One of the pitfalls of being an Extremely Online Person™ is that you can’t go around saying “you love to see it” or “sorry to that man” without sounding like an (OK) Boomer. A very funny joke online doesn’t necessarily translate to real life. There’s a common language on Twitter (right now it’s all about Knives Out and Uncut Gems) and there’s a common language on Instagram (“come to Brazil”) and then there’s TikTok, which isn’t for people who were born in a year that starts with the number 19.
So, as grownups, we are forced to live these dual existences, using our online avatars to express curiosity about the boobs on cats in Cats and laughing to ourselves about the very clever “dad chastising their child for their career choices when there’s a call for a doctor on an airplane” jokes while not bringing that “I’m gonna tell my kids…” conversation into face-to-face conversation. (I have included tweets because some people are blissfully offline.)
Flight attendant: Is there a doctor on this flight?— Lil Uzi Hurt (@lostblackboy) November 26, 2019
Dad: *nudging me* that should've been you
Me: Not now Dad
Dad: Not asking for a journalist to help, are they?
Me: Dad, there's a medical emergency happening right now
Dad: Go and see if “finding a second source" helps
I’m gonna tell my kids this was Natalie and Caroline pic.twitter.com/cpvDU4B9co— Caroline Moss (@CarolineMoss) December 2, 2019
But not even the most studious social media expert can decipher what exactly is going on between actress Margaret Qualley, artist and writer Miranda July, and multi-hyphenate and enigma Jaden Smith.
On November 8th and 9th, Qualley and Miranda July both posted the same FaceTime call on Instagram. It’s very intense and intimate, a breakup of some kind, with a raw Margaret Qualley trying to convince Miranda to see her again. Miranda pleads with Margaret to stop f-cking with her life and mentions her family, while Margaret acts out. There are elements of real life included, with Margaret mentioning her movie with Brad Pitt. They are playing themselves.
It feels like watching a scene from a play. Although Margaret takes up most of the screen, the perspective is Miranda’s, as she gets more exasperated with the conversation. The reason I think it’s fiction is because Margaret reposted it with the caption “By @mirandajuly.” That line of credit indicates that it is performance.
Using a public space to share intimate information is not new, but there is something raw and almost old school (for the Internet) about the style of this performance – it’s like the early days of personal blogs and essays, a heady genre that was dominated by female writers.
About a week after the initial post, Miranda posted this video directed at Margaret.
Then Margaret posted a video directed at Miranda, talking about how she wants to be with her in “real life.” She proposes marriage to Miranda in the video, and films it from the Hollywood Foreign Press party. It has the same feel as the FaceTime video – intimate, but performance. Easy to understand, right?
It was, until Jaden Smith slid into the comments. He and Miranda went back-and-forth (she posted the screenshots of their tweets) trying to connect about a system Jaden says will help them.
So Jaden and Miranda FaceTime and he asks if the stuff with Margaret is real, and Miranda says yes but there’s more than what she’s posted. She talks to him about her heartbreak and he asks her if she’s heard of a Hazion circle. He tells that before the Middle Ages, there were different types of ceremonies for love, but only marriage has survived over time. He suggests that they do it and lays out the steps (it involves pennies, north and south directions, a silk ribbon). She is skeptical but he encourages her and says it’s a way to “register your love with the universe.”
Here are the instructions:
Is Jaden in on this piece of performance art? Yes. Playing a version of himself, he seems empathetic and also genuinely invested in helping them heal with this ceremony, as Jaden probably would be. Could Miranda and Margaret have some kind of relationship in real life that inspired this script? Or is Margaret playing a character based on another person, but doing so as a version of herself? Like most stories, this one is probably drawn from some kind of real-life experience, we just don’t know what.
And there’s another layer to this because of the medium. This fictional saga feels more real than all candid posts that clutter Instagram. For all of the talk about authenticity, we know there is very little of it on Instagram and it’s gone from a trend to a dated and meaningless marketing buzzword. Users have grown more savvy and are conditioned to expect that everything is filtered, sponsored, contrived, promoted and, above all, fake.
This type of critical thinking is absolutely necessary to manage the huge amounts of information we deal with daily, but watching something scripted that feels real is a little disorienting, as oftentimes the opposite is true (like when we watch TV that is supposed to be “real” but is clearly scripted or scroll through “candid” posts that are carefully chosen by a social media team and edited for engagement).
This performance isn’t to hype a project or sell a new line of essential oil suppositories or promote a Christmas single, but an inventive and experimental project on a massive public platform, which is what makes it so off-kilter and watchable. There’s been a few days between posts so the Hazion circle, act three, should be next. A binge-watch to catch up on the storyline will take under 10 minutes.