The Believers Are But Brothers by Javaad Alipoor
HOME, Manchester [10.10.17]
Two men. Gaming. Interneting. The Internet.
Javaad Alipoor’s The Believers Are But Brothers is an exploration of the deepest darkest corners of the internet, breeding grounds of extremism and men lost to their obsessions to make somewhere in this world ‘great again’. Part performative lecture, part storytelling and part audience participation, this piece attempts to immerse us in a world that is only a handful of clicks away on Google.
On the most part, this immersion is successful. We are escorted on a journey alongside three young men, none of whom lead particularly exciting lives. It is with these men that we go from their mundane daily lives and things that bother them into a toxic realm of online forums that treat comments and videos of slaughter and rape as mere lunch time banter. Chuck in a handful of extremist magazines and we’re already well on our way to a side of the internet that no one really wants to see. Or rather a side of the internet, that some choose to see because it speaks to them and it gives them a voice in a world that they feel tramples on them. Even if they fail to realise that the world tramples on plenty of people other than them.
Prior to this show beginning, audience members were asked to join a Whatsapp group and during the show, we would be sent messages ranging from memes of Lionel Richie to slightly more sinister messages arranging meeting places for extremists. Now, I imagine that these messages and experiencing this part of show, immerse an audience in this subject matter on a much deeper and unsettling level… that’s if you actually receive any messages. I was surprised that for a show that was so tech filled, there was no support offered to audiences beforehand (I had told a member of staff that I was not receiving messages) but also the lack of tech equipment available. I am not suggesting that devices should be provided to all audience members as such, however there is an assumption made that audience members have the equipment and/or knowledge to access this part of the show. This in itself is a reflection of who this show can be for and I question a show that has such a significant message but can only be partially experienced by its audience. Not all phones have the capacity for Whatsapp and not everyone has or can afford a smartphone. How do these audience members fully experience this show? Or is this only for the majority? Something for the masses. A modern day technological old boys’ club…And it’s all very well to suggest sharing with the stranger next to you but no one really appreciates a random peering at their phone when anything might pop up. After all, you’ll need your data switched on…
Despite this accessibility issue, I do feel that Javaad has created an important piece of theatre. His performance is compelling and he possesses a knack for storytelling that successfully entices audiences and makes us believe that we are truly in this dystopian digital world. He successfully highlights the prevalence and silent creeping of the internet into our daily lives and, uncovers the unsettling notion that one might be able to change society’s DNA through the power of the internet.
Verdict: an important show tackling interesting subject matter with an interesting concept for audience immersion – though this needs a little more thinking