SMASH THE SHMOOGLEARCHY. When Andy Kaufman meets Google?

Review by: Mária Horváthová


Since when is becoming the thing you hate a good idea? If there’s one thing I take from transmediale festival this year, it is this mantra which I’ve since pinned to the board of my bed.

I attended the festival’s End 2 End symposium at Volksbühne, about a month ago. I admit I’m quite impatient when it comes to the theorizing on why people theorize about the theorizing of others. I am more of a hands-on kind of gal. Instead, I ended up sticking to the sidelines for this one, dropping by the performances and workshops around and across the Volksbühne.

Unfortunately, I have no room here to praise the Citizen Kino event, to name one wonderful example. Even more unfortunate, was that I skipped the end of the splendid workshop by the Telekommunisten and wasted it on the Shmoogle and Desperately Seeking panel instead. The title of the panel was promising, “THE HUMAN SEARCH ENGINE”, further peppered by promises to “smash the Googlearchy”. If only the panel didn’t remain desperate all the way through, with the Googlearchy emerging unscathed at its end.

Berlin, Fuck Off Google, transmediale festival, Shmoogle, Desperately Seeking

Of the many Shmoogle Brochures, casually spread throughout the Shmoogle Shmampus. Photo by Adam Berry, transmediale, CC BY-SA 4.0. Some rights reserved

Berlin, Fuck Off Google, transmediale festival, Shmoogle, Desperately Seeking

Still from the workshop “the millennials toolkit 4 associ@ive explor@ion”, originally posted by Shmoogle on Facebook.


In a nutshell, Shmoogle is a search engine that “hacks” Google by scrambling the order of its search results. Desperately Seeking (or just DS …shorter, less annoying) claims to be an online community that deals with digital health issues. The panel came after a bunch of workshops that were carried out in a Pop-Up lounge area called, tongue in cheek, “The Shmoogle Shmampus”—codename for a pile of branded beanbags. Program overlaps permitting, I somehow managed to miss all the workshops. From what I overheard, though, not a huge loss. Workshop participants were mainly cornered into trying out Shmoogle—the usual attempt to conceal a focus group as a self-empowerment new-age pep talk. Still, I wanted to understand how these guys managed to take over the entire festival program, and so, 17:00 saw me sharp at the doors of the Roter Salon.

Honestly, I have no idea what these people were thinking. The whole thing read like a Rick and Morty episode that never made the cut and for good reason. If I try hard, I guess I could best describe what went down as a convoluted lecture-performance. Leading the panel were an annoying artsy hipster girl who was constantly flirting with her hotshot wannabe-academic-celebrity ex boyfriend. Then came a tiresome talk by Shmoogle founder CEO and she was eventually interrupted by someone in the crowd. Apparently, the intruder was another DS member who wasn’t too impressed with how her face was used without her consent to promote Shmoogle. Something like that.


Berlin, Fuck Off Google, transmediale festival, Shmoogle, Desperately Seeking

Still from the panel, as it crashes, taken by yours truly.


Apparently, this is the DS member to blame for the crash.


What of it was staged, I couldn’t tell you. Right from the start, the ex boyfriend was very keen on proclaiming that it was all scripted. How far the script extended? How much of it all was even real? Unclear. By now I have serious doubts that the DS community as a whole even exists. Their website is an underwhelming dead end. It looks like someone uploaded a bunch of amateur videos to YouTube and flailingly crammed them into a WordPress template. Even their thumbnail is stolen from Kony 2012—the all-time most embarrassing social movement in the history of the Internet—and Photoshopped over.

Berlin, Fuck Off Google, transmediale festival, Shmoogle, Desperately Seeking

Kony 2012, Berlin, Fuck Off Google, transmediale festival, Shmoogle, Desperately Seeking

Top image: Desperately Seeking; bottom image: Kony 2012.


What was the purpose of this staged YES MEN styled self-sabotage? Great question! Was this an attempt to capitalize on Berlin’s Fuck Off Google campaign, heavily discussed in transmediale 2018? Was it an invitation to self-reflect on art’s role in the tech industry? Perhaps. If this indeed was a hoax, admitting it could have led to a discussion on deceptive marketing and on the exploitation of the grassroots concept to peddle a product. But no one was willing to come clean about anything, so it is all left to speculation.

At least the Shmoogle page itself seems legit. That product actually exists. So, actually, my guess is that this whole operation was just one more stoopid (or shmoopid?) Threatin attempt—this time with silly tech instead of awful music—to promote the Shmoogle brand in an “artistic way”. This mainly resulted in Shmoogle outsmarting itself.

Is this what happens when art dares to merge with tech? Becoming the thing everyone hates the most? A pointless product? Is this part of the positive message transmediale hoped to bring across this year? Was the festival playing along with this presumed hoax?  Or was this a self-inflicted curve-ball thrown twofold, by both Shmoogle and the festival? If there was a “Woah moment” here, I missed it.

Having said all this, I still believe transmediale means well and Shmoogle seems like a small struggling venture. Bashing heads in while offering zero prospects seems just as pointless as this whole operation. So, at the risk of finding out that I too am just a tool in this calculated spiel of a brand’s attempt at over-elaborate self-promotion, I will say this:

Maybe this is what art has to become in order to remain relevant ever since Instagram took its place. If so, it just needs to be better planned. Post Fyre festival, post Kony 2012 and Threatin, the post-truth age should be rebranded as the age of the glorious post-car-crash. Maybe there’s some potential here still. I wouldn’t be wasting all this space if I wasn’t at all fascinated with watching these art-tech hybrid models burn.


When approached towards the publication of this piece, Shmoogle responded that it is currently reconsidering its relationship with Desperately Seeking. Desperately Seeking, in turn, abstained from commenting.


Mária Horváthová is a freelance art and technology columnist, based in the Slovak Republic. She also runs her own plant shop and is currently polishing the draft of her unauthorized biography of Jeff Bezos.

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