This world is full of faking it, and while people may think that they fake matters well enough to fool others, that seldom is actually the case when one examines the matter, even where one does better than one’s peers. This is especially true in matters of entertainment, where there are a variety of ways to attempt to create a simulacrum of reality that nonetheless end up feeling unsatisfying. Therefore, let us ponder today the ways in which entertainment spectacles attempt to overwhelm reality, even if they leave a bad taste in the mouth of those who see through the games.
In music today, one of the more frustrating but common elements of songs is the liberal use of autotune, to the point where it becomes part of the structure of the song itself and not merely a way to cover the intonation problems of singers. While some singers have promised the “death of autotune,” no such death appears in sight, unless there is a less irritating technology that would perform the same (necessary?) function. And what is that function? Covering for the failure of singers to be able to hit notes, something that used to be helped with either some native musical ability and plenty of practice time. Alternatively, plenty of singers were known for their vocal imperfections and their sincerity of spirit and strength of their songwriting or other musical abilities was enough to make their songs enduring and popular even with their less-than-perfect vocal pitch. Even for those of us with slight perfectionistic tendencies, a sincere and heartfelt performance that is slightly flawed is far better than one with a sterile and artificial “perfection.” We are flawed beings after all.
Another example of a problem with faking it in the world of modern entertainment is the problem of the blue/green screen in movies. While early special effects (see 1980’s fantasy movies) were often laughably bad in the way monsters were cut and pasted from the film by hand, showing obvious marks, the focus on cgi in recent years is hardly more advanced in terms of characterization, however superior it may be in visual smoothness to its predecessors. The problem is that many people simply do not have a good enough imagination to act in front a screen the way they would in a set. This problem in movies is compounded when mediocre or terrible actors are cast in the first place, as the difficulties of performing in front of a blank screen where other action will be added by computer at a later time is compounded when one does not perform well in the first place. It is preferable, to the extent that it is possible, to see action that is performed as much as possible in reality, because it forces people to respond in realistic ways that make entertainment much more convincing. And that is the point, after all, to make entertainment that allows people to suspend disbelief and grant at least a temporary legitimacy to acts of fiction.
Another aspect of entertainment that is troubling and unsatisfactory is the sort of pretend playacting that seldom moves beyond the level of children’s games. While those who can convincingly lie and play pretend are a bit frightening on moral grounds, it is still irksome to see people who cannot lie convincingly feel the need to lie often for reasons of face. Examples of this abound. I once watched a movie where the chemistry between the lead actors was pretty minimal, and the movie was greatly disappointing on that count, so much so that I held it against both lead actors and was upset when the lead male was cast as a particularly iconic character in the reboot of a treasured movie franchise. However, I later found out that his actress had been pretending to show an interest in guys at the time, and was not doing a convincing job, and so I cut him some slack, figuring that if he tried his best, his effort was not met halfway by the actress. Other examples of bad pretending are less extreme but more commonly found–the fake smiles and fake politeness one often finds among service employees (as someone who is generally and genuinely polite in person, one can tell the difference). If your smile looks like a wax mannequin, you’re doing it wrong. Other examples of this fakery are more spectacular, in royal pageantry that attempts to present an image of a loving and benevolent monarch and an adoring and loyal populace when neither are generally true. This insincerity of performance is why people no longer read or watch Lyly, when Shakespeare presents the same linguistic difficulties without the additional insincerity of performance and tone.
When we look at performance, what we see as frequent and consistent problems are those matters that lead to a greater insincerity of performance. What make autotune, blue/green screens, or deliberately insincere performances particularly frustrating is the way in that they make what is a difficult act (and that is making fiction appear convincing as reality) even more difficult. There is a certain amount of performance that is necessary in making any message convincing, but when this performance springs from sincerity of purpose and genuineness of feeling, this performance provides genuine truth even through the vehicle of fiction. When this genuineness is lacking because of the use of technology or spackle to hide the reality, the performance suffers, and what could have been enduring (but flawed) art instead becomes wooden efforts and wasted spectacle. We can do better than that, and we all deserve better than that.