Acting: The Universality

PART I The Universality Of Acting

The Three Major Objections

The first objection to the legitimacy of acting, be it on or off the stage, is that acting is deception: the actor deceives the audience into believing he is a certain character. What is the basis for this charge? I believe there are at least three main reasons which support it.
First, there is the natural tendency for the general public to identify actors with their roles. It seems inconceivable to the public that an actor can be so convincing on stage and not be affected in some way by the role. There is truth to this. It would not be unusual for an actor to develop deep respect for a character he portrays on stage such as Tom Key developed for Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Paul Scofield for King Lear. An actor might also develop respect for the brilliance with which a character carries out his evil intensions such as that displayed by Iago or Salieri (“Amadeus”). Of course there is nothing wrong with this except the public suspects it goes far beyond just respect: that the character would taint the actor personally. That fear is not new. For that reason Plato wrote that actors …”should neither do a mean action, nor be clever at acting a mean or otherwise disgraceful part on the stage for fear of catching the infection in real life…”{4}
Unfortunately Hollywood gives reinforcement to these suspicions. Actors and actresses who only play a certain type of character seem to confirm the suspicion in a lay person’s mind that actors have more than a professional relationship with their roles. There are the “machismo” actors who play “machismo” roles: John Wayne, Bert Reynolds, and actresses who play the “sexy” roles: Marilyn Monroe, Brooke Shields. The yellow journalism media are quick to amplify any tendency that actors and actresses show to live up to their screen image in actual life; sometimes, unfortunately there is little need for amplification.
There is the popular belief (it goes beyond a suspicion) of the public that actors always agree with the point of view of the particular character rather than the viewpoint of the artistic work as a whole. Again it is easy for people to assume that there must be some carry-over into the private lives of the actors. One only has to ask if he would be comfortable with the thought of Larry Hagman babysitting his children to carry the point home. Of course he does not know Hagman in his private life, but that is the point, for one naturally allows the screen image of the evil character he has played to color his first impression of his private character.
Second, there is the a priori assumption that it is hard to tell when an actor is being honest and when he is “play acting.” No one would assume this attitude with actors he knows in person, if he does know any in person, yet he is all too ready to jump to this conclusion with those he does not know privately. I’ve heard the statement more than once from colleagues, “I don’t trust Reagan, he’s all show, he’s an actor!” If a professor, any professor, at a progressive liberal arts college would readily use this to bolster his/her suspicions of weak character or insincerity then bias against the craft of acting is alive and well.
The third reason, which I feel is the most thought-provoking for Christians, is the example of Satan’s deception of Eve through the use of acting in Genesis 3. I interpret this facet of the Fall as Satan having put on the serpent as an actor puts on a costume. He then spoke to Eve through the character of the serpent.
It is a chilling thought that the serpent was in effect being used as a living costume. Satan’s presence in the serpent is clear for Genesis 3:15 has God’s address switching from the serpent to Satan:

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.{5}

Satan very obviously is held accountable for Eve’s deception. But the serpent too is not regarded as a helpless victim, it too is held accountable:

Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.{6}

I would deduce that for God to hold the serpent accountable it had to allow Satan to possess itself.
The use of acting here is essentially no different than the use to which a con man puts it. A con man, like Satan, is a master at being “an angel of light.” Let’s examine both the means and the intent of their mutual con games.
Total deception is their means. This involves the establishing of trust, then a betrayal of that trust. And the deception is very permanent in nature, with the con “artists” only confessing to it when they are apprehended.
The intent of these games is communication for the purpose of fulfilling self-centered desires. This in turn has

  1. thoughtless consideration (at best) for the victim,
  2. the effect of forcing the victim to see an issue from another and often erroneous perspective,
  3. distortion or falsification of facts,
  4. the technique interfaced with the victim’s weakness or unique personality traits,
  5. the effect of pressuring the victim to make a decision while the aura of deception is strong, thus not giving room for counsel, research, consideration of options and consequences or prayer,
  6. the rationalization that the victim has set himself up and deserves the ruse.

With this goes the denial of responsibility for setting up the victim.
Who could consider acting in a positive light when this is the background associated with it?

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