Immediately after watching Jericho, myself and Rachel Donnelly [DRAFF editor] sat down in Simon’s café and recorded our thoughts. When we transcribed the conversation, it didn’t seem clear what we were trying to say. So here instead is my report on the discussion and what I think we were trying to say.
We started by discussing the issue of description in theatre. This show [Jericho] described very well the experience of being online and using social media. My thoughts on that were: “It’s hard to know in a theatre what to do with description. It’s kind of a disempowering thing to give an audience.”
Then we began to agree that the ideas in the show were very interesting. And that the topic and the themes are very important for us to look at these days. We need to know what is happening in this social media culture because it’s electing presidents and destroying the planet.
I spoke a bit about my own project that I am working on which is trying to deal with similar issues and about how difficult I’m finding it. My question was: How do we make theatre a useful medium to have a discourse about social media?
Rachel was keen to point out the body. That in a form of communication that takes place in a world without a body (the virtual world of social media), the real presence of the body on the stage might be something to look at more closely. This point made me think at the time, but I had nothing to add to it.
I began to talk about my concern that social media focuses on the topics that are most emotional and contentious rather than the topics that are most urgent, shall we say. As in, we don’t see as much discussion of global warming for example, certainly not the amount it deserves. But then the whole web goes crazy over something Katie Hopkins said.
We spoke about wrestling. The show made a lot of wrestling references.
I felt they were saying that the world of social media is essentially the world of WWF. There’s goodies and baddies and we’re all playing parts. And we love the fighting even though we know it’s kinda fake. We don’t really care.
Rachel didn’t know who Vince McMahon was. And also didn’t know that Donald Trump once fought a guy on WWF.
I said “I felt the show was asking: How do we come to terms with this mass spectacle?”
We discussed an idea in the show with regard to historical progress. The show began with a description of the city of Jericho, which was the first walled city. And described how, when the agricultural revolution happened, it had downsides as well. We all got shorter for instance.
Rachel felt the show was trying to say that progress isn’t a foregone conclusion. That we have to keep working at it.
I said that I felt the show was more despairing than that. I think at one point Maeve O’Mahony (the main and only performer in the show) said “How do you know that a bump in the road isn’t just a bump and there is no road.” Maybe I’m projecting my own despair, I said, but I think that might mean that there may not be historical progress but just change. And not necessarily good change.
Rachel said that the makers couldn’t be despairing because the performer wore lighty-up-runners. I accepted this point.
After 25 minutes, I thought we were done but we were not.
R: But I don’t think it’s so much about presenting those perspectives as talking about the … the spiral, the out of control spiral that happens when you get these collisions of opinions on social media, like what was happening with the character [in Jericho] when she was commenting on the newspaper article.
D: But the real violence of social media is that we’re confronted with these …
R: But we’re not …
D: Or it seems to be these kind of nasty face-offs going on between people, you know?
R: Yeah. Although often it doesn’t actually happen because of the filter bubble.
D: Yeah, it doesn’t quite happen, but then when it does, it’s …
R: Yeah, it’s really angry and it’s really hurt and very charged …
D: Yeah, very charged, yeah yeah.
R: It’s like the thing I was saying to you about a friend of mine who said ‘I wouldn’t have tea with a racist’ …
D: Yeah …
R: … and how that sentence has only happened because of social media. You know. Because she sees someone who she knows on Facebook saying something that could be construed as racist …
D: That’s it, tea’s off!
R: … so therefore, yeah, the tea is off, no tea with that person. Whereas if she’d been in their company and they’d said something she objected to, she would have responded to it then and there …
R: … and it would have been a response to that statement, rather than labeling that person and their whole life and their whole belief system as ‘racist’.
D: Yeah yeah yeah. Suddenly they’re a monster.
R: Yeah. And that’s what social media facilitates.
D: Yeah, it used to be … ‘Ah fuck, I wish that person wouldn’t make those jokes, it’s really offensive’, ya know?
D: Now it’s like ‘Can you believe what they just said????? That is fucking awful. I won’t have tea with that person ever again.’… I dunno. It doesn’t seem to be … I don’t like it. I can’t put a finger on it. It doesn’t seem right that we’re so polarized.
R: Oh yes, it’s very bad. I fully believe we should turn the internet off, like no joke.
R: If somebody tomorrow made an announcement saying ‘Listen, the internet, yeah, we’re gonna turn it off, that’s just it.’ Ya know?
D: Yeah, I think it’d be brilliant yeah.
Dick for DRAFF
Jericho by Malaprop ran at the Bewley's Cafe Theatre from the 20th February - 4th March. Image: Carla Rogers.
Posted: 9th March 2017