Friday, May 27, 2022

What the Duck?

Story | Tanisha Naqvi (she/her), Contributing Reporter 

Photo | Ong Wei Lin

On the morning of Friday, March 11, several faculty members found a small rubber duck and anonymous handwritten note sitting by their office doors. The note read KNOCK KNOCK, and several were emblazoned with smiley faces. Exactly two weeks later, many (but not all) of the faculty members from the first round received a post-it note on their doors, this time reading WHO’S THERE?. The duck, this time, was hand-drawn.

This incident has elicited a range of reactions and theories, and one common question across faculty and students: what the duck just happened?

An example of the ducks. Photo taken and generously shared by Ong Wei Lin ’24.

Duck duck who?

No person contacted for this piece knew, or was willing to share, who was behind the ducks. As Professor Matthew Schneider-Mayerson shared with me, “This is one of the great mysteries of history, right up there with the JFK assassination and the closure of Yale-NUS.”

A professor mentioned to me during office hours that each note bore different handwriting, leading professors to wonder about the size of the group behind the act. I am no forensic expert, and the sample size is small, but the handwriting on the three notes pictured above appears to be different, as do the drawings of the ducks—although this could be the work of a forward-planning individual trying to throw the public off the trail.

This professor also shared with me that not all faculty members received a duck. It is unclear why some were chosen over others; my interviewees did not have any theories.

Wee Chin Wei Bryan ’25 suggested on the (Y)NC help! I need… Telegram group chat that the professors could be playing a game “like the murder game or smth where you slip notes to people to kill them idk.” Perhaps this is a game between professors—although some professors’ reactions suggest that not all are players.

Feathers ruffled

Professor Ricardo Cardoso said the incident reminded him of “that Korean show—Squid Game,” referring to the anonymous calling card received by characters of the Netflix hit. Prof. Cardoso was presumably referring to the inexplicably chosen few and the general vibe, which at least three professors (Prof. Cardoso included) and several students have described as creepy.

“I joked earlier that it was either bad performance art or a macabre warning that we will be purged,” said Professor Benjamin Schupmann (leading me to wonder how much performance art Prof. Schupmann has witnessed/participated in to make this judgement with such flippancy and ease). To some, the ducks are canaries in a coalmine: small, bright yellow harbingers of death. I cannot help but ask—what is coming next?

Rachel Tey ’24 has been theorising with her suitemates. “I htink it’s an april fool’s joke,” she confided in me over text on the night of Thursday, March 31. The structure of knock knock and who’s there led her and her suite to believe that a punchline would land Friday, April 1. She then shared her unease about the incident, pictured in the following screenshot:

Screenshot of conversation between Rachel Tey ‘24 (white) and Tanisha Naqvi ‘24 (green).

April 1 has come and gone, with no followup from the mysterious ducks. But Tey’s incisive “riddler shit” comment implies a political motivation behind the cryptic act—a theory allegedly shared by some professors, as one of my professors mentioned during office hours.

It seemed unclear what this motivation could be, until I emailed Prof. Schneider-Mayerson, who generously shared his theory behind the ducks:

“One can only assume that the knock-knock note, combined with the mini rubber duckie, is a reference to the climate emergency. Gaia is knocking, and in a time of rising sea level and extreme weather events, we will need to learn to (metaphorically) float. The rubber duckie offers short-term survival at the cost of plastic pollution, providing a lesson about the risks of renewable extractivism. The drama of climate change was set in motion by centuries of colonialism and capitalism, yet the punchline, the future, remains unclear. Who, indeed, is there?”Absurdist, dramatic performance art with a political bent? At this point, why not.

Creepy, curious, cute…

Reisha Lee ’23 shared on the (Y)NC help! I need… Telegram group chat that “prof matthew schneider-mayerson left a note that said “who’s there?” outside his office in response and was upset cus he didn’t get a reply, he is still trying to find the mystery messenger.” 

Prof. Schneider-Mayerson elaborated: “I like knock-knock jokes as much (or as little) as the next person, so I responded to the “knock knock” note with my own “who’s there?” note. Cruelly, I received no reply.” To his knowledge, he has not been contacted since by the people behind the ducks.

It is interesting that the “knock knock” and “who’s there” are speech acts expected to elicit a response, and yet those behind the act remain uninterested in conversation, even aloof.

But the reaction to this incident is not universally negative nor suspicious. “Yeah I am soooo curious,” said Qian Zilan ’24, on the (Y)NC help! I need… Telegram group chat. “Don’t know who does this but it is very cute.”

Contacted directly, Reisha shared that she thought the incident was quite cute, and that she respected it.

“I think it’s cute too,” said Hanae Gomez ’23, over text. “probs some ppl trying to make ppls day.”

The case remains unquacked

As stated before, nobody interviewed knew—or was willing to share—who committed the mysterious, yet ultimately harmless and kind of silly, act. Maybe this silence is the bated breath of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Maybe there is no other shoe.

Political act, performance art, creepy, or cute: the jury is still out on the characterization of this incident. General sentiment seems to be divided, leaning towards morbid suspicion, though there are some who think that the act is confusing but kind of sweet.

For now, all we are left with is a joke without a punchline, and a joker cloaked in shadow, with no name or face but the smile of a cheaply-made rubber duck.

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