In the not-so-distant future, the completely projectable outcome finally comes to fruition – a full revolution, a shift in culture, thought, and power. Governments are toppled, wealth is transferred, and the revolutionaries now sit atop the proverbial throne. For a moment, there is peace. The victors in this crusade – The WE – establish a new world order based on their rebellious promises; creating a society without divisions based on the principle of true collectivism. No longer will selfishness be tolerated, the law of the land is humans working purely for the advancement of humanity itself. But in a system that is designed to create a veritable utopia, what is to be done with naysayers? With a great promise of advancement, are personal desires now crimes? As an initiate of The WE, the fate of some citizens who may have had too much to think is now in your hands.
X The Experience is a dual-screen, digital immersive event created by Aaron Salazar and The Poseidon Theatre Company, creators of The Cooping Theory 1969 and DRAMA – an aural experience podcast. The main driver of the narrative comes from a livestream on Vimeo, while a second interactive piece occurs through WhatsApp. In a run-time of a couple of hours, X The Experience explores the stories of two individuals – Joey (Cheech Manohar) and Joei (Kim Exum) – who have fallen out of good graces with The WE, and asks the audience to judge whether they are fit for society. While the video on the big screen shows candid takes from Joey and Joei’s lives, questions and guidelines directly from The WE are delivered through WhatsApp.
Both Joey and Joei are given the designation “X,” which is to say they’re outside of The WE. The role of an initiate is to steer wayward souls back within the fold by reminding them of the benefits we all reap by suppressing personal qualities and desires. But what seems to be a noble effort quickly turns horrific and sinister. The qualities all citizens are being asked to surrender are inherent personality traits or personal stories and goals that define what the human experience truly is. A choice must be made – to follow the revolution of The WE and enforce collectivism, or display empathy to our human nuances and flaws and embrace individuality.
Twentieth-century sociologist Max Weber is generally credited with creating the concept that a defining characteristic of any governing state is a monopoly on violence. His essay Politics as a Vocation defines violence as physical force, but later, modern critiques sometimes expand this concept to define the state as any power with the ability to silence dissenters. In X The Experience, The WE started as a popular concept that was able to collapse the status quo. All wheels moving forward to advance humanity for the benefit of society is a beautifully uniting mantra that was inspiring for those left behind by the existing system. But with all instances of movements becoming the state, advancing political objectives will inevitably lead to dissenters. And with the power of violence now in new hands, even positive objectives can be marred by inhumane solutions to these problems.
The brilliance of X The Experience lies in how universal its truths are regarding the qualities of humanity, and how everyone can relate regardless of their background or political leanings. Aaron Salazar and his team are unabashedly proud of being BIPOC artists, and that heritage shines through their creation. Through that lens, the story of The WE may be about modern America pushing minority cultures to conform, and certain groups being denoted as an “X” in even fewer characters by those in power. If seen as a more topical statement, it could be seen as an artistic expression to show the dangers of over-policing a populace by placing the audience in the shoes of the oppressor. To those of a conservative mindset, The WE is a cautionary tale of the dangers of communism and how eventually absolute power will corrupt even the most well-intentioned missions. Perhaps it can be interpreted as a criticism of the echo chambers and cancel culture created by modern forms of communication. Corners of social media represent a type of micro “state,” be it through the absolute power of admins to silence critics, or the power of the users to doxx others based on ever-changing, unwritten laws of the clique. The uniting quality of all of these concerns stems from human nature; that we all have desires to express ourselves and cannot remove our desires or qualities to fit perfectly with the group as a whole. While all benefit from the gains of society, we still need space for personal freedoms. What X The Experience truly represents is a rebuking of authoritarianism in all forms.
This argument is largely made in full within the first hour with Joey’s story. One of the detractions of the experience is that Joei’s segment is largely an emotional duplicate of the previous video. It may be more accurate to say it’s a near shot-for-shot remake, as the locations where the characters are filmed even remain the same, only personal details change. As both characters individually offer a quality narrative, it may have been more engaging to eliminate one in preference for a character that is more fully integrated with The WE and see how the system benefits them.
From a technical standpoint, X The Experience is filled with stunning visuals and a highly developed score. To opinionated horror movie aficionados, a common insult regarding synthetic compositions is to dismiss the work as “just another man with a keyboard” soundtrack. Giancarlo Bonfanti and Manuel Pelayo’s original score is beyond reproach, and would likely have even the most nitpicky listeners agree that it’s the rare exception, existing closer to the gold standard of Disasterpiece’s It Follows than a garden variety set of ominous tones. The decision to have the video portion pre-recorded allows for incredible control over animated visuals when The WE is speaking, and the overlaid score creates precisely the right amount of dread – even when the messages of human unity haven’t yet turned sinister.
X The Experience is unusually thought-provoking and fearless in attempting to solve the greatest plagues of modern society. Empathy for other humans is an often-explored subject in immersive entertainment, but the understanding of one’s own needs against the needs of a society is not only a rarer topic, but successfully validated. A common strength in the genre of futuristic Sci-Fi is the utilization of technology to contrast against our own human qualities, and X The Experience is another chapter in that legacy.
For more information about X The Experience, checkout their website, Instagram or Twitter pages. To find out about similar immersive experiences, check out our event guide and our Remote Immersive Experiences Guide.