Too afraid to get rid of Facebook friends aren’t really your friends? Brian Lobel’s SummerWorks show suggests you put those “Unfriend” decisions in the hands of a stranger.
Brian Lobel knows a lot of people—from his childhood, college, travels around the world, working in London and Chicago, the time he had cancer—and his 1,400-strong Facebook-friend list was a mix of pretty much everyone he ever knew. That is, until he performed Purge in 2011, in which he spent one minute explaining his relationship to each individual to a stranger in a café. At the end of that minute, that stranger decided if that “friend” was kept, or deleted.
Lobel has taken the lessons from that experience and created a stage version of Purge, which will be presented at the SummerWorks Festival Live Art Series on Saturday (Aug. 11, 4:30 p.m.) at the The Lower Ossington Theatre (100 Ossington Ave).
How did your friends initially react to the first performance of Purge?
About a month before the show was going to happen, I sent out an email, and in about three days I got 800 emails from friends, and about 100 people had deleted me. About 95 per cent of people thought it was great and were interested in talking about our relationship. And some people were very hurt and very upset… Some people were like, “I don’t understand why you would do this, why you would put our friendship up on a chopping block.” You know, really dramatic language.
And why do you think these reactions were so strong?
A validation of our relationships is also a validation of us in a way. And the inverse is true, too. A deletion is invalidating of a person, which is not at all what was intended but very much what could be read.
Do you have a personal example of that yourself?
One section of the show is about how I’m not friends with my mother [on Facebook]. Originally, I thought that she didn’t want to know me there. And it wasn’t until I asked her about it, and she was like, “Oh Brian, don’t be stupid—I don’t know how to use that thing. I just thought I would do it in case anyone ever needed to find me.” The neuroses that come from these worlds are so crazy and intense—like, I thought my mother didn’t love me because she wouldn’t be my Facebook friend.
How did it feel giving up the control over deciding who was your friend and who wasn’t?
I have pretty open opinions about who should be one’s friend and who shouldn’t. So I think what I was interested in was if people come in randomly and they tell me what they think, maybe I’ll figure out the way to form these walls for myself. The loss of power was also a little bit coy in that it was my free out with many of my friends. “It wasn’t me who deleted you, it was someone else.”
And were you surprised by how many friends you ended up keeping or losing?
What was interesting about Purge was that I lost about eight per cent of my Facebook friends, which means I defended 92 per cent of people in a real way. I get nervous that Purge the stage show sometimes feels a bit bitchy because I focus on the very negative emails I got. But I think mostly it was a beautiful and exhausting process.
In the end, are you pro or anti-Facebook?
I think a lot of work has been done that seems to judge our connections with social networking, like, “Yes, those are real friendships” or “No, they’re not real friendships.” What Purge does is really take away any sort of judgment. It doesn’t say, “this is good” or “this is bad”; it says, “this is good, and it’s bad, and it’s complicated, and it’s lovely, and it’s horrifying, and it’s all these things together.” And we are all in it.