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How big should Joe Biden be

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An investigation

Makena Kelly

No one knows exactly what the Democratic National Convention will look like this year, with social distancing restrictions still in place in Wisconsin and across the country. It’s already been moved to the end of the summer, and top Democrats like Nancy Pelosi have suggested holding it in a gigantic empty stadium to curb the spread of disease. But Monday, Lis Smith, former advisor for the Pete Buttigieg campaign, touted a new idea that I’m quite fond of: replicating Travis Scott’s April Fortnite performance but with a gigantic hologram of Joe Biden.

“Stefan Smith, who did digital work for Pete Buttigieg, cited the other day how Travis Scott’s takeover of Fortnite... that was a really creative way to think about it,” Lis Smith said Monday. “If we could do that with Joe Biden — Joe Biden projected against the Grand Canyon. That might be a little bit ambitious, but we could have exclusive musical content from some of the biggest musical artists in the game at these, driving eyeballs to these conventions so that people could watch them.”

“That might be a little ambitious” is right. But Smith raises important questions about virtual participation in coalition building and the mechanisms of democracy. She then answers those questions with the tantalizing possibility of a gigantic hologram of Joe Biden. But if Biden is really going to heal the fractures within the Democratic Party and deliver on his promise of a post-Trump future for America, he’ll have a lot of work to do — and his hologram will need to be very large if he’s going to do it.

Because the convention is a national event, I wanted to figure out how big Biden would have to be for every person in the continental US to see him. To calculate this number, we’re assuming that the average Big Biden viewer is around five feet, six inches, using 2.871848 miles as our measurement for distance to the Earth’s horizon, and the distance from Arizona to Maine has 3,000 miles. Plug these numbers into the equation laid out in this GitHub calculator, and Big Biden would need to be around 1,000 miles tall for folks in Maine to see the top of his head, according to Jason Evans, a mechanical engineer who answered my cold call on Twitter.

GIF: Makena Kelly

If we increase that another 400 or so miles, the upper half of his body should broadly be viewable. Double it, and they’d see his entire body; 1,400 miles of Biden would total to around 255 Mount Everests stacked on top of each other. Holograms don’t weigh anything, but six-foot Biden coming in at 215 pounds would multiply to 258 million pounds, according to the Verge’s executive editor, TC Sottek. That’s a big Biden.

If we wanted to place him in the geographic center of the US, which is roughly found in Kansas, Big Biden would need to be around 1,400 miles tall for his head to meet the Earth’s horizon. Another 400 miles and folks would be able to see his face from Hawaii.

That might seem excessive, but it’s no less than is necessary. Putting Biden in Fortnite would be relatively manageable but would do nothing to pull in the Facebook “empathy mom” voter base that the campaign is so focused on recruiting. Moms, largely, don’t play Fortnite. But they do look outside, and a Travis Scott-style appearance from an immense and looming Biden hologram could generate the kind of buzz that money simply can’t buy.

In conclusion, creating Big Biden would be an enormous undertaking by the Democratic Party but entirely worth it.