In another life, I had the privilege of playing the “Phantom” in the Kopit and Yeston version of Phantom of the Opera. It was an amazing and difficult role made more difficult by the fact that I had to wear a mask for the entire show. I mention this because as an actor I had to find a way to communicate with my entire body the things that my face would have communicated. I realized that no one on stage could read my expressions or “see” what I was thinking. I think of this in terms of posting on social media and it makes me wonder am I my avatar? Am I a true expression of the person that I portray online or are we all electronic phantoms masking our true selves.
This thought came back to me while listening to a radio discussion on about larping or Live Action Role Playing and how it has become a way for people to express an alter ego possibly acting or saying something that they would not say face to face. It is well-known that avatars allow people to act in a way that they would not normally act making it seem as if we have created an electronic shadow world where our fantasies can be played out without harm or consequences. A place where we can say whatever outrageous things we like, act as outrageously as we like and none holds accountable. The only issue is that these actions do have consequences, there are cyber bullies and cyber-shaming. One could argue that the President is also playing a role, whereas he once used the media with impunity to shame people, (Reporters, Mexicans, Women, anyone who disagrees, etc.) he now seems to be shocked that, when held in an accountable realm people react to the behavior with appropriate condemnation and disgust. Once the avatar of celebrity has been superseded it seems the sad truth comes out. The man behind the curtain is the same as the beast before the curtain. The electronic Westworld we have created is still inhabited by the same consequences as the real world.