No Fun by Eva and Franco Mattes (aka 0100101110101101.org) is an approximately sixteen minute video depicting a diptych of video images.
In the video to the right of the diptych, one views a young man who has (it appears) hung himself to death.
In the video to the left of the diptych, one views a continually changing series of random computer users who are responding to the sight of this hanging man.
More specifically, the video is a documentation of the Chatroulette interface in which one of the artists (Franco Mattes) performs the role of the hanging man and leaves it up to the algorithms of Chatroulette (and the pool of Chatroulette users on-line at the time) to generate the bulk of the video’s subsequent content.
The first thing to note is that one’s focus through the duration of the video is nudged further away from the video of the hanging man and closer towards the video of users’ varied reactions to the sight of the hanging man.
What one takes away is the picture of a virtual public responding to the possibility of a real suicide.
In most cases, a legible pattern forms in which, first of all, a “shock effect” invariably occurs wherein the user confronts the image of the suicide and exhibits a strong reaction.
The sight of a suicide on-line or off is obviously going to be unsettling, but, there’s something about placing a suicide in this context which is unsettling in a very particular way.
For example, the hanging man here is “live” in the sense that their virtual persona is functioning, but the user (the actual hanging man, himself) is “dead” in the sense that his biological body is no longer functioning.
So, can one really say that he’s definitely not there?
(Like a ghost, his presence in the bedroom is palpable.)
But, can one really say that he is there?
(Of course not, he’s dead.)
So, one asks one’s self:
Is a dead body the same thing as the real person?
Is the on-line persona of a person representing themselves as their own dead body the same thing as the person?
Furthermore, the body here is suspended in the air—both floating, free from the laws of gravity (as if surfing through the Web) as well as falling, on the precipice of physical collapse (as if dying).
That is to say, the body itself is in-between the reality of the ground and the non-reality of the sky, which only adds to this confusion regarding its location.
After this initial shock effect, then, a range of reactions occur from apathy, to pondering, to sexual excitement, to denial, to the need to take a picture of the screen with a digital camera, to amusement, to vicious insulting, to hilarity, to confusion, and, in one case, to calling the police.
Some people assume it’s a joke, some people think it might be real, and most people aren’t quite sure.
Within this range of reactions, though, there is one underlying theme which remains as constant as the presence of the hanging man himself:
Is this real?
That is to say, first of all, is this really a dead body or is it rather a clever fakery perpetrated by, say, a performance artist?
And, second of all, is this real, as in is this the sort of real human situation wherein I—as a real human being—am ethically called upon to really act (whether it’s real or whether it’s fake)?
That question is by far and away the most common theme brought up by the users throughout the video’s runtime.
Is this real?
NOTE: This post might be read in conjunction with the essay “A Rape in Cyberspace; or How an Evil Clown, a Hatian Trickster Sprit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society” by Julian Dibbel (1993)