Graphic by Shenuka Corea

Conflict in Social Media and Theater

The social media mindset will make us believe that there is something wrong with us, while a good play might remind us that this conflict is not only normal, but necessary.

Mar 5, 2017

Why do we go to the theater? Why do we check a friend’s Snapchat story? The impulse for both is similar, but the outcomes are quite different. The main motivation for witnessing both a performance and a Snapchat story is curiosity. That may be one of the most crucial traits in the history of humanity — the desire to know more about everything around us, including things that seem useless. We like to know how the universe works, but we are also eager to know what is going to happen in the next season of Game of Thrones. Likewise, we need to know if Hamlet kills his uncle and we need to know if our high school friends had a good time at the party they went to last weekend. The filters of our curiosity are not based on relevance or quality.
Social media is, among other things, a complex platform of stories. Our indiscriminate curiosities throw us there and we often dive for hours among pictures and reflections of other people. But unlike in theater, the stories that we are consuming on Facebook or Instagram are directly entangled with our own lives. Soon after we leave the theater, the story recedes to our memory, where we visit it from time to time. There is usually a well-defined boundary between the world of the play and the world of our reality. In the case of social media, the line between the story and our daily experience is blurred. Whatever people do on social media helps to shape our judgements about them. Their stories are a tool for us to define them more accurately. The way we define them and the way they define us affects, positively or negatively, our relationship with them. Considering this, it would be convenient if the stories on social media were somewhat genuine. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The main goal of personal stories on social media is to make your life seem as enviable as possible. We know that people see our Instagram or Snapchat accounts and use the information there to decide how to relate to us. It is only normal that we want to look as successful, fun and interesting as possible. So of course our stories contain exclusively what is likable, admirable or respectable. But where are all the things that make us feel ashamed or guilty? Success and enjoyment are public, while struggle and pain are private. Platforms like Facebook, although they are useful for many purposes, are also constant reminders of public joys, belying any private darkness. If you scroll down your Instagram or Facebook feed for an hour, apart from some political confusion, you get the sensation that life is only supposed to be a festival of great moments. Even if we know that there is private conflict lying behind the festive photos and statuses, constantly witnessing the bright side of everyone’s life surely affects the way we perceive our own lives.
Because of this relentless exposure to social media, we instinctively think of a compilation of great memories and achievements when we think of a good life. Thus, when we look at our own lives and see something unpleasant, we panic and we assume that there is something wrong with our stories. Theater, I believe, helps us remember that life is full of conflict. The aim of a Facebook album or a Snapchat story usually seems to be to hide conflict, to make life look like an ascending curve of uninterrupted success. A play, on the other hand, requires conflict — without conflict, the play would wither.
Imagine a play in which the characters are based solely on their Instagram or Facebook photos. The characters would laugh with their friends and go from one event to the next, always smiling and having fun or doing something indistinctly important. The characters would have no secrets to unveil, no shameful traits to make us cringe, no mistakes to make us anxious. We would leave this unbearable play with the feeling that it was a fraud because seemingly nothing happened.
My own view is that we go to the theater to witness a truth. Of course, this truth is not limited to the factual. In its broadest sense, we want the characters to say something sincere or express an emotion which we can empathize with, either through words or through movements. For some reason — which I am far from understanding — witnessing the truths of theater through the story’s conflict gives the audience the rapture they came for.
I believe that the role of theater as a conveyor of truth is especially important today. Social media, despite its many benefits, does have the capacity of modifying our worldview in a negative way. It can make us slightly shortsighted about what a good story should be. Theater, by having conflict at its core, helps heal that shortsightedness and makes us see the good and the bad that every compelling story must contain. When we realize that our lives and our minds are sometimes tainted by darkness, the social media mindset will make us believe that there is something wrong with us, while a good play might remind us that this conflict is not only normal, but also necessary.
Rodrigo Luque is a contributing writer. Email him at
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