Throughout many forms of media, such as books, music and television, audiences everywhere are encouraged to live life as if they were in a film. This suggests that one should be adventurous and live out life exactly the way he or she wants to. However this statement is ironic in two ways. Firstly, a large number of movies are based on real life and secondly, throughout our lives a vast majority of time is spent acting.
When I say acting I’m not talking about what Johnny Depp does. Unless you are a professional actor what I’m referring to is how as humans we often assume roles and “act” them out in society. Famed Canadian sociologist Erving Goffman gave a detailed account of this in his seminal book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” In this book he treated everyday human interaction as his study and formed the theoretical perspective now known as dramaturgy.
A simplified summary of this perspective would include Goffman’s main principles. He contends that as humans come in contact with each other they adopt and play roles in order to fulfill specific goals, establishing the relationship between the actor and audience. Using this metaphor he explains that as humans we must strive to convince those around us of what we are trying to portray. Just as a good actor in a movie, one’s conviction and the degree to which people believe him all play a role in his ultimate success and how people perceive him. He goes on to explain the “front stage” as being where we perform or conform to what people expect and the “back stage” is where we can forget the script and behave without the fear of disapproval.
This behaviour is regarded to be universal (across all societies in the world) and is something most people can relate to, understand and admit to having experienced. For instance I’m sure most young adults would admit to putting on distinctly different “performances” when interacting with their parents than with their friends. Another example is the difference in how one would normally behave in a public environment such as a restaurant as compared to when one is at home. It would be unlikely to ever see someone singing openly in a restaurant unless on a real stage.
Its existence cannot be questioned, however one can question its effect on society. Is all this acting a good thing? There are two sides to this story.
For one, the acting ensures that people are inculcated with a sense of what roles should be played in society and how to effectively play them. The pressure society places on individuals ensures that people stick within defined roles. For many this helps provides a meaning to life, for instance identifying with an occupation or status as a parent. It provides them with a reason to live and an understanding of how to live. To strip them of these roles is almost to strip them of their identity.
In addition, dramaturgy acts as a means of maintaining moral order. From a young age children are taught what actions will lead them to be deemed as “villains” and which will lead them to be deemed as “heroes.” As they age and become more experienced performers it is sometimes the script provided that acts as a moral compass. It also promotes social order. There is great danger in a society where people freely do whatever they want. Imagine leaving a group of energetic four year olds in a home unsupervised for three days and you have an idea of the scene that may occur if people felt they could always do what they wanted in society.
The other side to all this acting is that is can arouse negative implications. One could argue that rather than provide an identity, having clearly defined roles that come with scripts or expected behavior stifles creativity and individuality. When viewed from this prospective, this phenomenon would take away from one’s identity rather than add to it. In addition, consciously knowing that people are “acting” or not being completely genuine may lead to distrust. Just ask any seasoned dater who has had his or her fair share of good actors/actresses for romantic partners. One must also consider the time and energy it takes to master one’s role and deliver it convincingly. This time and energy could be employed in more rewarding pursuits for at times acting can be simply exhausting.
Whether the good outweighs the bad depends on one’s view, but personally I think that we should ensure we are acting but only in the role we want to play and not blindly following someone else’s script. Whether on stage or in real life it is always more exciting and rewarding to act than to watch.
Silhouette of a theater actor in a drama performance, Microsoft Images
Guest Author Bio
I’m an adventurous and free spirited person inspired by life and who enjoys to write about it.