Saturday, February 25, 2012

I am a projector

"Yes, movies! Look at them - All of those glamorous people - having adventures - hogging it all, gobbling the whole thing up! You know what happens? People go to the movies instead of moving."

When I watch movies, I have a tendency of inserting myself within a story. I do not deflect any thought of my life, but instead embrace it to enhance the story with respect to my own experience. So when Tom in The Glass Menagerie recited this line about living life not for the sake of personal adventure, but to bask in others' achievements, I took great offense.

Ultimately it all comes down to one issue: I am a projector. When I think something, I tend to assume that same thought process in others even if we're clearly different people with differing values and expectations. I regard everyone as my equal, even fictional characters on TV, in the movies, in a play or a musical or a book. It doesn't matter who you are, if you exist then I've probably considered what I'd do in your shoes.

In doing so, I become less of a passive viewer of media and more of an active applier of the text to my own life. Instead of deflecting the morals of the fictional story, I use them as a reflection of my own circumstances.

While watching The Glass Menagerie I did just this. When Laura, the narrator's sister, is essentially set up with a gentleman caller who just so happens to be the one boy she's ever actually liked, I didn't feel much sympathy. Having quite a few crushes in my time, this was a character trait that was foreign to me. But when, later on, she is kissed by this gentleman caller (Jim) and then later told that he is actually "going steady" with another woman, I became so peeved that I could have exploded like a volcano. I was so ready to erupt with anger that I had to bury my face in my hands for a few seconds.

Like Laura, I've come face to face with a guy telling me to stop being timid, to fix my "inferiority complex." In trust and belief and projecting on him only feelings of compassion, I gave into the rhetoric and was hurt in the process. And in return, I wanted to punch the ridiculous sod as if he were a bag of sawdust rather than a person. It's what he deserved.

And it's what Jim deserved too. Profess your own good will however you like, but when you lead a girl on and then tell her "oh yeah, but I'm not actually interested," you should at least fall victim to fictional infliction of pain.

While watching the second act of the show, I began projecting my feelings onto Laura. I sensed a passive aggression in her nature. I could feel her pulling away from the guy, realizing that what he passed off as kindness and caring was actually a selfish need to help others.

I had stupidly projected my feelings of compassion for others onto him. He was not compassionate, he was out for personal satisfaction in helping Laura become a more experienced, well-rounded person.

My feelings of projection onto a character are not limited to The Glass Menagerie. I've felt kinship with Elphaba in Wicked as she sang "I'm Not that Girl" about feeling like the underdog who will never find true love. I've sympathized with Jane Austen in feeling like I lived in a world that didn't recognize my own strength and conviction as a woman.

When I was around age 11, I read a book called Stop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy. At the time I was dealing with my mom's stroke which had affected her personality as well as her physical and mental health. I connected with the autobiographical verse that the author wrote. Eventually I wrote her a note thanking her for giving me a cathartic outlet for my own feelings of loss and anger.

I have this very strong tendency to read into things and connect them back to myself. It is my firm belief that we are all selfish creatures on this planet, so this is not an unusual trait. However self-less we claim to be, each and every one of us is participating in a game of survival and pursuit of happiness. We live for our own benefit and personal understanding.

So when I watch movies, plays, television or read books - I'm actually using my own experience to color my understanding of the media I'm consuming. Letting personal context guide my thought process, I make general assumptions about characters - using life experience to project meaning into a story.

And this relationship is cyclical. I learn about a text by using my own personal experience as a guide, but this is balanced out by a use of media texts to interpret my own daily life outside of a theater.

There are so many amazing quotes dedicated to this notion. Modern day philosophers profess that the spectator lives inside his dreams rather than throwing himself into reality. But these dreams, whether they be literal night visions or taken in the form of media that consumes your mind (like TV, film, theater, etc.), are not the time and life-sucking demons that a lot of great authors characterize them as.

One of my favorite quotes from Harry Potter is in the Sorcerer's Stone when Dumbledore tells Harry as he looks into the Mirror of Erised, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that."

Albus has a point. It's a dangerous game to play when you let your goals, fantastic and perhaps self-centered, guide your decision-making. But what every great quote omits is the concept that perhaps the dreams themselves are a reflection on the life that you are living.

Watching plays and thinking of the character as a reflection of myself is in direct correlation with real-life experiences. Without living a life of your own, you are less apt to make those determinations about a story.

So instead of a negative correlation, let's see this as positive. When we experience life outside of a theater, we're giving ourselves more material to work with when we interpret a new play, movie, song, poem, etc.

Sure, lives in the movies are fantastic and seem undeniably wonderful. Getting sucked in is a risk. But getting sucked in is also about becoming part of the story, using yourself to project onto characters. And maybe it's just me, but that's not something I feel hindered by.

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