Day two of Women’s History Month. Today we’re going to try a thought experiment. Try to imagine a world where women are bullied so relentlessly on the Internet and other sites that social media becomes a living hell for them. I know, hard to imagine, right? Today, I give you…a play.
NEIL: Young man, late teens, early 20s
VALERIE: Young woman, late 20s, early 30s
CAPED TROLL: Young man, same age as NEIL
TROLLS: any age, any sex
PLACE: The Internet
SETTING: Inside the Internet. 0s and 1s in various sizes and colors clutter the stage. Otherwise, the stage is bare except for a small bedroom in one corner, with just a bed and a computer. There is a plate on the bed with a half-eaten slice of pizza. On the floor beside the bed is a cup which has been tipped over, and an empty beer can.
AT RISE: Neil is sitting on the bed in his shorts with the computer on his lap. As he types, his words should be projected on the backdrop. A female voice comes from offstage, calling his name, asking him to come down for dinner.
NEIL: Gee, Mom, can’t you leave me alone? I’m busy!
(NEIL types. On the screen we see “It has been scientifically proven that the male brain is superior to the female brain”. NEIL waits a minute, grabs a bit of pizza, gets a reply, and types “Well, you can suck my cock”. Pleased with himself, he stands, stretches, does a stretching dance, and goes back to the computer to wait for an answer. He peers at the screen, then types “Someone should rape you”. The female voice calls him again.)
NEIL: Get off my back! I said I’m busy!
(NEIL goes back to the computer, frowns, and starts to type. We see the words “Get off the Internet, bitch”, but before he can hit enter, the screen goes black. NEIL checks the cord, wiggles it, turns the computer back on, but the screen stays black. He begins to hit the computer, first softly, then harder. Finally, he hits the computer screen, but instead of his fist bouncing off, it glides into the computer screen as though it were made of water. He pulls on his arm. It won’t come out of the computer.)
NEIL: Mom! I need some help!
(NEIL’S arm is pulled further into the computer screen, now up to his shoulder.)
NEIL: Mom! I’m in trouble here!
(NEIL tries to get off the bed, but the computer comes with him, his arm still stuck inside but not sticking out the other side. He moves toward the door, but the computer begins to swallow him. Fade to black.)
(Lights come up on stage. Bedroom has disappeared, leaving only the 1s and 0s. NEIL enters left, still in his underwear. The computer is no longer on his arm, because he is fully inside it. He moves slowly, as if in a daze, bumping into some of the larger 1s and 0s, alternately apologizing to them or growling at them to get out of his way. He holds his hands in front of him, groping as though he can’t see. )
(A TROLL enters, sees NEIL. The TROLL goes up to NEIL and starts hitting him with a stick. NEIL grabs at him, but misses. The TROLL hits NEIL again, and exits. NEIL sits on the floor, about ready to cry.)
(VALERIE enters right. She is carrying a flashlight. She shines it around as though keeping watch, and catches sight of NEIL.)
VALERIE: Hey, you better get up!
NEIL: I can’t.|
VALERIE: If you sit there, the trolls will catch you.
NEIL: I don’t care.|
VALERIE: They’ll hit you with sticks.
NEIL: One of them already did. Can’t you see?
(VALERIE shines her light over his body, looking for wounds.)
VALERIE: It doesn’t look like you’re seriously hurt, thank God. Can you move?
NEIL: Yes. I just don’t want to.
VALERIE :Did it hurt when they hit you?
NEIL: Of course it hurt! What kind of stupid question is that? Are you like, retarded, or something?
VALERIE: No. It just doesn’t hurt everyone.
NEIL: Doesn’t hurt to be hit with sticks?
VALERIE: I guess some of us are just so used to it we don’t really notice it. Are you new here?
VALERIE: You’ll have to be very careful. If it hurts when they hit you, you must be a….
NEIL: A what?
VALERIE: Well, in troll speak, a girl. A wuss. A pussy. You must need to grow a pair.
NEIL: Hey! I have plenty of balls!
VALERIE: That’s just what the trolls will say, if you show any pain. The rest of us prefer the term sensitives.
VALERIE: A sensitive is someone who hasn’t gotten used to being hit with a stick. It hurts.
NEIL: How long does it take to get used to it?
VALERIE: I don’t know. I didn’t realize when it happened. Just one day, someone…hit me…and I just felt numb. No pain.
NEIL: Have you been here a long time?
VALERIE: I don’t know. I’m not sure how time works in here. It may have been years…or maybe just hours. Everything is so disorganized here, it’s hard to be sure…Watch out!
(A TROLL is sneaking up behind NEIL, preparing to hit him with a stick. NEIL rolls aside just in time; the stick hits one of the 1s, and gives out with a loud, high-pitched sound. The TROLL jumps and runs off. NEIL and VALERIE cover their ears until the sound ends.)
NEIL: What was that?
VALERIE: That was a troll.
NEIL: Not that. That sound!
VALERIE: That’s the 1 sound. When you attack one of the 1s, that’s the sound it makes.
NEIL: Do the 0s have their own sound?
VALERIE: Yes. Do you want to hear?
(VALERIE makes a move as if to hit one of the 0s.)
NEIL: No! I’ll take your word for it. Why did the troll run away so fast?
VALERIE: They can’t stand that sound. It makes them crazy.
NEIL: I can’t blame them. It made me feel a bit crazy, too.
VALERIE: We should move on…this isn’t a good spot. A lot of trolls hang out here.
NEIL: Let’s go to a spot where there aren’t any trolls. I don’t like them.
VALERIE: The trolls are everywhere. It’s just…this is one of the worst spots. There are more trolls here than most places. You picked a really bad place to sit down.
NEIL: This is where I came in.
VALERIE: Really? That’s odd. You seem like a nice guy.
NEIL: I am a nice guy! What’s that mean?
VALERIE: Just that this isn’t a suitable place for nice guys to hang out…Run!
(VALERIE and NEIL exit on a run; the TROLL comes running after them, waving a stick carefully, avoiding hitting any of the 1s or 0s. VALERIE and NEIL run back onstage on the other side, panting. NEIL collapses; VALERIE drops down beside him.)
VALERIE: I think we lost him.
NEIL: I’m hungry. I bet there isn’t anything at all to eat around here.
VALERIE: Sure there is, lots of stuff. Just look for one of the food ads.
(VALERIE examines a few of the 0s and 1s, and finally selects one that is a delicate pink color. She hands it to NEIL.)
VALERIE: Here. This should do for now. It’s not very substantive, but it’s all that’s close.
(NEIL stares at the number in his hand.)
VALERIE: Go ahead. Eat it.
(NEIL nibbles it gingerly, then begins to devour it.)
NEIL: Strawberry shortcake!
VALERIE: We lucked out. There was an ad for a café.
NEIL: How does that work?
VALERIE: I’m not sure exactly how it works. But if you find an ad for food, then the 1s and 0s that make up the food portion of the ad will taste like that food. It’s handy.
NEIL: How do you tell?
VALERIE: You look for certain colors, to start with. And you learn to have an eye for it, because if you eat the wrong thing, it can go very badly…Hey!
(NEIL is reaching out for one of the numbers; it is blue in color.)
VALERIE: You don’t want to eat that one!
NEIL: What is it?
VALERIE: That’s the blue screen of death, you know, the one that makes your screen blank out and go blue. You eat that…
(She falls silent.)
NEIL: What happens? Don’t keep me in suspense!
VALERIE: I don’t know. Everyone who has eaten one has disappeared…screaming.
NEIL: How do I tell it from other blue ones?
VALERIE: I’ll teach you. For now, you probably better stay with me. Hey, where are my manners? I’m Valerie.
NEIL: I’m Neil, but you can call me…
VALERIE: Call you what?
NEIL: Nothing. I just realized how stupid it might sound to someone…like you.
VALERIE: You’re shivering. We’d better get you some clothes.
NEIL: How?...Don’t tell me. A men’s store ad.
VALERIE: You’re catching on quickly. Come on. I think I saw one floating over that way.
(VALERIE and NEIL exit right; the TROLL comes on left, holding a baseball bat over his head, looking for something. He pauses for a minute, sniffs, then heads off in the direction they exited.)
(NEIL and VALERIE enter left. NEIL is now dressed in a nice, well cut men’s suit with tie)
VALERIE: You look very nice, really.
NEIL: I feel like I should be sitting in a boardroom with a briefcase at my side. Is this really the only men’s ad we could find?
VALERIE: Trust me. We didn’t pass any ads for sweats or shorts and muscle tops. I did the best I could, and at least you’re presentable…and not cold anymore.
NEIL: I feel strange. This isn’t me.
(TROLLS come out from the shadows, perhaps from behind some of the larger 1s and 0s; they move toward VALERIE and NEIL, brandishing sticks.)
VALERIE: Ignore them.
NEIL: I can’t! They’re hitting me!
(NEIL covers his head as the TROLLS begin beating on him with their sticks. VALERIE stands still, seeming not to notice the blows that are falling around her face and arms.)
VALERIE: Don’t let them see your fear.
(NEIL collapses on the floor in a heat; the TROLLS gather round him and continue beating him. They are yelling obscenities and insults.)
TROLLS : Wimp! What a girl! You need to grow a pair!
NEIL: Stop it!
TROLLS: Man up! Take it like a man! Don’t be such a pussy!
(NEIL responds to the hits and insults with whimpers and an occasional attempt to deny that he is whatever they are calling him. VALERIE stands to one side, not moving as a TROLL continues to beat her, calling her names like dyke, lesbo, ugly, etc. She doesn’t respond until she decides she has had enough; then she grabs the TROLL by the arm and throws him in a neat wrestling move. He gets up, brushes himself off, and joins the group around NEIL as though nothing had happened.)
(VALERIE moves toward the group of TROLLS, but they scatter before she reaches them. Another TROLL, this one with an air of authority and wearing some sort of superhero cape, enters from the wings. The other TROLLS stand back as he saunters toward NEIL. He offers NEIL a hand and helps him up. As soon as NEIL is up, the TROLL punches him in the gut and he falls again. The TROLL kicks him in the groin.)
(The TROLLS exit. VALERIE moves to help NEIL.)
VALERIE: Can you sit up?
NEIL: I’ll never sit up again!
VALERIE: Rest a minute. You’ll get over it.
NEIL: Well, aren’t you sympathetic!
VALERIE: Sorry. It’s just that I’ve been going through this for so long I’ve gotten a bit hardened. I used to let it bother me, and it hurt. Now I just stand there and let them hit me until they get tired of it. I don’t feel it anymore.
NEIL: That must be nice.
VALERIE: Nice? To be hit with sticks and not feel it? It actually bites, if you want to know the truth.
NEIL: How come they hit us with sticks? I don’t get it. What do they get out of that?
VALERIE: Fun. Kicks.
NEIL: How can it be fun to hit someone with a stick? Who are they, anyway?
VALERIE: They’re trolls.
NEIL: Like, Internet trolls?
VALERIE: Exactly. They consist of words, mostly. Harsh, ugly words that people call each other on the web.
NEIL: But no one means anything by that. It isn’t real life. It’s just the internet.
VALERIE: Just the Internet? Where many people spend most of their time? People work, play, and shop on the Internet. It’s as real as the office or the mall.
NEIL: So words really CAN hurt me?
VALERIE: In here, words become those famous sticks and stones. Fortunately, they don’t break our bones, at least not yet. It’s almost like we’re cartoon characters. We fall, but no matter what they do, we get back up and start the next episode.
NEIL: Unless we eat one of those blue screen things.
NEIL: So what can we do?
VALERIE: I have an idea. That one in the cape…he’s sort of their leader. They all follow his lead. If we could capture him….
NEIL: They might…what? What would happen to them?
VALERIE: I’m hoping they would look for a new leader, and then we could step in.
NEIL: Yeah, that’s a pretty good idea, I guess. For a girl.
VALERIE: Really? You have a better one?
NEIL: No. How can we capture him, though?
VALERIE: I’ll stay put here, as a decoy. I’ll sit still for a while, and look like I’m alone. That always brings out the trolls, if they see someone defenseless.
NEIL: And I jump him!
VALERIE: Exactly. I know where we can get some rope, and you can hide over there. Wait until the guy with the cape shows up. Don’t try to jump all the trolls at once, they’ll annihilate you. Just him. He’s the one we want.
(NEIL and VALERIE huddle together, making plans. They exit left, and enter again quickly with a length of rope which VALERIE hides behind one of the larger numbers. Then she collects a few numbers and brings them over. They settle down on the floor, ready to have a picnic.)
NEIL: Hey, not bad! Spaghetti and meatballs.
VALERIE: And you know how the ones in the ads always look better than in real life? Well, they taste better, too.
NEIL: What’s that you’re eating?
VALERIE: A Big Mac.
NEIL: I love Big Macs! Can I have some?
(VALERIE breaks her number in half, and hands half to NEIL.)
VALERIE: Here. Enjoy. There’s plenty more where that came from.
(Pause while they eat. Then…)
NEIL: I don’t hear anything.
VALERIE: Over there…
VALERIE: I think there’s a troll watching us.
NEIL: And you heard it?
VALERIE: Footsteps. You need to get used to hearing the quietest of sounds if you want to survive in here.
NEIL: Like on the savannah. Spot the tiger or die.
VALERIE: Something like that.
NEIL: I’ll be great at that. Guys are better adapted for that then girls are.
VALERIE: How do you figure that?
NEIL: It’s scientific. Males were the hunters, so they had to be able to track animals. Women were gatherers, so they only had to spot berries. And that’s why girls like pink.
VALERIE: You need to get your science from better sources. Didn’t you know that pink used to be considered a boys color?
NEIL: No way!
VALERIE: The beginning of the last century – boys were in pink, girls in blue.
NEIL: I never knew that!
VALERIE: So women would not have evolved a taste for pink based on searching for berries, because women in the 20th century didn’t spend much time foraging for berries.
NEIL: Still, men had to be better at watching for lions.
VALERIE: I don’t see why. I mean, if women were out searching for berries, wouldn’t they have to watch out for lions, too? After all, lions can eat women as easily as men.
NEIL: I never thought of that.
VALERIE: Shh! He’s coming back.
(VALERIE takes a couple of numbers and lays them off to the side, a little bit away from her and NEIL.)
NEIL: What’s that for?
VALERIE: Distraction. Pizza always distracts them.
NEIL: You gave him pizza? Isn’t it a bad idea to feed the trolls?
VALERIE: Trolls are really strange creatures. If you don’t feed them, they just get bigger…and meaner. They don’t go away.
(A TROLL darts on and grabs the numbers VALERIE left out; he starts shoving them in his mouth as he exits.)
NEIL: So how do you get rid of them?
VALERIE: So far the only thing is that noise the numbers make when they hit them. They don’t like being talked back to. But they don’t stay away long.
NEIL: When do we set our trap for the leader?
VALERIE: As soon as we’re done eating. We need to make sure to keep our strength up. How are you feeling?
NEIL: Still a bit sore, but better.
VALERIE: Okay, let’s get ready.
NEIL: Where should I be?
VALERIE: You hide behind that one over there – the big one. I’ll sit here and wait.
(NEIL disappears into his hiding place. VALERIE settles down, trying to look casual, whistling. Pause. Then NEIL sticks his head out.)
NEIL: How long do we have to wait?
VALERIE: It’s hard to say. It shouldn’t be too long.
NEIL: Maybe you should flash your tits…
VALERIE: Get back there!
NEIL: Just trying to be helpful.
(NEIL disappears again. VALERIE assumes a very casual pose, trying to look as though she is defenseless. A TROLL peeks his head around one of the numbers; then another TROLL. When they are convinced she is alone, they come out and begin poking her. She ignores them. They begin calling her names, trying to get a reaction. She ignores them. The TROLL with the superhero cape enters, and comes to the group. He moves around VALERIE, inspecting her, leering at her.)
TROLL: Hey, baby, I’ll bet you’re in the mood for a big one.
NEIL: Then she doesn’t want yours!
(NEIL bursts out of hiding, and grabs the TROLL. The TROLL shakes him off with no effort. NEIL grabs him again, climbs on his back. The TROLL flips him over his head. NEIL lands on the floor, winded.)
TROLL: What a girl! Why don’t you come back after you grow a pair?
(The TROLLS exit. NEIL lies on the floor. VALERIE moves to him.)
VALERIE: Neil? Are you all right?
NEIL: I think he killed me.
VALERIE: Is anything broken?
NEIL: My manhood.
VALERIE: That must hurt.
(NEIL sits up.)
NEIL: How could he flip me so easily?
VALERIE: Well, you are a bit skinny...do you work out a lot?
NEIL: Sure! Bench press twice my weight every day….(At VALERIE’S look.) No. I work out about twice a year, when I remember.
VALERIE: The trolls get stronger when they sense weakness…or fear.
NEIL: I wasn’t afraid!
VALERIE: No reason to be ashamed. Anyone would be afraid.
NEIL: Not Chuck Norris!
VALERIE: You’re not Chuck Norris.
NEIL: (changing the subject) So now what do we do?
VALERIE: We try again.
NEIL: Are there any barbell ads? I might need to pump some iron first, you know, get my confidence up.
VALERIE: We’re going to try it differently. This time, you’ll be the decoy.
NEIL: Who will tackle him?
VALERIE: I will.
NEIL: You? Don’t make me laugh!
VALERIE: And why not?
NEIL: You’re a…girl!
VALERIE: Actually, I’m a woman. And I have a lot of experience dealing with trolls.
NEIL: I can’t let you do it.
VALERIE: You think you can stop me?
NEIL: You’ll get hurt.
VALERIE: And you won’t?
NEIL: I should protect you.
VALERIE: I can protect myself.
NEIL: No. I will not permit you to put yourself in danger. I will protect you.
VALERIE: Sit down!
VALERIE: Now, stay there. I’m going to hide.
NEIL: Do I need to do anything?
VALERIE: Just sit there. They’ll show up.
NEIL: But won’t they realize we’re setting a trap? After earlier?
VALERIE: You’re giving them credit for a lot more brain power than they’ve exhibited so far…Here.
(VALERIE hands NEIL some cotton balls.)
NEIL: What are these for?
VALERIE: Stick them in your ears.
(NEIL sticks the cotton balls in his ears. VALERIE secretes herself. NEIL tries to look casual. He looks behind him to see if VALERIE is admiring how well he is doing, but she is hidden. He starts to whistle. He begins to fidget. He pulls the cotton out of his ears.)
NEIL: I’m bored!
VALERIE: You’ve only been sitting still 35 seconds!
NEIL: It seems like longer than that.
VALERIE: Just sit there and wait. It won’t be long now.
(NEIL replaces the cotton in his ears, settles down, but begins to fidget again. A TROLL enters, then another one. They begin to hit NEIL with sticks, and poke him. He throws his hands over his head and whimpers.)
NEIL: Valerie! Where are you? (No answer) Valerie! Help!
(The caped TROLL enters, comes over to NEIL, and starts to drum on his head. The 0s begin to vibrate with a sound much more unpleasant than the earlier sound of the 1s. The TROLLS put their hands over their ears and cringe. VALERIE flies out from her hiding place and quickly gets the caped TROLL in a full Nelson. She glares at the other two TROLLS.)
The TROLLS scamper off. The caped TROLL struggles, but can’t get free.)
VALERIE: Neil, get the rope!
(NEIL struggles to his feet and gets the rope from its hiding place.)
VALERIE: Do you know knots?
NEIL: Of course I know knots!...No, I guess I better tell the truth for once. I can’t tie a good enough knot to keep my shoes on.
VALERIE: Help me get the rope around him.
(They tie the TROLL; VALERIE holds the TROLL and expertly ties a knot in the rope with one hand.)
VALERIE: Okay, now we have you. Tell me who you are.
TROLL: Eat my dick.
(NEIL is now very bold, gets right in his face.)
NEIL: Look, buddy, you can’t talk like that to the lady. You tell us your name or you’ll be sorry.
TROLL: Really? Who’s going to make me sorry? You?
NEIL: We will.
(The TROLL glances over at VALERIE. She nods.)
TROLL: Open my jacket.
NEIL: No! What are you, some kind of pervert?
TROLL: Open my jacket, and you will find out who I am.
(NEIL moves toward the TROLL, grabs him by the lapels, and opens his jacket. A large mirror is strapped to the TROLL’S chest. NEIL catches sight of his own face.)
VALERIE: You? You’re Studly Superhero?
NEIL: I…I…I guess I am.
(VALERIE turns her back on him.)
TROLL: Untie me, Neil.
NEIL: Not in a million years.
TROLL: You owe me.
NEIL: Wait. Didn’t I create you?
NEIL: Then you owe me.
TROLL: I’ve been doing your dirty work for you. You sit in your pathetic little room over your parent’s garage, worthless scum unable to even hold a job, and pretend to be some sort of “studly superhero”. I go around roughing people up for you…I’ve roughed up Valerie pretty good.
VALERIE: You know me, Neil. You’ve known me for some time. Maybe you’d recognize me if I told you I go by Lucky Lady.
NEIL: I didn’t mean it, Valerie. I didn’t mean any of it. I was just having fun.
VALERIE: Fun? You call it fun to trash women on the internet, treat them like objects, make them feel like shit? Do you know I spent three days one time talking a young woman out of killing herself because of the crap she got on the Internet? Some of it from you?
NEIL: I…it isn’t real! It’s just the Internet!
VALERIE: Look around you, Neil. It doesn’t get much more real than this. Trolls wandering around beating people with sticks – that’s what it feels like to be constantly assaulted with ugly language and threats every time you go online.
NEIL: I’m sorry. I had… no idea. I thought women were…
VALERIE: Weak? Puny? Lacking balls?
(VALERIE has come up behind NEIL, and twists his arm behind his back as she says that.)
NEIL: I thought…the science showed…I didn’t know…
(VALERIE releases him and moves away, her back to him.)
NEIL: Forgive me, Valerie. I didn’t mean anything bad. (Pause.) What can I do to make it up to you? (Pause.) I know!
(NEIL grabs one of the blue numbers.)
NEIL: I’ll show you how sorry I am. I’ll…I’ll go into oblivion.
(NEIL puts the blue number in his mouth. VALERIE starts toward him, but doesn’t reach him before he swallows it. NEIL screams as the lights go down.)
(The lights come back up on NEIL’S bedroom. He is lying face down on the floor, still in the suit he was wearing. He struggles to his feet.)
NEIL: Valerie? (He realizes where he is) Mom?
(His computer is lying on the floor nearby. He stomps on it until he has destroyed it.)
NEIL: I’ll never go online again!
(He spots a note propped on his dresser. He picks it up.)
NEIL: A note? Gee, Mom, get real! This is the 21st century, and you’re sending notes…when will you learn to text?
(NEIL opens the note and reads it, mockingly at first, but then seriously.)
NEIL: “Dearest Neil”. God, Mom, I’m not four! “I couldn’t find you; assumed you were hiding again. Just want to let you know, since you wouldn’t go see that psychologist, I made an appointment for them to come here. Please be sure to answer the door when they come. Please, Neil. I’m worried about you. Please let somebody help you. Love, Mom.”
(NEIL folds the note, and drops onto the bed.)
NEIL: I’m worried about me, too, Mom. I just found out what I’m really like.
(There is a knock on the door. NEIL doesn’t hear. Knock again. NEIL jerks his head toward the door, slowly rises and moves toward the door as if sleepwalking. He opens the door. VALERIE enters.)
VALERIE: Neil! I have an appointment to do an evaluation with you.
NEIL: Do you think I can be helped?
VALERIE: I think you’re already halfway there.
END OF PLAY