He’s been drawing crowds in Union Square since 2010 with his eccentric brand of social commentary–part performance art, part political activism. His penchant for smelling the flatulence of strangers, asking women to sit on his face in public and his advocacy for interactive sex education in schools—all intended to enhance the existence of mankind– have been covered by the Huffington Post, The Village Voice and media outlets worldwide.
Now, the 31-year-old Brooklyn native, who most people think is slightly crazy, wants to drop his former pseudonyms of “fart smeller” and “creepy guy,” and deliver his message to the masses under his real name—Roman Shusterman—and intends to do so by campaigning for Mayor of New York City.
It’s a Saturday afternoon and Shusterman is manning his usual post on the steps of Union Square. He wears a plastic gold crown on his head and holds a hand written sign that reads: Roman Shusterman for Mayor. Behind him two large men pace back and fourth in silence—his bodyguards. “I need them,” Shusterman explains, “without them you have these punks that bother me ‘cause they want attention.”
For the most part, Shusterman stands quietly as well, letting his sign do the talking; not bothering those around him. But when approached, Shusterman, a slightly stocky man of Polish decent, with sandy blond hair and twinkling eyes, is happy to discuss his latest endeavor.
“Basically I want to expand on Bloomberg’s positive aspects—you know the dieting and getting people in shape and combine that with some of my social activism,” Shusterman says—then expands on the main platform of his campaign—“ I think that we should have a universal gym membership, like in New York Sports club for people and that would be the first step….and then to create a better social policy to bridge the gap between the sexes, I think we should have coed showers.”
The idea, which came to him after he lost power during hurricane Sandy and was forced to shower at a local gym, is intended to both encourage New Yorkers to exercise on a regular basis, but also to strive for sexual equality in our society, Shusterman says. “People say, well,women will be afraid, but we’ll make it safe. If people get used to seeing each other naked, that will be the first step to bridging the divide between the sexes so women don’t have to constantly worry about what New York women worry about,” he says. “People have to start getting used to seeing each other naked and then we can expand on the rest of social policy.”
Despite the sexual nature of his musings Shusterman doesn’t come off as perverse or deviant. He is friendly, funny, articulate and actually, very sweet. He is the first to laugh after a particularly outlandish statement, like comparing himself to Hitler (“but in a peaceful way,”) or professing his admiration for Lindsay Lohan. After a while, it becomes clear that Shusterman takes parts of his public persona more seriously than others. “I’m serious about not being serious,” says Shusterman mysteriously.
Shusterman defines his philosophy as consensual, communal, sexual activism, which has been the premise for his past acts of advocacy in Union Square, including the controversial “Face Sitting for Peace,” movement in 2011, during which he asked women in the park to literally sit on top of his face for a little while.
The concept behind “Face Sitting for Peace,” wasn’t to purely entertain a fetish, Shusterman says, but to highlight the positive leadership qualities of what he calls, submissive men, which he self identifies as. “We want to do what’s good for society and women– that’s why we should be in charge. So that’s the basis of face sitting for peace,” Shusterman explains, “It’s because we don’t want the power that we’d be the best ones to do it–cause we do what’s best for everybody else.”
Shusterman also believes that face sitting sends a powerful message about the detrimental effects of male-dominated, patriarchal societies, and could “really change things,” in places like the Middle East.
“Women don’t think like guys and the reason is because they’re sexually repressed, so I want to get women to start thinking like guys. And once they start thinking like guys, I think they will be more empowered and more active in political life,” Shusterman says.
Moreover, Shusterman is undeniably knowledgeable about counter-culture political movements. In the past he was aligned with a US communist party, spent time with Raelians in Quebec and is a diligent online activist through his blog called “The Humanitarian Socialist Party,” which provides rather serious political analysis. “I’ve been writing for over ten years now. It’s boring, that’s why I had to put the sex stuff in there, because that’s what got traffic to my blog,” Shusterman says.”
Earlier in the day, Shusterman stood with sign in hand in front of City Hall. “They don’t like me down there,” he says, but plans to continue campaigning in the area, whenever he’s not in Union Square.
Shusterman doesn’t have very high expectations for his mayoral candidacy, given his lack of funding, “I can’t go on Wall Street and say ‘hey guys give me a million bucks’,” he admits. However, he does hope his one-man campaign will help to get his name out there and spread his unorthodox vision for world peace. “Some people are entertained by my thinking but I see myself more as for real. I put on a performance because it’s the only way I’ll get attention,” says Shusterman.