V is for Vacant Stares

| May 1, 2014

I recently wrote a post about the “enslaved performer,” the equal and opposite reaction to the emancipated spectator.

This is what I wrote:

Kyle told an interesting story in class last week about going to see Julie Taymor’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was staring at watching/studying the actress playing Hippolyta—he claims because he was interested in her as a background character. She noticed him checking her out, because Who stares down the random background characters, Kyle?, and looked back at him, mid-play.

I'm not sure what Kyle sees in her.

Kyle brought this up as an example of himself being an emancipated spectator, participating in the performance by visually connecting with the actress.

But this made me think, what else happens when the spectator emancipates himself? What are the consequences? In this case, he enslaves the performer. By Kyle drawing the actress in to meet his stare, the spectator was emancipated while the performer was enslaved by his gaze, the gaze of the spectator. The freeing of the one caused the chaining of the other.

This is the counter-phenomenon to the emancipated spectator: the enslaved performer.

This Hippolyta, on the other hand...

Well, here’s what happens to the spectator when he’s chained or enslaved (i.e. rather than the performer, like I wrote about in the other post). It’s bad.

Enslave the spectator, and things that could be aesthetic experiences become horrifyingly un-aesthetic. (It’s almost a version of Freud’s theory of the uncanny, the specific form of horror in which something that was once familiar returns in a horrifyingly perverted manifestation — when the familiar becomes horrifyingly unfamiliar.)

Examples of the spectator, enslaved: