Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Epiphany #17

Ever wonder what in most every movie, film, play, sequential televison series, sitcom and even in many sketch comedy pieces the favorite dramatic technique is?  I say it's "The Walk Away."

You know how it works:  two people get into a conversation where there's a conflict, and one of them, usually the one who feels wronged, perhaps unfairly wronged gets off a doozy of a last line that leaves the other person speechless...and the person who delivers that line turns and walks away.

This wonderful device has numerous effects:

1.  It leaves that great last line hanging in the air for the audience to mull over.
2.  It allows the the production to cut away--to a commercial in some cases, to a new scene either.
3.  It allows a character to seize the "high ground," whether that is moral, intellectual, or just plain witty.
4.  In whatever way, it allows one character to "win" the argument.

There's only one problem.  You can't do it in real life.

No, in real life, the walk away means nothing but trouble.  Try, just try, walking away, whether you've fired off a great line or not and see where refusing to engage, especially by leaving for commercial, will get you.  No, you'd better be there when the show resumes, or else you run the greater risk of the whole situation escalating into something much larger during that time-out.

For another thing, when was the last time someone you were in conflict with was left speechless by something brilliant that you said?  And, oh, I know that you have said many brilliant things.  No, on our planet, it's all about getting the last word in, and that means that a verbal showdown will continue on long after the last effective remark, becoming the argument equivalent of John Woo's movie, Face-Off, which simply would not end.

No, real-life verbal sparring depends on keeping the talking going most of the time until you can reach a place of uneasy agreement and concession.  Because you know what?  No one ever wins.  No one ever wins an argument.  Witticisms do not carry the day.  Ultimate, irrefutable evidence of your opponent's failings, even with witnesses and other documented support, carry no weight whatsoever in a relationship court of law where both sides play both attorney and judge simultaneously.

So, admire that drama.  Admire that playwright's use of pithy dialogue and impeccable timing.  Repeat the killer line to your friends the next day when you are recalling an incredible episode in general or an incredible put down in particular.

Just remember that his or her characters are saying their lines at least as much for your benefit as they are for the other characters on the stage.  They are in hyper-reality, not reality, where emotions are both amplified and condensed and where hero and villain can go out and get a beer after the show.

Much as we as a society seem to have an increasing admiration for verisimilitude in our dramatic arts, this one writer's trick keeps those arts from ever getting fully there.  Do not take it to heart.  It will burn you.  You will not win.


Robert Berman said...

Cinema uses all sorts of cheap tricks like that for dramatic purposes. The other one that I can't stand is when one character shows incredible,articulate insight into the psyche of another. "I know why you went out and got wasted this weekend. It's because three years ago on this very day, your dog Fluffy fell asleep in the clothes dryer, and you accidentally ran a load with him still inside. And that reminds you of this other thing that happened..." It's just a lazy way for the writer to deliver exposition about a character's internal state, and it makes us feel like all the people on TV are psychological geniuses with amazing insight into human nature. They are not, and we should not feel bad for being less insightful than they, just as we should not feel bad for feeling less beautiful than they. But we do.

As to the point about arguments: The Nashville-based husband/wife music team Fleming and John had a great song in the mid-90s about how we always think of better responses after the argument is over. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efji8yVQtGg

G. B. Miller said...

Actually, if done right, you can get in the last word and walk away w/o consequences. The key though, is properly reading your situation.

If you can't get a proper read, by all means, don't do it.