At first, I thought Wilde was directing laughter at Cecily in order to disregard her entirely. Every time Cecily opens her mouth, she gets a laugh from the audience. Cecily is a funny character and undoubtedly worthy of critique in some respects, but it is my project’s contention that Cecily is also an incredibly powerful character. Sure, her antics seem a bit insane, but it’s not as if Wilde’s play is grounded in rationality to begin with. With her diary and letter writing (a video diary and text messages in my adaptation), Cecily is building a world that she alone controls. The world Cecily builds departs from a cultural expectation that would have Cecily wait around until a man shows interest in her. While Cecily’s decision to take her courtship into her own hands could be written off as entirely comic or even completely insane, my project moves to re-contextualize Cecily’s performance as one of agency and power. Making Cecily the star of my video series allowed me not only to interrogate what Cecily’s actions in the play but also to insist that she be valued as a complex and dynamic individual.
Cecily is undoubtedly a powerful 19th century woman, but her behavior becomes even more interesting when thinking about women creating their own narratives in online spaces, which is what prompted me to adapt the play in a contemporary setting. Women’s bodies are almost always being threatened, violated, or policed in some way online. However, by emulating an eighteen year old creating and putting out videos herself, I demonstrate how the Internet can also empower women to tell their own stories on their own terms. Cecily gives her permission to be consumed in a way that she can control, rather than subjecting herself to a cultural model that would disenfranchise her.
Authenticity was something I grappled with during the creation of the videos. I equated authenticity with having value, and so I wanted to be able to say that my project had authenticity. I realized, however, that valuing authenticity unfairly disregards Cecily’s power in the play and in the video series. If authenticity is valued above all, then Cecily doesn’t get nearly as much credit as she deserves, and maybe neither do I. Cecily carving out a space for herself that she can control is important. Dismissing Cecily as a crazy, inauthentic character tragically overlooks her exploration of selfhood in the video series. My project means to upend the expectation for women to be authentic on the Internet, demonstrating the power women can derive from a self-created performance. Laugh at Cecily, sure. She deserves that—she’s flawed beyond a doubt, but think about how Cecily starts engineering her future the moment she turns on her webcam and how all of it comes true. The only thing Cecily doesn’t get is to end up with a man named Ernest (a dream of hers), but that makes sense, doesn’t it? Cecily shouldn’t be with a man named Ernest; she never got anything from being earnest.