Avatars Anonymous: The Virtual Performance

“People want to be loved, not for what they are, but what they appear to be.”

Alejandro Jodorowsky 

Why are we the most repugnant versions of ourselves on the internet? Does the cyber-sphere warp our personalities, or is it just a gigantic stage for us to play different characters we contrive from the darkest and most sinister corners of our minds? Are we only our truest selves behind the veil of anonymity that this unique realm provides?

The internet is a metaphysical paradox in the sense that it’s a society that exists but doesn’t. It’s an invisible community populated by two dimensional surrogates of three dimensional beings.

It is equally representational and non-representational at once, coexisting in contradictory continuums of time and space, a real world without real world consequences. With the liberty to exit and return at our own leisure, it acts as a vital synthetic environment built for us to share our loneliness with crowds and reach out without the paralyzing terror of rejection. We can redesign ourselves to suit our superegos, erase all the undesirable contents of our lives and compile a canonized highlight reel of consecutive triumphs and perfectly poignant moments, captured with the primary intention of testimony. Actual experiences become secondary to the act of broadcasting them.  We become our own lives’ biased historians, equipped with delete buttons and image editing software. Tools which grant us the divine power to control how we’re perceived by the world, like the brand managers of corporations. As a result, all of our communication becomes part of a premeditated personal PR campaign. This acts as an anabolic steroid to our narcissism, accelerating the extinction of sincerity in what was already a pretentious generation solely concerned with the aesthetics of things.

Isn’t it funny how whenever humans fantasize about having invisibility as a superpower, the first hypothetical desires which came to mind are of a morally deviant nature? As if suddenly rape and theft would be okay if my victims couldn’t see me. This is the same line of reasoning which allows us to rationalize our obnoxious and often aggressive behaviour on the net. It’s like when mild-mannered individuals encounter Grand Theft Auto, the initial impulse is always to massacre innocent civilians and viciously beat grannies and prostitutes to death.  We enter into dissociative states of mind, which temporarily deactivate our consciences for ever increasing dosages of time.

It’s fascinating how irresistible performance is to the human psyche: if your social group finds you funny or clumsy or superficial, you’ll deliberately caricature those characteristics to reaffirm their deterministic notions of you. We see early signs of this behaviour from infancy. We’re born hungry for breast milk and approval: a child giggles and sees you respond positively, so it does it again. So we stage our lives as predictable plays where we play protagonists, antagonists, extras without lines, directors and score composers- we are everything in the theatre, but the audience. And there’s where things get really interesting, because just like on stage the audience sees more than the cast sees, even more than the director or the playwright.

The audience witnesses flaws and victories in the characters and moments that the creators didn’t fathom in their process. The audience is God. And that’s why this elaborate charade of socialisation is so appealing. Because we are all so worthless to ourselves, but collectively, we’re gods to each other.

It’s dramatic irony at its best.

Featured Image Credit: Flickr

All other images and editing by Athena