Reflections on the place of acting in society







The matter of acting in society is one that has been treated in some notable French productions such as "Les Enfants du Paradis" (which also looks into other issues such as love, morality and responsibility), "Kean" (which looks more specifically into the place of acting in the nature of social interplay), but also "Le Misanthrope" (which investigates the consequences of refusing to act in society), and more recently "Oui, mais.." (which invites viewers to consider the ways in which we all seek to manipulate others).


As I thought more about acting in society (by which I mean the ways in which we adapt our manner, tone and attitude to suit the circumstances in which we find ourselves), it struck me that it is quite difficult to think of a time or occasion when we DON'T act, at least to some extent.


How often are we completely open and unguarded in our dealings with others?


Do we not often consider what we say and how we say it in order to protect ourselves or protect others?


Do we not adopt certain attitudes or even personas when dealing with different people, altering vocabulary and tone to suit different situations?


Surely we adapt our behaviour and gauge what we do and say to suit our purpose - in some situations we adopt an attitude of appeasement while in others we may be aggressive. We may be reasonable or determined, frank or manipulative � all depends on our circumstances and the people we are dealing with.


Think of the following categories of people and consider how you might adapt your tone, manner and vocabulary when speaking to each one:


Spouse, son, daughter, stranger (male), stranger (female), relatives, colleagues, children, adults, doctors, lawyers, teachers, policemen, etc., etc., etc..



When addressing people, we take account of a whole gamut of factors which reflect our socialisation, culture, religion (or not), confidence, faith, purpose and sensitivity (protecting ourselves and/or others by choosing our words and tone with care).


How we respond and what we say to others will reflect our self-awareness and our awareness of others, and an attempt to find a balance between the two.


If this is the case, it begs questions about identity and the extent to which socialisation affects or even creates that identity.


In the film "The Matrix", Neo's every move and reaction are tracked and fed into a Matrix, a programme through which everyone's moves and reactions are monitored and are subtly influenced or directed by way of meetings and exchanges of ideas. In fact, it could be argued that society is not so far removed from the science-fiction world of "The Matrix" as individuals are profoundly influenced, pressurised and "socialised" by the other individuals around them whose feelings, desires and ambitions we are encouraged to take in to account in our dealings with them.


Imagine the consequences if an individual did not take others in to account and behaved in a selfish or arrogant manner to the detriment of others. Might he/she not be considered bizarre or even a deviant and be rejected by society? Or might he/she be considered a leader? Surely this would depend on the degree of deviant behaviour and the consequences for others.



Although we all desire freedom and independence we are all, somewhat paradoxically, social creatures and are dependent on one another for contact, education, care, productivity and entertainment.


"Success" in society is essentially about balance - everyone wants to feel valued and validated by others, but to have value the "I" or the individual must have a degree of confidence, self-love and ambition, yet he/she must also display a level of sensitivity and consideration toward others. If the ego is too strong and refuses to recognise the needs of others, the result is likely to be rejection and failure. Yet if there is a lack of confidence, self-love and ambition this may lead to a lack of self-respect and sense of dignity, the result of which is likely to be over-compliance to others who are willing to assert themselves, and even mental health problems.


In order to cope with some of the stresses which can result from daily life, some may even resort to adopting a persona, distancing themselves from direct and open contact with others by adopting a set of desired and considered responses they would like to produce by nature, and with time the persona may even become the norm. After all, was it not Aristotle who pointed out we are what we do habitually, so if we set out to adopt habits, we will eventually become that which we do habitually.



Of course, there are those who act consciously, deliberately and professionally, and they also have a role in society. Authors and playwrights may write to distil, capture and encapsulate human experience, emotion, ambition, fulfilment, morality, religion, social pressure, respect etc., etc., and at their best, actors help us recognise human nature and characteristics, revealing the workings of the human mind and the workings of the society we unite to create. They can achieve this while being entertaining, thrilling, amusing or while inviting us to reflect on ourselves. They can be educational and inspirational, but at their worst they can also be parasitic and pointless. Once again, it comes down to balance - if their work is considered and relevant to others, it will be appreciated, but if it is essentially self-indulgent and ego-based, it is unlikely to be respected.


My thanks for taking the time to read this page. I hope you found it of some value.


I can be contacted at .


Stuart Fernie



Due to technical problems (and my inability to cope with them), new material will be posted on My Blog. Please check for regular updates. These include various articles, discussions of "Dunkirk", "Dances With Wolves", "The Prisoner" (1967 TV series), "Inherit the Wind" (1960 film), a little Flash Fiction and some of my memoirs as a teacher in a small Highland school for some 35 years.