Thoughts on Chris Goode’s Weaklings

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I think of these appropriated texts as historical documents—as evidence of who and how we are and what we do. And I think of the characters who speak these texts as characters like the rest of us: people through whom the culture speaks, often without the speakers knowing it.

Thus spoke Chuck Mee re the (re)making project. For a long while, Mee’s been making plays out of found material – blog posts, mainly – in an effort to prove that no play is original. But is Mee’s work just a reflection on dramatic form? Well, yep. But it’s also a reflection on artists’ relationships to the Internet – the flux of source, inspiration and platform, subjectivity transformed, transitioning aesthetic and linguistic possibilities etc etc etc. And, already, I feel like I’m writing this in 2001. Is the Internet still a thing? Is the rise of the digital era still a talking point? Is hyperreality still hip? Can we still respond to technological determinism as artistic material? Or is it just banal? Or, the opposite: is it an artistic priority to keep banging that drum about the transitioning human condition?

Cornelia Parker’s Magna Carta seemed to be a current response to some of these questions. She took a snapshot of the Wikipedia Magna Carta page in 2014 and commissioned professional embroiderers and laymen to contribute to a maximalist three dimensional quilt-like version in the medium of cloth and thread. It was achieved through real, durational, physical labour and through community RL (Real Life) contact. It spoke of some kind of reality hunger: the Wiki Magna Carta might be the thing now, but, as artists, can we problematise the era of simulation? How should artists respond to the Internet now? As a subject, location, or state? As oppressive or expansive? Or is it beyond reproach, celebration or comment?

So what about Weaklings, Chris Goode and Company’s new play? It’s based, like Mee’s, around blog posts. But this time the source is a single, notorious blog: Dennis Cooper’s. And, to spectate Weaklings, according to Christopher Brett Bailey, requires some online preparation. Namely, you should check out Cooper’s blog. That was something I didn’t do until right before I saw the play last night. And maybe this is because I don’t fit the demographic of youngqueermale appreciators of de Sade-esque po-mo pastiche.

Weaklings is a mediation on the blog (and therefore the Internet) through a variety of media. The main subject is the peculiarity of Cooper’s dialogue with his fans. When they comment he writes them. He engages beyond the normalised artist/consumer binary. They share content, and the blog, according to fans, is a commons of young tender intellectual aesthetes interested in the same queer transgressive. What’s prominent is their shared language, and how they reshape their lexicon according to their VL (i.e. ‘Dude, get me a milkshake or I’ll vomit over your HTML!’). Cooper’s blog is also a ‘safe’ sharing space: people divulge life stories (such as ‘I date-raped the prom queen’). Some true, some not.

So in the play we have filmed testimonies of consumers of Cooper’s blog, and Goode’s really neat use of outtakes ensures we get to see the interviewees at their most uninhibited. They’re also prompted to say stuff: ‘say this’. Truth/untruth – again. And we’re not sure if these are real fans or actors playing fans, unless we search on Google – which in a way is the refrain of the play. We have Cooper represented, up high, in a realist enclave, surfing from a West Coast desk (all pot plants and cups of joe and mid-century modern office space) played by Karen Christopher. She’s engaging with fans in an almost Recorded Delivery kind of way: she speaks Cooper’s words and has an earpiece. But we don’t watch her totally; she’s speaking into her laptop and we watch her image projected on a mesh screen CS. Below, are three male actors – Cooper fans (played by Brett Bailey, Nick Finegan and Craig Hamilton). They are mostly their bodies: little striplings, and Total desire, ‘doing’ technology to get their kicks. And the blog is the primary outlet for all this diffuse queer-arty sexual energy. They film themselves, naked, posed, aroused. They smoke and recite posts and curate their V-selves and repeat. There’s no RL here. Their language isn’t RL: it’s text-speak, all pace and post-OED and all OL phatic.

Surrounding them is a plethora of recorded voices and videos and images: they’re immersed in Tom Hall’s video design and Katherine Williams’ lighting. It’s dark, not dank, LED pretty, all synapsy techy-ness. And the sound is great. And, through this deconstructed, imagistic, approach, we chronicle the blog from its commencement in 2005 to its current manifestation. We engage with its material and we engage ourselves constructing light psychological analyses of its users and master.

Inside this very tableaux-y examination of hyperreality are snippets of story and character. The best is Cooper’s epistolary thing with one of his fans who starts PM’ing shots of his self-harm. Later, we watch Cooper feeling some kind of burden of altruism. But it’s the live images (the three young men engaged in consuming the blog) that are the most engaging. These climax in a sequence in which one of the boys is respectively rimmed and strangled by the others. This didn’t move me, but maybe that’s because I’m dead inside, saturated by images, like all digital natives.

So the Internet is the ‘thing’ in all senses. There’s nothing else here and Cooper is arbiter and we still need to worry about the ethics of it all. And we’re still doing Baudrillard – not that we shouldn’t be. But, unlike the Matrix, the great reveal, when we’re talking about the Internet now, isn’t that we’re entering into hyperreality, collectively; it’s that some people (these weaklings) live FT in The Nether. And the big question of the play, for me, concerns whether that’s okay. Can they/we live like this? There’s some suggestion that this particular virtual world is a necessity for its largely queer community: that RL is too hostile for these weaklings. I hope that’s not true.

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