Article. Crisis Acting in the Destroyed Room in Performance Research: Staging the Wreckage

I have been notified by the editors that my article has been accepted for publication. This edition of Performance Research will be published in August 2019.

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 article 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 norms and precepts of those communities. Media wreckage denotes the fragmentation of hegemonic narratives occasioned by the internet acting as the dominant scaffold of human relationality. 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 2015 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 activist 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 adapt it’s meaning in this article 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. I 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.