David Maddox’s Alternative Math satirises Trumpian post-truth era through the story of a math teacher who finds herself facing bad faith arguments that soon threaten her life and livelihood. Does 2+2 equal 22 or is she against the First Amendment? The media falls into a frenzy.
Released in 2017, nearly a year after Trump was sworn into office, the film’s commentary is biting and bleak. The laughs it elicits hurt on their way out. It reminds you of another satire that was released about three years later, Jon Stewart’s Irresistible. With a similar preoccupation with media blitz and similar aesthetics, both films grapple with a world where polysemy has been co-opted and perverted into its malevolent zombie state.
Co-written by Maddox and Malcolm Morrison, the film kicks off with a math teacher, Mrs. Wells (Allyn Carrell) trying to explain arithmetic to a student (Cole Whitaker) on a regular Monday (2+2 makes 4, not 22). By the end of the week, she is kicked out of her job by a panel headed by a Trump lookalike (Sean McGraw). A media blitz begins. Words like debate, rights, commie France, and Mathgate are thrown around like popping kernels in a hot pan. If the issue were not so ridiculous, it would be a documentary. Welcome to the post-satire era.
Mrs. Wells’ disbelief and shock at the turn of events are never more potent than at its first encounter. Danny’s parents (Mykle McCoslin and Bryan Massey) insist on there being no one right answer, call her a retard in the same breath that they accuse her of calling their son stupid, and strike Mrs. Wells in a final act before leaving. Her own departure comes at the behest of the school board, top-lit and staged like a pantheon of gods towering over the math teacher with the power of all-pervasive punishment in their hands. The incident is termed a riot and a fiasco; she is stamped an extremist.
Alternative Math is painfully funny, detailing in hyperbole a cultural and political shift that otherwise requires a degree of masochism to observe, let alone be part of.
Watch Alternative Math Short Film
Alternative Math: An Unfortunately Relevant Political Satire