My April Fools’ Facebook Performance

By Emmaly Wiederholt


This past April Fools’ Day I pulled a rather silly Facebook prank. Over the course of the day I updated my status over seventy times, chronicling every inane thing I did and every inane thought I had throughout the day. My point was to emulate to an extreme degree the ridiculous use of Facebook I see day-to-day, to poke fun at a few of my personal favorite sentiments I’ve seen expressed, and generally to do something so outrageous as to become an effigy. It was part joke, part social commentary, and part performance art. I had a blast.

Yep, that second to last sentence you just read mentioned there was a performance element to my shenanigans. I’ve been thinking lately about what defines a performance. Is it simply doing something in front of a lot of people? By that definition all of Facebook and social media is akin to being in a constant state of performance, and perhaps this is true. Perhaps the Panopticon Theory (the idea that we will change our behavior if we think we are being watched, regardless of if we really are being watched) is so entrenched in our day to day lives that we can’t consider any of our actions (or potentially even our thoughts), without considering first an invisible audience we perceive might be watching us.

This is scary, Orwellian sounding stuff. But what’s really scary is that it isn’t some creepy government conspiracy theory I’m putting forward here. What I’m saying is that we don’t need a creepy government watching our every move to change our behavior. We do it to each other. We think someone out there is paying attention to us and then act accordingly. How else to explain the silly updates people so freely give of themselves? We don’t need a government to force up our privacy; we are glad to give it up in one swell Facebook post!

Yes, what I’m proposing is that social media has become an insidious force that puts us in a constant state of performance, one so ill-considered that instead of offering up carefully curated content (in the form of articles, books, films, etc.), we offer up anything at all. The saddest part of my April Fools’ joke was that I didn’t have to look far to come up with new posts. When low on ammunition I would just peruse Facebook until I found something perfect. My cousin wrote: “Just chillin at home.” Bam! I wrote: “Just chillin at work.” The inspirational photos I posted were all shared recently by my “friends,” as if wisdom was as simple as a motivational poster in an elementary school. Even “waking up” and “going to sleep” I have regularly seen offered up. The ongoing performance of Facebook is rarely considered or purposeful.

And yet from another standpoint Facebook serves the purpose of creating an audience. It certainly is effective at distributing content. Are you reading this article because you saw it on Facebook? I get a fair amount of my news on Facebook, and I get endless entertainment. I have no intention of giving up my Facebook anytime soon. Over the course of my April Fools’ Facebook joke I probably had some 300 notifications. People were following my every post; I had a captive audience. Was my privacy such a bad thing to give up for attention? People I haven’t talked to in months or even years reached out to me. Warm fuzzy feelings of connection abounded.

What am I really getting at here? I don’t know. I’m a professional performer. I like to get out in front of people and entertain them. I relish in being the center of attention. But by the same token (or perhaps because I regularly offer up my body as a performer and my opinions as a writer) I feel more strongly than ever the necessity of keeping the bounds of performance clear. This article, it’s a performance. My April Fools’ Facebook stunt was a performance. If I wanted to broadcast it, brushing my teeth, showering, even shitting, could be a performance as well. But that’s my private territory. Let’s not confuse connectedness with broadcasting, and let’s be purposeful about when we’re performing and when we’re not (or shouldn’t be). Let’s let the curtain come down every once in a while.

View the entire day of my Facebook April Fools’ Joke here!

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