Paper accepted for Radical Immersions Conference

I will be presenting my paper ‘Communities of Crisis: Digital Spaces, Crisis Acting and Media Wreckage in The Destroyed Room’ at the DHRA conference Radical Immersions: Navigating between virtual/physical environments and information bubbles 8-10 September.

Abstract

The ubiquity of the internet immerses us in waves of traumatic information, leaving us desperately crawling through media wreckage to make sense of the world. This paper appropriates the term ‘crisis acting’ from the alt-right political lexicon to analyse how interacting with media forces us to affiliate with communities and distorts perceptions of reality to conform to the cultural, political and/social norms and precepts of those communities. Media wreckage denotes the fragmentation of political, social, economic and cultural narratives occasioned by the internet acting as the dominant scaffold of human relations. I use this critical framing to argue that the corrosive effects of immersive online networks are performed in Vanishing Point’s The Destroyed Room (2016). The performance is a semi-improvised conversation between three actors who debate the ethics of watching videos depicting IS executions, the Islamist terrorist attacks in Paris, the refugee crisis and scenes of natural disasters. Crisis acting is a conspiracy most famously propagated by the alt-right propagandist Alex Jones, host of the online broadcaster InfoWars. Jones spread a disinformation campaign that survivors of high school shootings in the US are government agents working for the New World Order. Conspiracies act as information contagion in public discourse. Crisis acting in the New World Order imaginary is a narrative of control and dominance by omnipotent forces. The narrative is created by re-purposing extant media content into believable (if entirely fictitious) versions of reality. I invert it’s meaning in this paper to explore how The Destroyed Room stages a collective failure to establish global empathetic relationships in digital spaces with media content, a process I describe as ‘crisis acting’. Terror, social media and climate breakdown constitute the three pieces of media wreckage that are staged as dialogue in The Destroyed Room. Each piece of wreckage is exhumed in my paper to argue that constructing narratives of reality with media wreckage turns us into crisis actors who cannot imagine ways of performing in the world as political agents outside of digital spaces. Online interactivity elides our identities with the media content we share, comment and re-purpose in our networks to construct communal perceptions of reality. This process that fails to produce a cogent political dialectic. Theories of the ‘postdigital’ (Bay-Cheng, 2016; Causey, 2016) provide a conceptual framework for exploring how online interaction is performed in The Destroyed Room as a series of competing narratives. These narratives interweave the identities of each character with the subjects of the media wreckage that become staged through their dialogue. The consequence of constituting the human subject as an ‘inforg’ (Floridi 2014) is to limit visions of humanity’s future to the mediated versions we create online.

References

Bay-Cheng, S. (2016) Postmedia Performance. Contemporary Theatre Review, [online] 26(2). Available at: https://www.contemporarytheatrereview.org/2016/postmedia-

Causey, M. (2016) Postdigital Performance. Theatre Journal, 68(3), pp.427-441


Floridi, L. (2014) The Fourth Revolution. How the infosphere is reshaping human reality. Oxford University Press