Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

When You GISH Upon a Star….

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Back in 2017, my friend and sometimes co-worker, Bethany, asked me if I wanted to be on her GISH team. “What the hell is GISH?” I asked. She told me, and now I’m telling you, so that you can sign up and do weird things in public and on social media, possibly win prizes, have a lot of fun, and help to make the world a better place.

GISH (found at GISH.com) is actually short for GISHWHES, the “Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen.” It’s an online game, recognized by the Guinness Book as the world’s largest scavenger hunt (they actually hold a bunch of world records now), in which teams of 9-15 people attempt to complete as many challenges as they can in hopes of winning prizes.In previous years, the winning team was taken on an all-expenses-paid trip to destinations such as New Zealand, Costa Rica, Iceland, and Italy. This year, due to the COVID pandemic, a trip is not terribly likely, but the big prize is a secret.

Participants donate $25.01 to participate on the basic membership level, but there are premium levels that involve swag and special events and opportunities. Many of the challenges involve supporting social causes involving children’s organizations, voter registration efforts, assisting the homeless and elderly, and protecting endangered species and the environment. This year’s cause is No Kid Hungry, a charity that provides meals to school kids, which is a serious need in the time of COVID-19. GISH raised enough to pay for a million meals with the registration fees for this year’s game.

It all started with actor Misha Collins. He’s one of the stars of the CW’s Supernatural; he plays Castiel, an angel, and sometimes Lucifer, and Leviathan, a guy named Jimmy Novak, and an actor named Misha Collins (I’m sure some fan will chime in and tell me all about why this summary barely scratches the surface, but that’s why God gave us comment sections), and in his off-hours he’s something of a lunatic. In 2010, the producers of Supernatural asked him to participate in a campaign to help the show win a People’s Choice award. He chose to do it in the form of a dadaist stunt that turned into an online scavenger hunt, reaching out to his “minions and flunkies” on Twitter. It went so well that he created a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit called Random Acts to administer an annual game. See, Misha Collins, before he was an actor, was already exercising his social conscience. He’s got a BA in Social Theory from the University of Chicago, and spent some time working as a carpenter before interning in the Clinton White House and working at National Public Radio. But he’s also the kind of guy who says “I like the idea of a world where people say ‘normal’ like it’s an insult.” He’s also a poet and spent time at a monastery in Nepal. It only makes sense that he would put his absurd sense of humor to work in a way that benefits others.

And Misha begat GISH, and it was good.

I’m not sure if it was an alien zoo or a freakshow.

This year, there are upwards of 240 challenges, ranging from the simple (“Nail art has reached new levels these days, but it hasn’t forayed much into the fine art of nail signage. Let’s see a miniature protest poster painted on a fingernail.”) to the nearly impossible (“What does Congressional Recess look like? Show one or more actual members of Congress or Parliament at play with downward slides, see-sawing, or, the swing (votes). You must label your submission with the Congresspeople’s names. Bonus points if you get Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, AOC (Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez), or another top leader to participate in your submission. Double bonus points if they enact it on the Senate Floor.”), with a lot of surreal stunts (“Anyone can camp in the middle of the forest, but with wildfire season at a high, that’s just too risky, and campgrounds are too crowded. Pitch your tent underwater to be safe! We want to see it all: a tent, cooler, sleeping bags… and, of course, a lone camper, roasting marshmallows over a “campfire.””) and an even greater number of Random Acts of Kindness (“In some circumstances, blind or visually impaired people can sometimes use a little assistance from sighted people. If you’re a sighted person, sign up for the Be My Eyes app and submit a photo with the app open on your phone. We trust you that you will actually use it and not just download it. Don’t practice bad karma.”)

As you might expect, some participants go all in, taking on the most difficult challenges and devoting the entire week to nothing but GISH; these are people willing to experience unreasonable pain and suffering for the sake of the game. Others, people with jobs and children and other obligations, set more realistic goals, playing “for the book” (GISH publishes an annual photo book of the best entries) or just picking out the challenges that sound fun.

Social media stored on obsolete media. Sure, I can do that.

The first year that I played, I had to archive all of my social media on microfiche, make a giant preying mantis out of balloons, “Groucho Marx a piece of fruit,” and pose as an exhibit in an alien zoo with a sign indicating what makes me unique, among other tasks. I then took a couple of years off, but this year I’m back in the game. So far, I’ve done these:
“Create a superhero named Cowboy. No not THAT cowboy. Cow Boy.”

“Meet up over Zoom and compete in an Olympic event against a real Olympian or pro athlete — first, in the event they excel at, then at whatever YOUR “best” skill is in life.”

World-class archer Steve Sun beat me at archery, but I beat him at balloon animal twisting.

“What is GISH? We’re not exactly sure, but we sure want to read what you think it is. Write a 250-500 word essay and have it published to medium.com, as an op-ed in your local paper, or on any other curated blogging site (cannot be just a social media post). Your essay must employ the following phrases, “unreasonable pain and suffering,” and “it seemed like a good idea at the time.” Submit a screenshot of your essay and a link to the post.”

Yes, that’s right. This whole post is just here to complete this GISH task. I have a few more on my to-do list, including building and flying a giant version of one of those balsa wood airplanes with the rubber band powered propeller.

Okay, so now you know about GISH. So get over to their site and sign up for their mailing list. it’s big dumb fun that causes good trouble.

“Say the secret woid and the duck’ll come down and give you a hundred dollars.”

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