On Acting

Arthur Miller points out a fact that I have been contemplating all week. This fact is that acting is inevitable as soon as we walk out our front doors and into society.

My question to Arthur is–has this always been so? Have humans always known how to act, how to hide, how to deceive, how to tell the convenient truth and not the inconvenient truths? Has this sense of being different with different people, putting on a happy face, putting on a sophisticated aura, putting on bright red shoes…are these acts of acting, or merely the human as mercurial as only humans can be? Is the acting not acting because we are acting like who we really are, or is the acting acting because we are trying to hide who we really are?

And if that confused you, think about this: 

In our time television has created a quantitative change in all this; one of the oddest things about millions of lives now is that ordinary individuals, as never before in human history, are so surrounded by acting. Twenty four hours a day everything seen on the tube is either acted or conducted by actors in the shape of sitcoms, talk shows, all the way to the news anchor men and women, including their hairdos. It may be that the most impressionable form of experience now, for many if not most people, consists of their emotional transactions with actors which happen far more often then emotional transactions with real people.

How many of you have related more to a movie lately than to a regular human being? I certainly have.

This makes me think of two things….my individual life, and the life of the political show in our nation. Let’s start with politics, shall we?

How do we choose our country’s or state’s next leader? I echo Miller when he says that “it seems to me that when one is surrounded by such a roiling mass of consciously contrived performances it gets harder and harder for a lot of people to locate reality anymore. Admittedly, we live in an age of entertainment, but is it a good thing that our political life, for one, be so profoundly governed by the modes of theatre, from tragedy to vaudeville to farce? I find myself speculating whether the relentless daily diet of crafted, acted emotions and canned ideas is not subtlely pressing our brains to not only mistake fantasy for what is real but to absorb this process into our personal sensory process.”

So, what is your reaction to this? How are you choosing who to follow religiously (and DO YOU ACTUALLY have a choice there?), who to vote for, who to believe, who to follow, who not to follow, whether you should be someone that others should follow, or if you just would rather have no contact with most people at all?


I'm an artist, writer, photographer, feminist, listener, lover, and a fighter. I believe that travel is fatal to prejudice, that skies are meant to be blue, and that the world is full of endless possibilities.

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7 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    These are very postmodern questions, aren’t they? I had never thought about my life (and myself) as being so entrenched in acting, but I see where Arthur is coming from. I have indeed communed more with TV than real people in the last week. Yesterday I watched part of the recent PBS version of Sense and Sensibility, and became teary as I watched these women suffer. I haven’t become teary over any real life interactions in the past week.

    This topic to me brings up the issue of authenticity. It’s true that I have certain selves I present to the world in various contexts. I don’t know if that’s being inauthentic or simply letting various parts of myself step forward at different times. Interesting to think about…

  2. Janna says:

    Recently, I’ve read a lot of the French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, who speaks very complexly, but richly about the idea of simulation. In essence. we “act” out certain behaviors based, unfortunately, on an unreality. And in so doing, we produce simulacra – copies of a copy – in other words, a copy based on an unreality. The “perfect Mormon” is the quintessential simulation/simulacra pairing. The perfect Mormon never existed in the first place and lots of people “act” like it/simulate it for various reasons, and in so doing, the acting is perpetuated.

  3. Stella says:

    Janna–that’s what I’ve been wondering and thinking about. How many of us try to simulate a pretty invalid way of being—do we recognize it when we are doing so—or do we chalk it up to “striving to be perfect?”

  4. Dane says:

    How do we choose our country’s or state’s next leader?

    I hadn’t thought about it until you asked, but you’re right — democracy doesn’t work if we can’t see who we’re voting for. Here’s the solution I would propose: what if, instead of voting for candidates, we voted for a test. People would propose different tests, and we’d vote on the test that we felt best demonstrated the qualities we’d like to see in our leader. Then, after the test was voted on, anyone who wanted to could attempt the test, and the person who did the best on the test would be the election winner.

  5. spunky says:

    What a brilliant concept! Once in a while I enjoy watching simple black and white films that never won awards kind of thing. The acting in there is so stylized that it becomes almost farcical to watch- but even if we look at shows of later eras, there is a perceived style of behaviour that comes across in the dialogue and acting that might not be normal or relevant in current behaviour. (same can be said for politics- just read newspapers from a century ago and you can’t help but see the accepted and requisite behaviours necessary for one in office). It is very clear to me who the actors are at church—because I don’t feel the spirit when they speak about something that I otherwise feel is right. I wish they wouldn’t bother with the rote rehearsal of subjects when they really can’t be bothered to seek out personal truths shared in honesty. Equally frustrating are the “teachers” or speakers who need to show off how much they know of a topic, yet fail to actually teach anything because they seem to only be acting like disassociated theologians. (dare I say false prophets?) And sure, we all “fake it till we make it”- but the fakes gets old, especially when genuine truth is being stifled as a result of the acting.

    As for leaders— I have my favourite conference speakers- but I listen to them on Mp3, so probably couldn’t pick most of them out of a line up acting-wise. And to be honest, for whatever reason, by and large, the General Primary and General YW speakers to me sound more acting than real (the falsetto voice, I suppose) and that makes it hard for me to even listen to them as a result of what I perceive to be au audiogenic lack of sincerity (that isn’t with all of them, just some).

  6. Corktree says:

    Fascinating idea Stella! Like Caroline, I think I bring different parts of myself out in different contexts, but I’ve never thought about whether this constitutes acting or not. They are always true parts of who I am, but is hiding aspects of ourselves deceitful? Interesting to consider.

    As for leaders, even the ones I can’t “choose”, I determine who and whether or not I follow based on my gut or some form of inspiration. Not sure if that is more or less reliable when it comes the sincerity of the person in power, but words seem like a poor indicator of what they will actually do, so I rely on how I feel toward that person. I’ll have to evaluate if that is really the smartest way to go about it. Great post!

  7. Whoa-man says:

    Fantastic ideas. Irving Goffman talks about this a lot in his book, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” I highly recommend it.

    I feel that way more and more recently mostly because I’ve had some in depth conversations with both my bishop and stake president lately where they speak to me deeply, support me, and agree with me on much of what I think and say…..but only in private. In public, I am still “called” into their office, preached to about conforming more, given the typical testimonies and lessons that we specifically agreed were hard for people like me who need and want really really honest communication about religion and spirituality at church for us to feel like it isn’t acting!

    I continue to feel this way about a lot of people. In private we can have deep conversations and agree, but no one is courageous enough to be that same person in public. Including myself. Why is that? I don’t buy the “everyone is at different levels” and “we have to preach to the newest member” ideas because so many people are leaving the church who really need the authenticity. So why can’t we be the ones the leaders are speaking to?

    Maybe I’m just too stuck on the ideas of honesty, integrity, authenticity, etc. I mean what if these virtues stop me from feeling the spirit of the talk (it does) because I’m too worried about the inconsistencies in it. Maybe the acting stops us from dwelling on the milieu. I don’t know. This is definitely something I’m struggling with right now.

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