The script, part 2

So basically I promised a second part and then realized all it was going to consist of was an extension of the metaphor from the first part. Read it or skip it as you like.

Like Ruben said in a comment, talking about Friends is talking about “growing up, selling out, and how pop culture mediates such life transitions.” The metaphor is easy: the show presents a script for living your 20s — how to deal with entry-level jobs, promotions, romances small and large, family problems, etc. For the unsure, the script represents a welcome security.

I guess there are people who don’t need the script, who have learned the intricacies of young adulthood in other ways. Certainly not everyone watched Friends — lots of us have other scripts. Mark likes Golden Girls, for example.

Then there are people who go off script.

The metaphor is interesting here, I think. Imagine a play in which one actor is given blank lines in the script instead of words and is expected to improvise those lines. A form of aleatoric drama. And suppose the actor improvising the lines chose to speak lines that had nothing to do with the written dialogue that the other actors were speaking.

The situation as it unfolded on stage would have a few interesting characteristics. For one thing, anyone watching the play would only know that one character was speaking in non sequiturs, not that the non sequiturs were improvised. Given several aleatoric players and several scripted ones, the audience would really be left scratching their heads. Who’s improvising and who’s reading lines?

Imagine the play is a well-known one, say Romeo and Juliet, and one of the characters’ lines have been replaced with blank spaces for improvisation. The players go through their familiar routines, carrying on with love and swordfights, but Mercutio wanders the stage talking about the tuna melt he had for lunch and how he missed his grandmother’s funeral because he was hopped up on crystal. The production would look like everyone else was ignoring Mercutio, although you wouldn’t be sure if he was ignoring or reacting to them. In any case, his babbling would no longer fit into the other characters’ plans, and they would appear to brush him aside.

In life, it’s sometimes hard and sometimes easy to sort out who’s on-script and who’s off. There’s a fair amount of non-sequitur static in everyday behavior among all of us who aren’t literally television characters.

There’s also a danger of going off-script — that you become suddenly unimportant to the important plans of the on-scripters. I’ve been to cocktail parties where I could predict almost the exact moment when the person I was chatting with would lose interest because I wasn’t an art collector or a media professional or a doctor. A White Bear described (last three paragraphs of the post) an instance of this at a dinner party. A guy asked her to tell him what music she listened to so he could “size her up.” She objected to the very project of sizing someone up by examining their consumer choices, which appears to have thrown him off. He pressed her further and she relented, but her list was too odd for him. He admitted, “I have no idea what any of that says about you.”

In any case, this should all be filtered through Heidegger’s observation that authenticity is just a form of inauthenticity (but not the other way around). I don’t believe there’s such thing as going off the script entirely. But to some extent we choose our scripts. And shows like Friends help us feel comfortable with the ones we find ourselves in.

One response to “The script, part 2”

  1. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Not being a Friends watcher, I always felt that part of the appeal of the show was that they somehow didn’t really have to grow up or sell out. Or at least they could do it in a way that still made them young, fun, and special. Which seems to be the point nowadays, doesn’t it? And the show played a part in this, simply being a consumer of this particular group of telegenic pranksters was supposed to make me and my less joke filled and slapstick laden plot a little more palatable. The degree of identification with the characters and/or their “types”is interesting for me in this regard, as is the role that Aniston has performed for the tabloids with and without Brad.

    Though this is one of Dave’s less explicitly “political” posts I couldn’t help but think of his Mercutio with a tuna melt analogy as how I felt from 2000 to around the recent midterm elections in terms of the general public and the perfidy of the Bush Adminstration. Too many people seemed to have their talking points from Rove and Fox “News” while I was running around foaming at the mouth yelling that we were all going to hell in a handbasket. I’m still suspicious that I could be doing a repeat performance of that same monologue if a new and better version of Friends comes along to distract my fellow citizens with a more pleasing narrative.