Sunday, June 23, 2019

Frame Yourself in Comedy

Most people go through their lives with greatly inflated notions of who they are and where they're headed. So if you're cursed with even a tad of self-awareness, life becomes hell right around middle age - the age when, it's often observed, you discover who you are. If your self-image was always unrealistic, that's when the mounting evidence becomes hard to ignore.

At that point you have two options:

1. Readjust your self-image, or
2. Live in denial.

#1 seems like the healthier route, and it would be, except for a very perilous trap.
I've written about this trap twice (here and here), in a different context.
If you resign yourself to resetting your self-image with a declaration like "I'm not a hero after all. All my hopes and dreams were just a bunch of empty drama! This, right now, is as good as it's ever going to be!" and if you feel like you're starring in a movie (as nearly everyone does), this will be a sad, sad movie moment. This is where your life movie gets sad and stays sad. You've willed yourself into depression (in fact, I believe this is the most common origin of depression).

It's a shame, because you were so close to nailing it! Confronted with evidence that your self-image was nonsense, and choosing the healthy path of readjusting self-image accordingly, you were so close to equanimity and happiness. But as you spoke the lines to the camera, you decided to play it tragically, gamely adding a quivering lower lip. That's quite a momentous scene; you've placed your character in a box that cannot be climbed out of (at least not without upturning one's framing).

So if you ever find yourself going down that road, forced to concede that maybe you're not the moral paragon and saintly hero you'd imagined yourself to be, and you're never going to pitch for the Yankees, so it's time to readjust your self image, just don't speak to the camera.

Or, if there must be a camera (for most of us it's inescapable), play the scene as light-hearted comedy. Say "I'm not a hero after all. All my hopes and dreams were just a bunch of empty drama! This, right now, is as good as it's ever going to be!", wink mirthfully, and walk to the horizon with a jaunty Chaplin-esque spring in your step, if that fits the character you play. Or walk into a multi-hued sunset, heaving a sigh of relief with your strong shoulders. Or saunter away, cooler than school, having jettisoned the bullshit that had been weighing you down. There are lots of ways to play it, if drama's your thing. If you must be in a movie - if this must be a cinematic moment - find a way to make it a happy one.
“I’m not that great (cute shrug)” as opposed to “I’m not that great (heaving sobs)”. “I probably don’t deserve every great result (carefree grin)” as opposed to “I probably don’t deserve every great result (weighty sigh)”.
It's that easy. It's that stupid. Yet I've seen two people die and more than a dozen people throw away their happiness because they didn't know they could flip this switch.

(Note that there's a trap within the trap. If you're naturally depressive - if negativity is the tone you've chosen for this movie you imagine yourself to be in so that's how you frame most of your scenes - you'll find the brighter comedic framing fluffy and false, whereas the heavier, sadder framing seems truer. That's your own skewing, however; it's not real. Set yourself the task of stretching as an actor, and escaping old habits. Dip your toe in comedy, however unfamiliar it seems, and work to get better at it.)

This is how hypnosis works. We decide how we'll play a scene from a position of relaxed detachment, and, if the hypnosis works, the next run-through is transformationally different (in fact, it's a parallel universe).


Display Name said...

do you think the interwebz makes this movie thing worse? I used to watch saturday night live and one of the smart phone commercials intoned with music with all the feels Share every moment of your life with the whole world. EEEEk

Jim Leff said...

Not the internet; it started getting worse with the origin of film.

I keep using a movie camera analogy because that's the technology that's really solidified the human impulse to immerse in dramatic narratives. Until film was invented, it was unimaginable that you could put an entire auditorium in 100% consistent deep hypnosis for two hours at a time. People would get lost in theater or in music or in other art, but movies are a much, much deeper immersion.

And the same for the application in daily life. In, say, 1850 there were certainly people who lived as if they were on stage, or within the pages of a novel. But that's a much duller form of self-deception. Movies are more insidious.

Display Name said...

I remember my friends and I loved to sit in the back row of the theater and we went to the movies fairly often. Talking on cell phones during movies had a brief surge and then died down. But no more back row for moi since people open their phones to check their messages and such and the little lights distract. Late in his life Ebert was surprised that people checked their phones even during very special screenings. I guess cell phones are the finger snap.

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