Saturday, October 16, 2010

Safety in Stories

Stories follow a structure. To some degree we always know what is going to happen. The hero saves the day. The heroine finds her prince. The underdog rises above all odds. The villain is defeated. Very rarely are we truly shocked and taken out of our comfort zone. This is why Psycho and The Sixth Sense were so successful. Why Fight Club was made into a movie and the reason Jazz was created. The thrill of unpredictability is unique and terrifying. This is why stories exist.

An Actor on stage is secure in knowing that every night they will say a certain line and their scene partner will give them the same response they have always given with only a slight variation. The audience watches the same movie and reads the same book over and over because they know they will be satisfied with the way things go. In general when we are having a tough time with our lives we want to see light hearted comedies. Stories to bring us up, stories where the guy gets the girl and the girl gets the guy. They give us hope and joy. When life is good, we are more likely to respond to a story where heroes fail and kings die tragically. We can then appreciate what we have.

Think of the security you feel when you are alone and open a book, a good book. Its as if there are blinders on and you are being sucked into the pages, ignoring all outside stimuli. Sitting in a dark cavernous room and the sound and lights go up and in front of you a window opens. Through that window we can see tales of fiction and fantasy through which we can send our self conscious through. Sitting in a movie theatre on a date, you might be taken out of the story when a sex scene comes on the screen. I propose this is simply because at the end of the date you want your story to unfold like what you see on screen and because it is too close to home. What if your date is uncomfortable? What if they are too comfortable? What if they are the villain and you have to wait for the right person to come and save you.

This is when reality sets in. More terrifying than any horror movie is the house settling when you are alone. When you realize that your life isn't scripted and you are capable of and will definitely say the wrong thing and ruin the date. Then you have to wait until act two, or worse the sequel to get it right. How will you react when you get mugged. Will you act nobly? Will you piss your pants? If you are dumb enough to resist will you walk away or will you get stabbed?

Stories are secure because there are no lasting consequences. In two hours, or until next week, at the end of the page everything will be over and you can always start over. Or simply start something anew if you were displeased. In life here is no editing room, no red pencil, no rewind. No TiVo. No pause.... In life you have to keep going and can't rearrange the characters or debate about what would have been a better choice. You have to live with the choice and focus on the next one.

Have you ever seen something on screen that was so awkward you had too look away? So uncomfortable that it was unbearable? So terrifying that you hid behind someone or something and waited for it to go away? That doesn't work in reality. You can't get lost and then suddenly find yourself, you have to grab a compass and figure out where you are. Then you have to walk back to where you need to go. Television shows are popular because you can become invested in something for years on end, and if the show jumps the shark you can simply stop watching. Or buy a dvd and go back to the good old days of season two when everything started melding. We can't just stop our lives because we are sick of them.

We want to be taken there and we also want to know that it isn't real. We want to be able to take ourselves away. We want to relive greatness over and over again. We want to see other people's failure so we feel better about our own. Brecht talks about this at some length when speaking about the alienation of the audience. Cutting us off from realizing what we are experiencing isn't real. Only then can we learn from what we have seen. If we believed to be real we could simply write it off as, "Oh well, thats life. Shit happens." If we know that the tale was fabricated, we will ask ourselves, "Why?" Why was that the way it went down? Anything could have happened and that was what we were given to experience, so why that?

It is easy to get lost in the fantasy today. We have so much content and it is so easily accessible that we are being cut of from true emotions and actions. Marrying a pillow is easier than talking to a real girl and making friends with orcs and blood elves is simpler than striking up a conversation at a bar. The lines are being blurred and we no longer have to work at interactions. It is at our fingertips. The movie is over and we turn on our phones, hopefully they were shut off, and we text and Facebook and Tweet what just happened so that the whole world can share the experience with the whole world. But the whole world isn't paying attention to our Tweets and our Blogs. No one cares. They care about their own status updates, because they don't really know who we are. They have never shared a beer with us. They have never punched us in the face when we were being idiots. They have never caressed our faces. They saw the photos we put up but since there weren't any tits in them they moved on.

Reality TV is fabricated and nature documentaries are actually pretty tame. We can't take anything away from that, we can't learn to be better people by seeing the worst off us worry about not fronting. I don't know the quote but it goes something like, simply by observing something you change it. You can't change a book by reading it nor a movie by watching it they are eternal and constant. Theatre can be changed by simply being there and coughing or laughing, by applauding or snoring. That however is a different beast entirely because it is happening in front of you and you are experiencing it with the person next to you and the actress onstage who is nervous about her lines or her hair or if the joke will be as funny tonight as it was last night.

The funniest jokes are inside ones. Ones that have existed for years between friends and are secrets from the rest of the world. Sometimes the best experiences are ones that you had to be there for. Those stories make us remember a time when we were alive. Those stories are the best, Those stories are the ones that don't have spoiler alerts and we burst at the seams to tell. And we feel safe sharing them with those that we love. We can even get so overzealous that we share too much, so excited for that human reaction and the potential of a perfect real life tale. Something that happened to you, something real that is as flawless as the stories we pay 10 to 200 dollars to see. That is what we yearn for and when our imperfections force us to fail we want to escape into a fabrication where it is safe.

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