But I Never Asked…You Did

Alan Bigelow’s piece entitled “Because You Asked,” created using Flash in 2006, is an interesting piece of electronic literature because it is a mix of autobiography and digital poetry. At first glance (and read through) it seems as if the artist is a presenting a creative confession of in his personal thoughts, but as you dig deeper it can be seen and read as much more than just that. Yes, it definitely has elements of a personal confession but it also contains a critique on our perception of people.

The premise of this work is extraordinarily simple. At the start you are presented with some instructions: Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 1.23.43 PM 

Ok…so what does that mean? Well, those words soon fade and you are presented with a silhouette with a series of little pictures underneath it. Without further instruction your eyes immediately scan down to the images and you click on them. Each image, when clicked, presents an audio recording and written record of something that the artist finds important about himself, such as: Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 1.49.14 PM and Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 1.48.51 PM

These phrases fade onto the screen and then just a few seconds later they fade off, but they don’t disappear; they simply move up to the silhouette and start to place themselves randomly within the head. The more phrases you read and listen to, the more the head begins to fill up with these phrases. 

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After only a few images have been clicked on and phrases have been read. The image of the artist has already become much clearer.

The reader continues to do add phrases until the final portrait has been revealed:

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The final portrait of the artist in “Because You Asked”

Once you’ve gotten to this point you might think that you’re done, you helped the artist find himself, and the experience has finished…but you’re wrong. Remember the instructions at the beginning of the poem: Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 1.23.43 PM So you have created his portrait, now he wants you to…erase it? That’s right, once you have gone through the whole poem and fully recreated his thoughts, memories, and experiences he wants you now to completely erase everything that has happened thus far . But why? That seems very odd seeing as most people spend so much of their lives doing what we just helped the artist do: find themselves. So why do we throw it all away? And why did we work through it in the first place?The answer comes when you physically erase his portrait:  Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 1.25.59 PM

Erasing his portrait at the end of the poem. Behind him it reads the title and the answer to the question as why we went through the process. It reads “Because you asked…”

Apparently we went through the process of recreating his persona, listening to his life bits, and watching him piece back together because we asked him to. I can see where he is coming from. By clicking on each the images underneath him it could be taken as the reader being curious about his life and what each image represents. But that’s not always the case. The reader enters into this situation without any prior knowledge as to what is going to happen. They know that they are going to recreate a portrait and then erase it. That’s it. The reader never asks a question, we only follow instructions. We as readers did not ask, the artist was the one who invited us in to help him piece together his memories and recreate his being. We are, in a way, recreating his personality and his life. Without our presence and our help, the portrait would remain incomplete. So instead of asking him, he asked us to ask these questions.

With each aided response by us, the portrait becomes clearer and more full. This is a symbol of how much we as individuals, especially in the 21st century, rely on outside influences to help piece together who we are as people. During conversations we rely on other’s questions to provide information about ourselves, but more often than not the information we give is not substantial for them to know us or even for us to know ourselves. Just like the responses in this work, we give small little answers: “I’ve always had the comfort of a home” he says or “I love people, but love is not enough.” Mysterious little answers that seem to be going somewhere deeper but never do. It makes us, as speakers, feel better because we’re talking about ourselves though we’re not really saying anything. And it makes the listeners feel better because they think they have been considerate and asked a good question about us. In the end, no one wins because all that has taken place is a shallow conversation that can wiped from memory just as easily as we are able to wipe away the portrait of the artist. 

We rely on others to help complete us, to help us complete our portraits, but because only the individual who’s portrait is being created can complete it everything an outside influence does is just erased and forgotten in the end. In the end, no one wins. 

I never asked the questions in this poem or offered any help, the artist did because he thought he needed it (just like everyone thinks they need the affirmation of others) but it is because of this that the portrait gets erased at the end. The only way for it to stay whole is for the artist to be the one to create the portrait of himself, no one else. 

 

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