Heather Ford
Heather Ford

Sitting man, quiet Internet

Before going to see Sitting Man by James Cairns at the Wits Downstairs Theatre last night, I googled the title of the play to check it out. Because I know that the James Cairns I was looking for, is not the ‘Third child born to James Cairns and Elizabeth’, nor is he the dead guy to which the obituary listing refers. I moved to the next page on the search rankings entitled ‘Click here to set your Home Page to Artslink.co.za …’ which gave me the only paragraph on the Internet that refers to the play (according to the first search listings on Google).

The play was incredible. It moved me in a way that had my innards spinning, as Cairns literally tumbles into each of the quintessential South African characters that he portrays. The play is funny, and also not funny at all. Probably the best thing about it is watching other people in the audience to see their reaction. Did that young black man to my left think that that un–PC joke was funny or did he just stare? Did the audience members keep on laughing when they realised that that character was being raped? Did that older white woman understand the Zulu joke? My eyes were sore by the end of it because I couldn’t just stare, but boy did I want to know what their reaction would be!

Because I was so blown away by the play, and because there were only ten people in the audience, and because I believe that every South African should see this play, I soon returned to thinking about why I couldn’t find out about it on the Internet — the Internet, that place that is the microcosm of our world, that place where dreams are possible, where even artists can afford to have an online presence and where you can plan your social, business and emotional life in the click of a few keys?

My job involves a lot of preaching about why the Internet is such an incredible resource for those with few resources — i.e. artists. I talk a lot about non–market production on the Internet — in other words, how production can still happen where there is no direct economic incentive, where there are other incentives available for people to produce. Where a lot of people produce a lot of stuff just because there is a place for them to do it, and a community where their contributions will be recognised and appreciated.

But I’ve realised that a lot of non–market production for independent artists like James needs a platform online for it to be kick–started. In Brazil, the local oil company, Petrobras and the Brazil Culture Ministry supported a purely online initiative called ‘Overmundo‘ to highlight and promote local Brazilian culture and art, developed entirely by the Brazilian public. In the two or so years of the site’s history, the number of people who contribute to the platform has gone beyond 26,000. Granted, the statistics of web users in Brazil is much higher than in South Africa, but Brazil is also a developing country with similar socio–economic problems.

I guess there are hundreds of reasons why there is no single page that is clearly marked, easily–searchable and where you can book your ticket directly or at least show your interest, support or response. But there’s only one answer. And here, I’ll just have to do what my favorite T-shirt says, and ‘Shut up and make something’.

This article is licensed by Heather Ford under a Creative Commons Attribution license.