Feed is a thought-provoking and memorable piece by Theatre Témoin that explores the insidious relationship between the Internet and capitalism. Focusing on the notion of the attention economy – the profitable importance of standing out amidst the endless stream of stimuli and the profit it reaps – the play makes a timely response to clickbait culture and the recent Cambridge Analytica data scandal; which serves to remind us only how contemporary and truthful its terrifying themes are.
Strong in its execution, this is certainly one to click on.
We open to the welcoming words of an SEO (search engine optimization) expert, but he soon takes off his headset and glitches – changing his accent and demeanour several times until he has the optimal style to maintain our attention. It is a stark reminder of the forces at play behind our screens, which want nothing but our time – even if that means standing one step removed from human decency or ethical consideration. In the same way cars slow down to look at a traffic accident, some of the most popular videos feature content unacceptable in a public setting.
At the heart of the plot is a struggling journalist who reports on a dead child overseas and uses an unrelated picture of a dead infant to gain traction – a photo her partner had taken and did not grant permission to use. As the story goes viral we are introduced to a beauty blogger, who expresses her ‘genuine sadness’ in a tutorial (a video we learn has taken seven times to get right). Soon after the SEO expert uses his technical expertise to increase digital coverage of the blogger, and in turn the story. In quick succession, the four become entangled in a virtual spider web and computer-led (in other words, without moral limitations) algorithms work behind the scenes to lead the play out of reality and into the dark recesses of a global and digital infrastructure. As the play becomes more absurdist it becomes more compelling – the actors are giving us what we want in the same way that Facebook data is sold to give us the adverts we supposedly want.
The beauty blogger has to find more ways to keep her viewers’ attention, and in a sinister turn of events cuts her arm in support of the dead child, before cutting her finger off and moving onto removing her limbs. The play culminates in her beheading – the ultimate sacrifice and show of support for the dead child’s suffering (and the way to get the most views). It becomes even more vulgar when we remember the child in question is a different individual altogether: one whose photo was not interesting enough for the story. Her death is a way of increasing her readership, and the story from which she is profiting is in itself a lie.
Particularly interesting was the transformation of the SEO expert, who throughout the play slowly undressed to reveal a green morph-suit and his true identity as Internet-troll. At first, I thought that the SEO expert was a troll all along - but upon further consideration I wondered if perhaps this digital addition – producing more and more shocking content to receive the hit of fame so many crave – resulted in this transformation. Perhaps no one can stay removed from the forces at play; even if you are supposedly the one programming such forces.
An interesting foray into a different aspect of something so integral to many of our lives, Feed cleverly uses a variety of techniques to make its point. Strong in its execution, this is certainly one to click on.