Who is Erica Wexler and how is she still online?
by Michael Newton
Despite its association with fancy internet tech, transmedia has a simple heart. All that you have to do to ‘transmediate’ your project is combine different mediums, and present or use those mediums at different times. Consequently, you expand the world of your ‘story’ beyond a single product. However, when you do this, the results can bear strange fruit. The case of Erica Wexler is Online, a film released independently by Doron Hagay in 2009/10, provides a useful example.
Erica Wexler is Online became a transmedia project when Erica Wexler signed up for facebook. The film tracks the continued facebook activity of Wexler, who is dead. So, having her actually use the ubiquitous internet site in real life felt like a logical move, a necessity for the project.
Hagay pursued the page as a way to increase the complexity of his story and as a means of getting more eyes on the project. But as the release date passed, his interest started fading. The sad result was that Wexler, who had become more than just a character in a story, also started fading, this time for real. Her long stretches of silence raised questions that fit right into the themes of the film. What is the nature of death? What is the state of the dead? How and why do the dead communicate with us?
When a loved one dies, a small part of you never wants to believe that the person is actually gone. In the film, this disbelief is made explicit, as her people struggle to comprehend her loss in light of the continued presence of her voice. A similar emotion was aroused as Wexler started to go dark ‘for real.’ However long the silence, you just couldn’t be sure if it was definitive. Thus, a fictive bereavement (comprising the purpose of the film) crossed over to the real, to be felt, however modestly, by anyone who happened to be paying attention.
Playing a low-stakes version of God, Hagay decides, from time to time, to check in, post a message, drag out the game. Just when you finally accept that she has left, that the project is finally over—a message. Out of nowhere, and to no real purpose, but proof that Erica is still here, still with us, gently haunting facebook.
Who is Wexler? How does her presence, her dead voice, sound? Banal. Astrological. “You’re a dream!!!” She is becoming less cogent, her responses more generalized, as if she were slowly becoming less of a human and more of a ghost. She doesn’t have anything to offer us save short pronouncements, a ghost’s knowledge, which doesn’t translate well to our human ears and understandings. Doron doesn’t have anything to gain from keeping this page, and yet there it is, there she is.
We can read the second, endless death of Erica Wexler as a manifestation of the consequence of marketing and promotion played out to their logical extreme. These creations don’t just vanish once we stop paying attention to them. All of that social media marketing has a weight that cannot be cancelled, that floats as code through scattered network servers, never totally gone. So in a strange sense, engaging in social-media or viral-marketing or transmediation carries a moral weight. The same moral weight bound Frankenstein to his Prometheus.
Due to the film’s conceptual structure, this facebook gimmick—which was created, maintained and then semi-abandonded, equating to a strange, drawn out digital death—both becomes a commentary on the commercial impulse underlying social-media, and actually works to fulfill the premise of the movie. In turn a more satisfying thematic and philosophical ‘pay-off’ is generated, this adds to the project’s value however modestly. In short, by moldering on the internet, Erica Wexler is keeping her movie from moldering on a shelf.