In what leading analysts are hailing as a brilliant political maneuver, President Michael Elliott endorsed prominent student film-maker Caden Stockwell ’25 Monday afternoon by personally wishing him a happy birthday in a dedicated post from his official instagram account, @amherst_president. Although on the surface this seems to be a straightforward attempt by the president to ingratiate himself to the student body, the fact that this endorsement came on 9/11 has caused some to claim it was a ploy to distract the public from Elliott’s involvement in ongoing conflicts around the world.
While dismissed by most political commentators as preposterous, the events of yesterday afternoon seem to lend some credence to the conspiracy theories claiming the president is tied to the arms industry and is a duplicitous, twisted villain. It makes sense, say the tin foil hatters, that Elliott would have had considerable incentive to divert attention away from political matters on this emotionally-charged anniversary, and an endorsement of a campus celebrity would be a particularly subtle means of doing so.
However, an analysis of Stockwell’s background complicates the issue considerably. The young scholar, artist, activist, fashion icon, and international-man-of-mystery initially made a name for himself through speaking in front of a crowd of protesters during the reproductive justice walkout on May 5, 2022. In his flowery oration, Stockwell attacked the Board of Trustees for their personal contributions to Republican political candidates who have since contributed to the overturn of Roe v. Wade, notably referring to them all as “little fuckin’ pieces of trash, oh god, oh Jesus, they’re so smelly.” This event served to cast Stockwell as a leading critic of the college administration’s politics and also as a silly and funny little guy, a reputation which he would go on to support through artistic means as well.
In the fall of 2022, Stockwell and Piper Mohring ’25 jointly released their debut short film, entitled “still (despite the push of the heavy wind),” which was met with international critical acclaim and became an instant classic. The film was lauded generally for its genre-bending style and emotional weight, but in an Amherst Student review by prolific film critic Jacob Young ’25, the film’s political dimensions were analyzed as well. In one section, Young discusses how “Mohring and Stockwell play clips of old newsreels at higher and higher speeds, creating a montage of military-industrial and governmental operations.” Young’s authoritative analysis on this minute of military imagery shook the world, causing everyone to realize that war was in fact bad, and that you shouldn’t back it financially. At this point it was clear that Stockwell was well aware of the global hegemonic power structures which oppress millions, and furthermore was committed to speaking out against the investment that his own institution contributed to the insatiable systemic monsters that are slowly devouring the world’s natural and human resources in relentless pursuit of profit.
With this in mind, Elliott’s move to personally bid a happy birthday to Stockwell seems at first to be totally contradictory, but let me tell you, these conspiracy nuts sure know how to weave together incoherent nonsense into a barely-plausible narrative.
Political theorists point out that since the release of “still,” Stockwell has been notably absent from the Amherst political scene, which has caused many to call into question his commitment to the various causes he previously championed, even going so far as to call him a loser, and a chump. Stockwell has defended himself against these allegations by citing his tendencies to sleep a lot and take pictures of cats, but his involvement in another film project, again produced by himself and Mohring, has in fact taken up the vast majority of his free time since its conception last fall. Interestingly, sources indicate that this new project, entitled “Phases of a Daydream” (premiering Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. in the Keefe Theater, with original music by renowned composer Gabriel Proia ’25) represents a significant thematic departure from Stockwell’s previous work. Political commentary seems notably absent from the film’s concept, and it instead focuses exclusively on dumb and stupid nonsense and pretty colors and talking ice cream. Although the film is not set to be premiered for another few weeks, followers of Stockwell’s work are curious as to why the filmmaker has seemingly abandoned his political messaging.
In light of Elliott’s post yesterday, a wave of speculation has arisen regarding Stockwell’s abrupt change in direction, with some fringe theorists suggesting that the two are conspiring against the poor, sniveling, huddled masses. These theorists posit that in return for the official endorsement of Stockwell’s work across the college’s wide-reaching promotional network consisting of Instagram and… other platforms, Stockwell has agreed to terminate his criticism of the administration. They predict that yesterday’s seemingly insignificant birthday wish is only the first step in a long-term partnership between the artist and the executive, of which the first stage will be to wait until Stockwell’s reputation as political activist wanes, as it most surely will once everyone realizes how lame this new movie is, oh my god, it is so stupid, Jesus Christ.
As this theoretical partnership develops, analysts project that Elliott will continue promoting Stockwell’s work, and in doing so capitalize on the rising star’s popularity to bolster his own approval ratings. Meanwhile, Stockwell’s creative output is predicted to become increasingly controlled by the administration, and may very well become nothing more than empty propaganda, with the sole purpose of extolling tired college-sanctioned messaging — like the importance of doing your readings, or chastity.
If these theories are correct, it would mean that the beloved President Elliott is nothing more than a gun-toting lunatic, and respected artist Caden Stockwell, even worse, probably. Let us all pray that Monday’s Instagram post truly was nothing more than a genuine and good-natured act of kindness, because the alternative is almost too bleak to imagine.