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Sad Oompa Loompa in Viral Wonka Experience Compared to Manet Painting

Ooompa, Loompa, doompa-dee-do: Édouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère has gone viral for you.

The reason this 1882 painting has become a hit on the social media app X has nothing to do with Manet’s radically cold touch, or even the fact that the work is famous at all. Instead, it has to do with similarities between its disaffected bartender and a sad-looking Oompa Loompa from a catastrophically bad Willy Wonka chocolate factory experience that was recently staged in Glasgow.

That experience was put on by House of Illuminati, and has become the subject of much gawking on social media because of its AI-generated scripts, the paltry amount of sugary treats on offer for kids who attended, and the generally bizarre characters who appeared in it, among them a masked figure known as the Unknown.

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Sad Oompa Loompa in Viral Wonka Experience Compared to Manet Painting

But it is the female Oompa Loompa that appears to have made the greatest mark on onlookers. Vulture described the viral picture of her as portraying “the Shein equivalent of an Oompa Loompa costume and looking slightly dead in the eyes as she stands in a smoky room behind a table covered in so much scientific equipment that countless people online compared it to a ‘meth lab.’”

Perhaps not so surprisingly, some saw parallels in Manet’s barmaid, who stares blankly at the viewer, her hands on a table lined with champagne and oranges. In the mirror behind, we can see a lot of drunken revelers who are clearly having more fun than she is. Also in that mirror is the reflection of a male customer seeking a drink.

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, which is now owned by the Courtauld Institute in London, is a disturbing painting, not because of what it represents, but because Manet parts ways with traditional means of depicting space. The mirror is slightly tilted, so that the barmaid’s back is shown not right behind her but to her right. This awkward doubling of her image distances viewers from the picture. No surprise, then, that viewers at the 1882 Paris Salon were bothered by it, since it so clearly departed from what was expected of painting at the time.

But the reason the painting has gone viral, with one such post gaining more than 100,000 likes, is less because of its formal qualities than its subject matter: an alienated woman at work. In the Manet painting’s case, the barmaid, based on a real person named Suzon, is so striking because she seems totally nonplussed, despite the fact that she is in a venue intended to provide a good time for its patrons. Manet reminds us that this is labor for her, not play.

The Oompa Loompa, in the same way, is merely doing a gig—something that the actress playing her, Kirsty Paterson, even described to Vulture, saying, “They were offering £500 for two days of work, so I decided to go.”

Some paid tribute to Paterson in a much more generous way, portraying her as the Mona Lisa, while others seemed to push her perceived sense of detachment even further, comparing the picture to Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Bruxelles, the Chantal Akerman film recently voted the best movie of all time by critics. In that 200-minute 1975 film, now regarded as a landmark of feminist cinema, a housewife goes about her daily duties, and does little else. Perhaps Akerman would not have been proud of the comparison, but other X users appear to have been: multiple Jeanne Dielman tweets about the Oompa Loompa have gained thousands of likes.