It was a show but it was real. It was about the Internet, but it wasn’t the Internet: I didn’t have to remind people I existed, to reveal my many castings, that I had a soul on top of a body, and all that jazz.
The play started. The actors slowly disappeared to leave space to dozens of screens featuring an unexpected mix of viral videos, creating a choir of absurd mashups leading to unsuspected poetry hidden in the corners of today’s worldwide web. Modernity had its enemies, but as a part of life, it held a unique form of beauty.
And then it stopped. My actor friend faced the audience and, of course, had to talk about the peculiar, horrific and unique “viral” video of the year: the murder of Lin Jun. My friend asked if anyone was willing to watch it on stage, for the first time. This was a highly daring move, at the limits of any moral system, and some people reminded him by leaving the theatre. Was Montreal so small that they actually knew the victim or, worse, his murderer? Or was this just plain wrong?
I didn’t raise my hand. I had no interest in watching such an evil crime, out of respect for Lun Jun’s family, not to encourage a psychopath and because it wouldn’t bring anything but nightmares. But some guy raised his hand.
I wondered: was it as wrong as I felt it was and if so, why had so many people watched the video since it first got uploaded? As the voyeur proudly walked up to the stage, I realized that his motivation was, to a certain level, only human. I could see he felt empowered, strong and invincible from measuring himself to the most extreme violence imaginable. And I knew he wasn’t alone. In his eyes, I detected the hypnotic state specific to people looking at a fire, at an accident or at some cheap re-enactment of a crime on a random TV show… Humans feared death as much as they needed to face it, at least once in a while. It reminded them about the extraordinary power of being alive. Yet why did this still feel wrong?
The answer came at the end of the video. Only this one guy could see it, which relieved the audience but also forced us to observe him. The clip ended and after a brief second, the voyeur shrugged, in such a subtle manner that only a few noticed. He shrugged. Like when you mean “it’s not that bad”. What he meant was probably that it was “not that bad to watch”. But he was looking at the problem the wrong way, because he was only looking at himself, Magnotta style. Had he thought, for a second, about how bad it had been for Lin Jun?
Unlike Magnotta, this guy wasn’t a psychopath. He was the product of an era in which we were all so busy watching our own feelings that we were losing our ability to imagine those of others. Projection and, by extension, compassion, was a skill endangered by a system that praised the lack of pity and overblown responsibility.
As an actor, I surely tried to get out of myself and feel what others felt. But like anyone else, if not more, I was constantly observed and analyzed, which threatened to bring me back to myself at any moment. That is what was wrong.
Watching the video was not the problem. Not understanding what it implied was the problem, and probably the reason people wanted to look at it in the first place. Whether you were a tech-savvy baby-boomer or a teenager raised on Facebook, you were part of the new virtual generation. Videogames about shootings didn’t automatically make mass shooters. They could even act as a release. But in the midst of our second-degree existence, did we see so little of reality that our subconscious had somewhat forgotten that life was real? I was sure of one thing: people who knew Lin Jun hadn’t.