Monday, January 26, 2009

Information as Entertainment

Our ability to process sensory observation allows entertainers to manipulate us in some very effective ways.

Output devices such as televisions and computers provide an interesting conundrum. These are sources of information for us - we get our news from these sources, we use them to communicate with our friends and family, and we see images of our memories as well. At the same time, both of these devices show us entertainment. Our minds cannot process the difference between real and fiction - although our consciousness may be able to instruct us, it sometimes may not be enough.

So when the six o'clock news shows violent images of war and terror abroad and the broadcast is followed by any one of the number of violent movies that adorn our culture, it becomes hard for us to separate one from another. When the two are played parallel to each other, how is it possible to tell them apart? The are so very similar that they can easily affect us deeply; perhaps more than we can know.

How does this apply to theatre? We can be so much more affected by something that is taking place in front of us in real time and real space. However, often theatre can be seen as illusion, and unless the artifice is expertly hidden, you can find clues to remind you that the production is a charade. Seldom is the stage magic so perfect that your brain is tricked into believing in the reality of the illusion.

So which is better and which is worse? Obviously there is a conflict of interest in the television as it delivers both entertainment and information, but what is the effect of watching something, seeming real, unfold in front of you in reality.

Happy Birthday: Christopher Hampton (b. 1946)

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