Thursday, March 13, 2014

There is a Madness to our Method

Some friends of mine have begun an email discussion about the soft core porn acts that are now being inserted into television dramas, so that the scenes of depravity being depicted look more "real".

This prompted a response from me about the relation between reality and acting, between reality and
art, and between reality and pornography.

... there exists a strange trend in acting circles, a kind of hyper-realism, where what you experience on stage must always be "real".  If you don't feel angry in a scene where you're called to exhibit anger, you must not only fake it, you must indeed feel it and if you don't your acting is somehow not legitimate.  Now it's certainly true that feeling and exhibiting real emotions on stage is, generally speaking, "good acting" - but to insist that this must always be the case falls into the trap where acting turns to porn.  If faking it is always illegitimate, then we get confused as to what this art really is and what it really does.
What I'm trying to say is there is a kind of person for whom "method acting" is more therapy than art.  Realism on stage becomes more real than reality in life, and thus the whole thing is no longer fun.  Drama does what it does because it's a game of "let's pretend".  Sports enthrall people for the same reason - a soccer game is like a battle on a battlefield, only everyone knows there are no real life or death consequences.  It might hurt like hell if your team loses, but we know that win or lose it's just a game and that's what makes it fun.
But there is an element in show business that needs, for pathological reasons, to deny "let's pretend" and to assert "it's real" - in fact more real than real, hyper-real.  And this is aside from pornography.  
In fact, porn retains something "good" about it insofar as the people who make and watch it know that it's not "real" sex between the audience and the actors.  Bad as porn is, that would be far worse on so many levels - psychologically, spiritually, "ontologically".  The drug of pornography is effective partly because it provides a "safe" thrill.  C. S. Lewis talked about the "imaginary harem" of a man who masturbates.  Well, a guy can "make it" with a different porn star every night, and even if he does so in live chat rooms it's still not actual sex - it's still an imaginary harem.  It's all the thrills with none of the nasty complications that real fornication entails.  Or real marriage, for that matter!
My point is that this element of distancing is essential to all art, and if we insist on hyper-realism from an art like Drama that is effective only because it's make-believe, we start to lose the very thing that makes the art do what it does for us.