Monday, October 21, 2019

"The Right to Be Forgotten" at Arena Stage

Content warnings: parental death (off stage), an ableist joke, a joke about suicide, and a number of jokes about stalking. Also there is a huge lawyer breach that even my non-lawyer self caught.

As a wonderfully acted thought provoking piece of theater, "The Right to Be Forgotten" entirely succeeds. I'm not sure the case it chooses to focus on is the best choice, and given much of the show is about whether it should go forward, that ends up being a bit of a fundamental flaw.
When he was seventeen, Derril went to a fellow classmate's house because she was sick to check on her. Three times. On the same day. She went from touched to concerned. A blog post about this, and some subsequent lurking in hallways behavior was posted online and developed a large following. Posters began using Derril's name as code for their own stalkers. So now 28, he finds it hard to find jobs or teach or date when this info is out there. He wants the blog delisted, something Europeans have already fought for and won. He finds a lawyer who has been dying to go up against big tech and win. There's an attorney general with a tricky election who also cpnsoders taking this on. And of course the lobbyist for big tech who has her own reasons for thinking free speech is more important than forgetfulness. 
The plot is tightly woven, but oh gosh there were some buttons in there for me. Derril doesn't want to change his name because that's the name his parents called him, that's the name he used when he did all the good things. And I wanted to say, oh hi, imagine being a woman where the default expectation is still that you change your name partway through your life.
I certainly agree that seventeen year-olds make mistakes. But the AG says he will only take on the case if his victim agrees. So she has to relive the thing that happened to her. She has to grant forgiveness. She has to be willing to publicly relive being a victim so that her harasser can move on. 
I am in favor of restorative justice. I certainly think as a country and as a culture we have to better consider how people can move on from the mistakes that they make. But it is not asking for public forgiveness just to make the harassers life better. 
If you are a person who likes to go to plays and have a spirited discussion about the ins and outs of it with your friends, I think this play does that. I sat there wondering what if it had been reversed? What if the person trying to be forgotten was a girl who had been stalked or slut shamed or otherwise slandered on the internet. Or even if it was someone who had already apologized and made amends to the person harmed instead of waiting ten years? People even fictional people aren't perfect. But I feel our rush for closure often skips past the restoration part. And this play did too.