"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Friday, December 23, 2011

On Strippers, Wrestlers, and Ballerinas

...and teachers?

I watched The Wrestler and Black Swan on a Aronofsky double bill. They both have as a theme the draw of the performance, that addiction to the audience even when sometimes the audience is cruel. Sometimes when the audience is truly nasty, it just makes you work harder to get that applause again.

One review of The Wrestler claimed it was the story of a man who overcame his need for the sport, and I wondered if the reviewer saw the same movie as I just watched. He did anything but overcome his need to perform. He got the girl; she came to him and asked him to quit, but he let himself lose her again in favour of the ring. He couldn't stop, not for love nor life.

She, a stripper, managed to wrestle free of the thrill of the cat calls on stage, but we don't find out the rest of her story. I imagine she went back to it. It wasn't how she primarily identified herself in the first place though. "I'm not a stripper; I'm a mom."

Black Swan has that same addiction. She wants to be the best and has to fight off her own demons (or use those demons) to get there. Whatever works.

Performing takes us to a different world where we can connect to people but in a way that's within our control. It's not an even relationship. The stripper can keep the client at bay because those are the rules. And it's a tricky shift to see people in the audience as people, as individuals, and for them to see you as a person instead of a performer of sorts. The audience reaction tells the stripper she's sexy and desirable, the wrestler he's strong and capable, the ballerina she's graceful and perfect, and the teacher?  Well, maybe he or she is wise or funny.

One-on-one, we have little opportunity to tell people everything we know about Plato or Nietzsche or math or science. I don't get to explain entire theories I hold or tell them how I've connected ideas between two philosophies. How often does a stripper get to entice when she's making breakfast in her housecoat or doing groceries in her sweatpants - and how often would she even want to? It's mainly on the stage or the front of the room that we get to show off our very best - a well-rehearsed show. It's often at least partially rehearsed. Little is left to chance. Sure we get hecklers here and there, but even our responses to them are at the ready.

Real life, real conversations between people instead of at people, is far more treacherous. It's all ad lib, and rarely do we get a captivated audience by chance - or, I should say, rarely do I get one. It happens from time to time, and it's exciting that finally I can show my neighbours or colleagues or children or partner that I'm more than just a hippie history teacher and negligent mom bent on saving the environment.

For some teachers, they get in front of the kids at school and can be a bit of a god there. Students might sit with rapt attention waiting for what wonderful thing they'll say next. In the classroom they can be admired and respected.

But that type of relationship can't entirely satisfy. The stripper, the wrestler, and the ballerina, are loved by many yet deeply alone. It's admiration and longing and glorification of the act, the act becomes the person in the audience's eye, but it's not really love per se, because it's just the idealized version of the person that's up there - well practiced with cue cards just in case.

Love demands more risks and greater losses. It's more work to maintain, and often it's pretty boring. But those personal connections provide respect and admiration for the self, not the performer. The stripper figured it out, but nobody else really did.

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