“For anything so o’erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature.”
–“Hamlet,” Act 3, sc.II
In an interview prior to her winning a Best Actress Golden Globe, Irish actress Saoirse Ronan explained that she was able to play an American high school girl because her idea of high school came from the American television programs she adored, like SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH and THAT’S SO RAVEN. “I loved LIZZIE MCGUIRE too,” Ronan declares, “I loved all of the Disney Channel girls,” Ronan recalls. “I don’t know if you guys realize how much an influence American pop culture has on us.”
So now I’m channeling Hamlet, in the graveyard, Yorick’s skull in his hand, my “gorge rising” (ie. nauseous).
What the fuck has happened here, guys? “An Actress Prepares?” I understand that there should be a balance between internal and external choices, but let’s be honest: we are facing a new generation of actors, artists, dancers, writers whose life experience has mostly been obtained by watching, on a screen, others’ experiences.
This is not just disconcerting; it’s scary. Because we are becoming (or maybe, have already become) a culture of “observers” rather than “actors.” The primary source has been once removed, as more and more young adults create content that is a viewer’s view of life, rather than life itself.
We have already seen an outreach into global waters for new sources of art—from Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South America—which is a positive development for the arts as a whole. Yet I can’t help thinking that a large segment of the American population will be denied a place in the arts of the 21st century because they literally will have little that’s new to write about. Texting? Video games? Online dating?
Kathleen Wilson, the co-founder of Rikaroo and an Adjunct Professor of Media Arts at NYU, recalls her early collaborative research on interactive media: in the 1980’s at the dawn of the interactive development, she and her colleagues utilized psychology and anthropology as the basis for designing interactive programs. People were the model; the most interactive modality possible is conversation; and initially the goal of interactive media was to extend human experience.
But interactivity has evolved into a modality that supplants, rather than extends, human experience. I would even argue that direct human experience has become, for many, …inconvenient. Something to be feared, avoided.
The internet brought many conveniences to nearly every aspect of film and TV production. I can speak to my own experience as a casting director: before emails and downloaded pictures, resumes, and acting reels, the process was much slower and involved more effort on everyone’s part—agents and managers had to deliver hard copies of pictures and resumes, each breakdown sparked rafts of phone calls and drop-offs, and directors, writers and producers had to actually show up at auditions to watch actors in person.
But the upside was: casting directors made contact with agents and managers on a constant basis, often developing lasting business “friendships.” The decision-makers had opportunities to give adjustments to each actor, frequently helping the actor make choices closer to what was needed to nail the performance.
Film Director Michael Ritchie, discussing his opinion of the coming digital revolution in editing equipment, once told me, “Anything that speeds up the process of making a movie is detrimental to the art of making movies.” And, in The Empty Space (1995), Theater and Film Director Peter Brook discussed how he would spend weeks preparing staging notes for a new production, only to jettison them on the first day of rehearsal. The missing variable? Human interaction.
We’ve forgotten the importance of human interaction. We all want to go to Paris, sit in a café, and watch the world go by. But what really happens (still, thankfully) in most Paris cafes is conversation. That’s the biggest difference between public space in the U.S. and in Europe.
Once we decide that human interaction no longer matters, the door opens for an authoritarian aesthetic to take over.
The larger concern, of course is that our children are interacting less frequently than ever before. They play alone; or more frighteningly, they sit next to one another (especially the teenagers) group-texting on their iPhones, choosing to connect with absent friends or people they’ve never met rather than the people sitting right in front of them.
Our motto at Rikaroo is “Don’t Just Watch.” As we fly toward the end of our second decade of the new century, a call-to-arms is needed. Even Jony Ive, the designer of the iPhone, has recently expressed fears that his invention is at some level soul-crushing. Is Mark Zuckerberg’s recent announcement that Facebook plans to refocus on personal connections really enough?
Fight the power. Fight the power.
We’re looking for ideas, concepts, innovations—not to destroy the new digital universe, but to tap its virtues and explore ways for it to extend, rather than subvert, human experience.
Write, or call, or shout. We need your help.