Friday, November 14, 2014

Machinal Play

We are at week eight of the quarter. It has been an unusually exhausting week, and with football tomorrow and Big Game week after that I do not foresee much rest until Thanksgiving break starts.

But I did get to take a break yesterday and watch a play called Machinal. I'd like to explore some of the thoughts I had around it.

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Machinal is about a young ingenue who murders her husband out of a sense of feeling trapped and controlled by society's and other people's expectations for her. The poster is very cool looking:

I have to admit that I started crying at two points in the play (to say more would be a spoiler), and that the tears weren't motivated by a sense of sadness so much as a sense of empathy for the emotional turmoil displayed on stage. Generally when I'm watching a play, my mind is too busy assessing the story and figuring out what elements of it I want to try in my own work for emotions to arise; the tears are a response to emotion, not from emotion.

What, then, were the story-based thoughts that came up? First, some thematic considerations: the theme of powerlessness and lack of control over one's own life choices is highly empathizeable. Even though I didn't identify with the main character's situation, I thought I could understand why one would prefer murder to a life of submission. "I had to get free, didn't I?"

When I was younger, I really wanted to be wealthy. My mental picture of a successful me in the future was a me with billions or even trillions of dollars stashed away. I think what motivated that wasn't so much the desire to have money but the desire to have security and power and choice. I would not marry for money, the way the main character did, because I am luckier than her and I live in a society where as a woman I will be able to find work that pays well enough to support me. I won't have to make the choice that she did. But like her I see liberty through financial security.

Enough on theme: what draws me to stories are the characters, and I want to take a look at some of the people in the story.

The main character represented a type that doesn't resonate with me: the manic pixie dream girl ingenue who just wants to find true love. It's easy to find sympathy for her, and as I mentioned it is easy to empathize with her struggle, but she is so far from me that I can't see through her eyes.

Why marry someone you cannot abide, when the option remains to find other work? Why kill rather than divorce him? The response she gave in the play was "I couldn't hurt him like that!" Poignant, yes, and deeply revealing of the character's psychology (i.e. feelings are paramount), but a character built on that premise is just not enough like me for me to care about her. Someone kinder might find more empathy for her.

What about the other characters, who were all oblivious to her plight? Who hated or resented or romanticized her idealism? Guiltily enough, I realized that I saw where they were coming from with their attitude of "just get over it. Stop complaining. Why can't you handle it?" But that's the exact wrong thing to say to someone who is suffering, isn't it?

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We often resent people, even people we love, when they aren't everything that we want them to be for us. When they don't provide enough attention, or emotional support, or something along those lines. I know I've had moments when I wanted to make someone acknowledge me. But I'm sure, too, that there have been times when a friend needed me to sit down and listen and understand them, and I didn't deliver.

Watching the play Machinal made me grateful for a lot of things: that I live in the 21st century, that I naturally incline toward a major that will let me get a job with which I can support myself, that I have good friends, and that I have opportunities to make my own choices freely and whole-heartedly.

It also made me grateful, in a twisted sort of way, for my own insensitivity. Sometimes I do feel as though I feel strongly, but I can generally suppress outward shows of emotion, which probably means that the feelings aren't actually intense. People tend to see me as calm, and laugh with a slight hint of "wait, are you being serious" when I tell the joke "I had a feeling once; it died of loneliness."

But not everyone has the emotional range of a teaspoon (to paraphrase Hermione Granger), and even I need to manage my emotions (see Tuesday's post). What struck me as the most tragic part of Machinal was the fact that no one ever really asked the main character what she wanted, or if they did, they did not respect her choice. In such a situation, would the actions I explored on Tuesday have helped? If the main character had had a creative outlet or someone to talk to, would she have made it? The latter, I think, would have had more effect than the former. But in a situation fundamentally damaging--total submission to someone she found repulsive--would anything have helped but to change the situation?

Probably not. At least, I think not, because sometimes you can deal, and sometimes, having to deal is just a cruel reminder of your own lack of power. If the machine is killing you slowly, why not strike back?

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Music for today:

I am not a Robot - Marina and the Diamonds

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Disclaimer: I like machines and someday, I believe robots will have the full capacities of a human--including emotions.

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