In the age of social media, a person’s life does not end with death. 33 RPM and a Few Seconds, is a multimedia performance about the moments and days after a man’s suicide, as his friends and family respond to the news on digital platforms. The production, set during the Arab Spring, is the work of two Lebanese artists, Lina Saneh and Rabih Mroué. It explores how Lebanese society cannot help but read an activist’s personal tragedy through a political lens.
“Each new media has changed our relationship to life, death, and the relationship between public and private,” says Saneh. “When people saw photographs of dead people for the first time, it was bizarre for them. Or the first time people saw videos (taken) of family members moving and talking before they’d died.”
The performance is based on the story of an actual Lebanese activist whose Facebook page was made public after his suicide in 2011. Once the company turned off his privacy settings, commenters flooded in, calling him a martyr, hero, villain, and militant. The lack of live actors in 33 RPM helps to show the lack of control inherent in that totally open forum. “There’s no responsibility toward the speech on Facebook,” says Saneh. “I can say whatever I want and then I disappear.”
Saneh adds that the play shows a very different side to social media than the one we usually associate with mass movements like the Arab Spring.
“Politically, Facebook was a secret tool to organize and communicate. In this personal story, there’s no organization. It’s a kind of chaos. Even people who aren’t the activist’s friends can write whatever they want on his board.” And those who did know him can still turn his death into a political message, the likes of which he never intended.
33 RPM and a Few Seconds is co-sponsored by PS 122 , the Asia Society, and the PEN World Voices Festival. A New York performance on April 29 and 30 follows a U.S. tour that included Chicago, Austin, Cincinnati, and Troy, New York.