The millennial generation continues the 150-year search for Wonderland.
It’s been 151 years since the publication of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in 1865. Since then, Alice’s fantastical world has been reproduced for both film and television. There was “Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland” (1951), a silent film directed by Edwin Stanton Porter; “Betty Boop in Blunderland” (1934), a Betty Boop cartoon by Dave Fleischer; “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), the popular adaptation by Walt Disney; “Alice” (1982), directed by Woody Allen; and the list goes on.
One of the newest productions of “Alice” has taken to the stage. Wonder.land (pronounced “wonder dot land”) is a representation of the fall of a new generation of Alices down a new kind of rabbit hole: social media, our very own individual wonderlands. And through a new looking glass: the reflective screens of our very own cell phones, computers, tablets, etc.
Wonder.land was created by Damon Albarn, Moira Buffini, and Rufus Norris and is playing at London’s National Theatre. The coming-of-age production centers around fourteen-year-old, mixed-race Aly--played by Lois Chimimba--and “explores the blurred boundaries between our online and offline lives.” As Aly struggles to make her way through typical struggles of the outside world around her--her friends, her parents’ divorce--as well as her own internal struggles with insecurity and alienation, she seeks refuge in a magical online game, called Wonder.land. She creates an tall, blonde avatar named Alice--played by Carly Bawden--who she uses to navigate her new online life. However, eventually the separation starts to blur between Aly’s real world and the one she has created. The characters in her game begin to personify people in her real life: her mother as the White Queen, her school mistress as the Red Queen, and her gambling father as the Mad Hatter.
After reading about the new Wonder.land production, I curiously dove back into the world of Walt Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.” It’s a world I hadn’t seen in about fourteen years, and I’d forgotten how strange it is. It’s surreal, but extremely clever at the same time. Alice’s quest through wonderland became more and more similar to our own journey through the digital age.
In the beginning of the movie, Alice is daydreaming and begins to wish for a world of her own, a wonderland where “everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t.” She then follows a white rabbit wearing a coat and a pocket watch down a rabbit hole, leading her into Wonderland. Alice spends the remainder (?) of the movie chasing this rabbit through forests and fun houses, but for what? She meets a handful of insane characters in Wonderland, but essentially, she focuses her attention on the rabbit alone.
If social media is the new “Wonderland,” then what is the “white rabbit” that we’re searching for? What is it that are we trying to follow through Wonderland?
It’s no secret that social media has taken a toll on the digital generation for the worse. Arguments can be made that social media is consuming, addictive, and can cause bullying and maliciousness. According to a blog post on Degreed, comments and likes on social media posts represent positive reinforcement for the individual that’s posting, making that individual want to post more and more in order to gain more and more comments/likes. Hannah Schacter analyzes our relationships with social media in her article, “Me, Myselfie and I: The Psychological Impact of Social Media Activity.” Schacter claims that we not only seek out positive reinforcement through social media, but also “social approval” in trying to attract traffic to our profiles.
Sometimes we tend to use social media to present a kind of alter ego for ourselves. It’s a self that doesn’t necessarily have to be a “fake” self, but it’s a self that we can control. We can control what we post, when to post it, who can see it, what filter to use, etc. Perceptions are powerful; and social media is one way that we can make sure to control perceptions of ourselves. It’s one way where we can create a world of our own, just like Alice.
But what’s bad about that?
In Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland,” after Alice crawls through the rabbit hole, she comes to a door, through which she is too big to fit, with a witty, talking doorknob.
“You’re much too big,” he says. “Simply impassible.”
“You mean impossible?” Alice replies.
“No, impassible.” Then doorknob chuckles and says, “Nothing’s impossible.”
That’s the allure of the “Alice” stories, and the allure of our digital personas on social media: the possibility of infinite possibilities. I think that’s why the story has stayed with us for so long, because we still dream of finding a wonderland. In “Alice in Wonderland,” anything can happen, and it does. Sure, it all turns out to be a dream in the end, but still. For a little while, Alice has a world of her own. And who doesn’t want that?
There’s nothing wrong with Alice wanting a Wonderland of her own with tea parties and white rabbits. And there’s really nothing wrong with us for wanting a digital Wonderland with likes, filters, and hashtags. Arguments have been made that social media consumes us, controls our lives, turns us into anti-social hermits. Maybe it does. But maybe it also gives us an outlet, an escape from everyday worries into Wonderland, where we control what happens and everything can be a little nonsense if we want it to be. Maybe the “white rabbit” is a small sense of ourselves, or who we want to be.