to use it. We attached Jeb to a kite string that I had in my pocket and flew him above our heads as we walked from one side of the bridge to the next. We passed several people along the way, but they couldn’t see the string in the darkness much less the airborne Jeb. 

Once we got across, we reeled him back in and took the tunnel under the bleachers. From that point forward, it was smooth sailing to the safehouse. 

What did I hope to gain from this risky caper, you may be wondering? Relax, I assure you that this isn’t a ransom note. I have no desire for wealth, of that I am certain. However, I don’t believe in crime without motive. So, if you’ll indulge me, I might disentangle and elucidate the abstract reasons that guided me that fateful evening.

For a long time, I was exhausted by the feeling of pettiness and outrage that has proliferated in the country since the summer prior to the 2016 presidential election. Especially since the beginning of quarantine, this morose feeling has magnified from a hum to a skull-ringing fever pitch. Like many in my midst, I was beginning to feel corrupted by what I was witnessing each day. 

And the chaos was not just contained to the screen of my iPhone. Depending on where I drove in Richmond over the summer, I would see boarded up businesses, swarms of protesters, and cops clad in riot gear. The city was rotting.

In my quarantined solitude, I began to identify malevolence in things that had always struck me as harmless: cops, statues, politicians, strangers, crowds of people, cable news reporters, the judiciary. Such words were becoming synonymous with more pernicious terms: authoritarianism, enslavement, deceit, disease, hysteria, violence, corporatism and injustice. Was the virus conditioning me? 

A friend (similarly afflicted) and I became absorbed by record-collecting. It gave us an excuse to venture into Richmond to check out the stores and, of course, further induce our psychosis. It gives one a perverted thrill to bear witness to their own cities’ decline.

I was beginning to doubt America. And as my cynicism grew, I even noticed some of my friends and relatives reacting to the landscape with similar disillusionment. It was as if we were living in a hazier version of the previous year’s world. In the era of quarantine, many have described this dreamlike phenomenon as “living in the upside down.” We feel enveloped by absurdism.

I believe my act of kidnapping the cutout was meant to be a great cleansing of the spirit, marred by its overexposure to the political atmosphere. What I needed in my life was something true and pure — a solvent that would wash off the mire. I found this sacred potion the moment I laid eyes on Jeb’s cutout. 

What better way to rid myself of this sorrow than to acquire the life sized effigy of all that is holy and clean in today’s democracy, The Virgin Jeb? 

I now keep him near bedside, beside my crucifix and Rosary beads. Whenever I feel the urge to feed my political aggravations, I look up at his sheepish grin and back out of my Apple News feed. Every day since I began this ritual I feel less and less of an urge to argue with friends and relatives about the recent headlines.

I can only describe it as a political exorcism. Nothing short of a miracle! 

In case you are confused, or unfamiliar with Catholicism, perhaps it will help if I explain my long and complicated relationship with Jeb the Meme rather than Jeb the Man.

I mean none of this to sound like sacrilege, but we should not forget that Jeb, while saintly, is but a mortal man with his own set of flaws. 

I first remember watching him on the debate stage against Trump in 2015, flailing like a nervous seal caught in a fisherman’s net. But I most distinctly remember the countless YouTube compilations that chronicled his series of failures throughout that election season. 

I always laughed, but deep down I felt a tinge of sadness every time Jeb would suffer another crushing public humiliation. There was the time Barbara told reporters that he wasn’t her favorite child, or when he appeared to be kicked off a stage while delivering a speech to a measly gathering of a few dozen people, or the time a twelve-year-old boy made fun of him for passing out small glass turtles to young supporters, etc. 

Although I did not agree with his policies, I couldn’t stop liking Jeb! No matter how he embarrassed himself, I always felt a secular desire to watch him get back up and try again.

Yes, Jeb was special. Unlike so many political figures that I happen to agree with on paper, Jeb never gave me a hint of a reason to doubt his intentions. Because unlike all the others, he never once betrayed my trust by lying or misrepresenting himself. That doesn’t mean everything he said was true, but at least Jeb thought it was true when he said it. 

Jeb was a sincere oaf to the bitter end, and I love him for it. That’s why it hurt me to watch Trump and the media eviscerate him on a daily basis, just as it must hurt a mother to watch the bigger, crueler kids bully her meek child on the playground.

Needless to say, it meant a lot for me to abscond across campus with Jeb’s flattened effigy in the cover of darkness. I felt it to be as much a duty as it was a privilege. Was it selfish for me to take such a liberty? Perhaps. But I wanted him so freaking bad! And I also needed him. I had to feel right about this country again, and Jeb was the one man who could do it for me.

But I can’t hide the fact that it was selfish for me to pretend that I could keep Jeb! He does not belong to one individual alone. Jeb belongs to the internet. 

While it tears me apart inside to let him go, I realize that he has done all he can for me, which is enough. It’s time for Jeb to move on and save some other wretched soul. If you need him, you will be able to find his cutout somewhere around campus on election day.

Some Americans try to settle their desire for political absolution by debating strangers on Twitter, others burn down Targets, the QAnon folks invent their own personal mythos, and even a few people believe in voting. 

I just needed to kidnap Jeb Bush…