What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Friday: Green living.

23 February 2017

Public Performance

The amazing Angela wrote an excellent thing about public grief for celebrities a couple months back, which got us talking a little bit about performative grief and why humans engage in it. I still don't have answers, but sometimes putting fingers on keyboard yields coherent thought. Let's see.

Speaking of performance--why
else would this expression resonate
with so many?
I first learned the expression "performative _____" in an Introduction to Theatre class my final semester at UT. Our instructor spent an early lecture talking about the distinctions between theatre and performance, because all of life is performance. (Think about the choices you make this morning-- showered or not? Shaved or not? What do you wear? How does your hair/makeup look? Do you drive, walk, bike, or take transit to work? And the critical one--what do all those performances say about you?) Calling it a performance doesn't make it any less genuine--I walk to work instead of driving and it's absolutely a statement about what's important to me, but that doesn't change the fact that I get there every day. Ditto for those who drive in and daily complain about the traffic. We still arrive. Transportation was performed, by different people with different lifestyles and preferences.

Social media adds an extra dimension to our performance, and one of the reasons I love it so much is that it gives me the chance to reflect on my own performance as well as those happening around me, share those thoughts with friends, get feedback--my whole life has devolved into one long metadiscourse, and engaging with others' metadiscourses at the same time. You know what? I'm okay with that--if for no other reason that it allows me to know people differently than if I merely saw them at the water cooler a couple times a day. It's still a performance, and a carefully curated one at that, but there's a reason I call many folks I know from Twitter "friends" even if we've only met in real life once or twice. Or never. What's presented face-to-face is no less curated, but it's a different collection of what makes me me than I can share online. Or of what makes you you.

What does this have to do with public grief? As Angela points out, it would be so much cooler to read the stories of how this or that celebrity touched lives. And that's what many folks share, and it's beautiful. And many more of us content ourselves with "RIP _____" or "Enough already!" or something in between. Because, I think, not knowing the deceased personally makes it a bit of a struggle to know how to respond appropriately, but the human brain craves that connection with others, to collectively acknowledge that something has shifted in the world. And, for many, there's a need to be seen engaging with the story of the day. So we post our memes and sad emojis and favourite YouTube clips, and after a couple of days our desire for that connection and/or display is met. And a new performance stands ahead of us, waiting for us to engage.

So is it a good or bad thing? I'm not sure I can say. What do you think?

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