There were many thoughts and emotions I walked away with after seeing the preview of “The Nether”, by playwright Jennifer Haley. I was mostly impressed by the relevance of the story to what is playing out in real life with the increasing debates in the areas of governance and activism between politicians, big business and the people who use the internet.
The story exposes a dilemma between the want to escape and the need for intimacy. The medium this dilemma plays out in is “The Nether” which is the evolution of the the internet. Gamers log on to the domain of a server remote from the immediate space of “here” to the virtual world where they become avatars with an anonymous realtime identity, and where actions do not bear the weight of consequences.
This fantasy game becomes the target of “authority”, and another layer of a “cat and mouse” game plays out the realtime within the confines of a shiny metallic interrogation room between the creator of the game and the detective. The intent of the creator is to provide a haven of anonymity to participants in the projected virtual world that is nostalgic of the Victorian era that is romantic and has the symbolic veil of innocence of a little girl, named Iris.
Iris is the mythic woman-child who is subject to the ultimate fantasies of her suitors. She is the apple of the eyes of her creator who oversees that the rules of the game are adhered to in their proper time. To Iris, he is the master she ultimately wants to please. As any entity that is conscious of their existence, she accumulates thoughts and experiences that evolves to emotional needs: love, intimacy and validation of existence – to be needed. These thoughts and experiences are powered from the organic core of participants to the game. The journey of the characters’ are played out in virtual space and time, then brought back to have meaning and weight in realtime.
In returning to realtime and the relevance of this play I think that not enough attention is being paid to the debates about regulation of the internet. There are heros who act to awaken us to the reality of the intrusive and covert surveillance activities of the governments around the world. To whom does content belong to? What rights does anyone or organized body whether or not they are the elected “authorities”, or powerfully rich companies that can lobby governments to legislate laws to curb and control access to content.
Among the group of heros who has championed and continues to fight for the value of freedom, specifically in the realm of the internet and its outreaches are:
- Aaron Swartz. He was a social justice activist who lead in the defeat of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Had SOPA not been defeated, then the operation of the internet would have granted giant corporations boundless censorship powers. He was the creator of RSS (Really Simple Syndication”) which changed how people get online content and allowed for accessing different sources of information. As an example, RSS enables how millions of people get their podcasts. He committed suicide in January 11th at the age of 26, under the extreme pressures of the prosecution of the government – charging him with 13 felony charges under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).
- Jacob Appelbaum – A computer security researcher who is a developer and advocate for the TOR project, a system that enables users to communicate anonymously on the internet. He and two other individuals, has been the target of government in its investigation by secret efforts to gather private information for the purpose of its investigation into Wikileaks. The federal appeals court had granted the government a warrant to subpoena and acquire the Twitter records of the subjects of their investigation.
- Julian Assange (the recent recipient of the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts in absentia)
Yoko Ono: “This 2013 Courage Award for the Arts is presented to Julian Assange. With your courage, the truth was revealed to us – thank you – and gave wisdom and power to heal the world. On behalf of the suffering world, I thank you. Yoko Ono Lennon. Thank you.
Some common themes in the cases of these men is they were subjected to covert surveillance that was sanctioned by governing bodies who are “protecting” our freedom. They were interrogated, detained and threatened to lose their right to express themselves in their acts to educate and to provide the tools to the public to maintain our value of freedom and truth.
It is monumental and ironic. It is frightful to think and know that the government has been given carte blanche, under the guise of the “Patriot Act”, to poke and dig into the private virtual realms of our lives, then prosecute to protect us from what is deemed to be terrorist acts. Let’s face the the mirror and judge ourselves for our own thoughts and acts. We may discover a conscience that knows what is real and of value.
I was blown away by the brilliance of the work presented in “The Nether”, simply by what it is magnifying in our conscience. Be aware, be conscious and do not lose touch with our humanity.
Without being one sided on the issue of freedom on the internet I mention the story of Manti Te’o, a Heisman Trophy runner up, who was the victim of an internet hoax. He began a relationship with a woman via telephone conversations and the internet, and never had the chance to see the relationship to life, because the girlfriend died of leukemia. The media painted the image of a football hero who fought and was victorious in the football field, because of his love and devotion to the woman; and people had donated generously to charities in the name of Manti Te’o’s cause. Everyone bought into the intrigue.
As described by Te’o and the Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a statement after Deadspin.com, that broke the story of the hoax, “the player was drawn into a virtual romance with a woman who used the phony name Lennay Kekua, was fooled into believing she died of leukemia in September. They said his only contact with the woman was via the Internet and telephone.” (source – Huffington Post 01/17/2013)
In closing, I mention words from Te’o in an interview,
“As people we have to realize that we’re all people, somebody is somebody’s son, somebody is somebody’s daugher. And I try to picture it that way. Would you want somebody doing that to your son? Would you want somebody doing that to your daughter? If not, why do it? Through this whole experience I’ve learned that.”
If any of what I’ve said today rings a truth in you then I encourage you to see “The Nether”, in what it has stirred in me about values. The playing realm can evolve, because we are entities of creation. But what maintains is our values and how we treat each other. “The Nether” will be playing at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City from March 19th to April 14th.
Iris (not verbadim, but from what I remember from the play): “I’ve been thinking about God. Not God in the person sense, but God in how we are to each other.”