January 9, 2017
Anti-normalization tips: Make sure the translator gets paid (or, if it’s impossible, it may not be true)
by Ian Dreiblatt
It happens every morning.
I wake up, rub my eyes, hop out of bed, and—shaboom—realize I have no fucking clue what reality is. Soon to be president is a very mean little boy who appears to have acquired strange and terrible powers on being bitten by a radioactive block of Velveeta. The coming dawn of his reign is being immortalized in the Chinese city of Taiyuan with a twenty-three-foot-tall statue that shows him transfigured as a chicken. A few weeks ago he bounced Twitter from a meeting because they had refused to let him mock his opponent by creating a “#CrookedHillary” emoji. He’s pretending that the way Mexico is going to pay for his wall is that we’ll all pay for it and later Mexico will decide to reimburse us even though they say they definitely won’t, and when the remarkably pliant media raised an eyebrow, his actual words in response were “Media is fake!”
Obviously, none of this is possible; the problem is that it appears, all the same, to be true. But friends, I may have an explanation.
The messenger of my epiphany was, who else?, Alec Baldwin. Yesterday, the beloved Alterna-Trump posted a selfie to Instagram in which he was wearing one of Trump’s signature red hats. Only instead of saying “Make America Great Again,” it said, “сделать америки здорово снова.”
What this means, in Russian, is “to make the americas healthily again.” Which is to say, it is terrible Russian. It is a form of the language to which… something has happened. Who would put this on a hat? Why would a rich and famous actor wear these cockamamie words on his head?
And then I realized: our entire current reality is riddled with obvious translation errors.
Think about it. Scientists are already pretty sure nothing really exists anyway. Maybe what we’re living in is not the original product — maybe the rights to our reality got sold abroad, or we were syndicated on international metatelevision, and our version is being poorly translated from an original that makes much better sense. In fact, I’m entirely certain that this is true.
Consider the improbable narrative of the wall. This story has all the hallmarks of a series of mistranslated verb tenses. If Mexico’s paying for the wall, why would we build it first, at taxpayer expense, then get the money? Why would he have described this process so differently before his election and after it? Clearly, someone has mistaken some verb inflections, resulting in a grammatical tangle unsuitable for any reality. (As for “Media is fake!”, I assume a better translation would be “Redia is cake!”, and that Redia is a pastry popular in some more coherent reality.)
As for Twitter being bounced from the tech meeting, this seems to be a mistranslation of a charming tale about bird-watching, rife with lilting onomatopoeias. (And in fairness, “emoji” is barely a word anyway.) High up in the branches, tweeting and cheating, it’s all about a delicate play of sounds, the whir of lyrical nonsense emojing through the branches. This translation captures none of that — and makes, as they say, zero fucking sense.
And as for what was meant about Trump being a gigantic male chicken… I mean, wake up, sheeple.
Mistranslations of this kind have, of course, been known to happen from time to time, as when our country accidentally offered to “overload” another, or when one of our presidents traveled to a foreign capital and insisted he was a jelly donut. Boris Yeltsin was once told during an interview that Mike Wallace had just called him a “thick-skinned hippopotamus.” But we may be the first people in history to live through so wild and pervasive a mistranslation. A new record!
I say we buckle up and enjoy the ride. Y’know, throw on a movie, catch some equilibrium, just generally chill for a while. Surely a confused metaphor will be galloping by soon to carry us back to firmer ground.
Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.