Thursday, March 7, 2013

On Acting and Hypocrisy*

ABC has published this amusing and instructive article, about the wealth and business methods of the performers who apparently went through their routine of denouncing capitalism at the Goya awards last week. They include Javier Bardem and Willy Toledo, who I have spoken about before, and Maribel Verdú and Penelope Cruz, who are worse hypocrites than I had realized. That they are ignorant and say whatever they people want to hear is not a new discovery, nor is the extent of their hypocrisy in most cases. It is unusual to see it so clearly exposed by the press, which usually prefers to use them to sell papers or adverts and to kiss their feet. Apparently at the Oscars there was less of this than usual.

I suppose we should expect people who live by their image to construct and perpetuate a false image of themselves. Perhaps they realize that the people who pay to watch them could easily find out the truth if they wanted, but they prefer to believe the lies. I just wish I had a platform like that for my own ideas. So, my moaning is just jealousy, really.

The development of prestige among actors is a curious social phenomenom, one which has, I imagine, been carefully researched by competent social historians. Lack of time constrains me to sketch a few lines based on memories from things I have read or seen over the years:

In Greek theatre the actors were not important. Playwrights who won major prizes became famous, and could become wealthy, and their Mecenas also acquired prestige, but I have never heard a reference to any social role or recognition for the performers. Not even a name seems to have survived. They didn't matter, is the conclusion. They were not craftsmen, much less artists; they were just workmen.

In mediaeval Europe the theatre was a very different matter. A popular entertainment at courts and in the square, no one involved in it had any prestige, although some of the poems have survived and are acknowledged now. At a later stage actresses were often prostitutes, and travelling players would scrape a few pence from any crowd they could find before being thrown out of town by the authorities.

In the 19thC there were some famous actors, with social pretige, but mainly because they had the patronage of some wealthy figure in society. At the start of the motion picture the actors were simply fodder for the camera. The pioneers of the medium discovered there was money to be made from magic lantern shows as there was from other shows. They also discovered, some time later, that with many more people watching the same show than could watch a live performance, milage could be made out of the general public's love of gossip. By giving greater prominence to the names and faces of the performers, and by manipulating information about alleged events in their lives, a whole secondary industry was derived from film, probably more lucrative than the films themselves, and it has grown ever since, as have the egos of those involved. From there to performers telling everyone else how to run the world is not a particularly long journey.

*Or as I saw in a comment at the Guardian the other day- Hippocracy. I think Jonathon Swift wrote about that.


James Higham said...

So many people "of principle" somehow come adrift from it when money is offered and/or fame. Or they are still for it "in principle".

CIngram said...

Yes indeed. It's easy to have principles when they make you feel good and the cost is borne by other people. When it starts to require effort we discover our principles might be a bit more elastic than we thought.

In the case of politicians and actors who live by their image, they have to express certain ideas, but they clearly can't be expected to live by them, can they?

And those principles become part of our identity, of our concept of ourselves. We won't easily admit we no longer hold them, even when it is obvious to everyone else.