We Are Performative

Lacie: Don’t shit on me for aiming higher. 
Ryan: Pelican Cove higher? 

Lacie: What’s wrong with Pelican Cove? They’re great apartments! 

Ryan: They are fake-smile jail cells!

I watched the first episode of the new Black Mirror series the other day. It tracks the life of a woman that lives in a society where everything is rated. The economy is based on a Score that is based on ratings other people give you, an extension of what many have referred to as the “like economy”. That’s what Black Mirror does as a show – take snippets of society and culture and see them through to a logical (and often dystopian) conclusion. 

It made me revisit something that I’m already very uneasy about – the performative element of our social system. 

We are in the grip of ever increasing requirements to perform in our social lives. The structure of social media doesn’t provide a freedom of expression, but rather a requirement to perform. In this world we are never our true selves, rather we create facsimiles of ourselves that are filtered, curated and faked. We perform for everyone rather than present ourselves. We like, rate, retweet and “share” instead of engaging in dialogue. We may be connected, but we speak pat each other – each performing our own monologue. 

Our flaws, our scars, our frailities, our mistakes become something that we don’t want to be part of. We don’t want to show that part of us. We bury it, hide it, stuff it into a box. We seek to disassociate ourselves from reality and truth takes on a glossy and fake sheen. We practice in the mirror. Actions and interactions become stage managed, repeated, copied, refined to the point where they become pure performance. Robotic, automatic. 

We no longer seek to engage, but to show off. As animals it is in our DNA to perform. Its the selfish gene at play. We fake it till we make it. Today’s digital technology however expands our possibilities. We can refine, edit, crop, smooth and take a 1000 shots and display just the one that works. We don’t “fail faster”, we erase failure as a concept. Instagram and Facebook rely on us not to show our true self, but our performative self. The one that doesn’t have the drudgery of laundry waiting for them at the end of the day. That doesn’t have to wash up after their latest attempt at food porn.

But it isn’t us as actors that worries me, but rather us as the audience. We consume the performance with such veracity that it scares me. The performance used to be limited to the stage. Then in printed pages. Then on radio. Then in celluloid. Then on TV. But now its everywhere. Every screen, all the time. All of us with our own camera and suite of apps. All of us with the power to create and recreate, to perform to captured by the camera and published to the world in milliseconds. 

We seem driven to consume this fake reality. 

I try to be honest in my interactions on social media, but it’s all curated. It’s the highlights roll (or in some cases drawing attention to the low points). In my mind it’s also temporary, fleeting and ephemeral. That doesn’t mean it is, I’m sure you could review my timeline and find plenty of mistakes, flaws and wrongheaded statements. But I don’t want to delete them. I don’t want the record to be sanitised. I want people to grow up, to accept the flaws, to realise we all have them. And those that don’t, they’re the ones that we need to be concerned about. 


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