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It’s A Social Experiment – Pranks, Political Activism, and Performing Marginality for a Politically Correct Mainstream Audience - Performance Workshop

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Queensland University of Technology ePrints Archive
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Abstract

In this workshop, I invite participants to investigate different ways of performing the real in public spaces and places for activist purposes, including the different effects of more and less metaphoric representations of the real in prompting passersby to stop, look and think about the political statement the performer makes, and think in the short, medium or long term. The workshop is offered in parallel with a keynote presentation, It’s A Social Experiment – Pranks, Political Activism, and Performing Marginality for a Politically Correct Mainstream Audience - In this paper, I investigate the phenomenon of so-called ‘social experiments,’ where pranksters perform stigmatised identities in public spaces and places - from breastfeeding mothers, to muslim women wearing burqas, to disabled people using canes, crutches and wheelchairs – to prompt a response from passersby. Though cast as politicised performances of the real designed to draw attention to the prejudices of the average passerby, the structure of these ‘social experiments,’ frequently focused on candid camera style pranks they film, and upload on social media for all to see, with the hope of going viral and getting a run on morning television, raises performative, political and ethical questions. In this paper, I unpack some of these questions, using examples of social experiments focused on (dis)ability, race, religion, and gender identity. I examine some of the different effects these social experiments can produce, depending on whether they are performed by actors, pranksters or political activists, and whether they are performed by people who really occupy the stigmatised identity they perform or people who are simply wanting to say something about a fraught social topic. I ask whether these social experiments, when they go viral online, produce bonding social capital within communities impacted by current social prejudices, bridging social capital between these and broader communities, both, or neither.

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