A video of a young woman stopping traffic and screaming at taxi cabs in the middle of a busy Manhattan street went viral a few weeks ago. Cell phone cameras recorded her yelling, “Sorry, I forgot you!” as she kicked at car doors that slowly passed around her. She’s fun to watch; pretty and sort of graceful, dancing around the cars as if she’s dodging waves on the beach. In her bleached blonde bob and skinny jeans, she takes breaks from her traffic dodging to strike pinup girl poses for the cell phone cameras. One of the top comments on YouTube read, “Either she’s a mental patient or a performance artist.”
The comment seems to imply that when someone is acting strangely in public, they are either extremely aware of themselves, resembling performers, or extremely unaware, consumed by the force of a breakdown. It’s easy to find examples of less appealing presentations of emotional breakdowns on YouTube, maybe even easier than it is to find recorded public displays of performance art. YouTube reframes private moments of suffering for public viewing, and performance art aims for something similar: it captures and examines live events we might otherwise look away from.