• Patrick McAndrew

We Are Becoming Stock Characters


In the acting world, one may develop a character through what’s called the “given circumstances” of the play.  What’s the setting?  What’s your relationship to the other characters?  To society?  What’s your family like?  Your history?  What is your place in the world?  An actor can use these given circumstances as inspiration to develop a cohesive, 3-Dimensional character that is riveting, encompassing and, as they say in the Biz, “living truthfully.”


One needs an active imagination to be an actor, whether it be on stage, in film, or in television.  You are creating not so much an identity as much as a living, breathing soul.  And if you do your research, you will discover a wide variety of “methods” in getting to that truthful embodiment.  Every actor gets to that place in his or her own unique way, that place of seeming reality.  The key word there is seeming, for underneath that seeming reality is nothing but an illusion; a façade of a reality that is not nor anywhere close to what is being seen played out onstage or in your favorite movie.


Social media is a theater of its own.  We are developing characters and personas on these social media platforms in much the same way an actor may develop a character.  However, unlike a character we see in a play, social media is 2-Dimensional.  Social media is a platform full of stock characters.  Our handy-dandy reliable Wikipedia page defines stock characters as “archetypal characters distinguished by their flatness.”  Stock characters are prevalent throughout most of theater history, but I always liken them to the collection of commedia dell’Arte characters.  Commedia Dell’Arte was an early form of theatre that originated in Italy.  The form is usually characterized by masked “types” who would play out improvised performances.  There is the Zanni, who is the buffoon or clown character, an incompetent fool of sorts.  There is the Pantalone, an older man with business skills.  There is also Colombina, the mischievous maid, as well as many other “types.”  These characters are 2-Dimensional and don’t really have much substance besides their stereotypes.


We find stock characters on Facebook and Instagram all the time.  We have the health nut, the starving artist, the sports fanatic, the glamour girl, the bodybuilder, the young professional, the near-racist relative, the staunch conversative, the staunch liberal, and so on and so forth.  We create the persona that we want to embody.  But these characteristics are only one part of us.  This appears to be the one part we want to project, which skews our thinking about ourselves and our fellow followers.  And then we fall into a downward spiral into the comparison trap.


There is a great channel on YouTube called Charisma on Command.  Check it out!  A while ago they posted a video titled, “Instagram is Ruining Your Life.”  They have a solid quote in the video that says, “We don’t do what we want to do because we care more about what other people think of us than what we think ourselves.”  Truth bombs be droppin’.  We are “outsourcing our happiness” to give people what they want to garner the most likes, shares, and retweets.  We are allowing our identity to be shaped on the opinions of others.


When this happens, we become stock characters.  We prevent ourselves from being full, 3-Dimensional beings who have strengths, but who also have many weaknesses, who have some amazing days, but also have not so great days.  As we get sucked into the highlight reel online, we begin to devalue our own lives while comparing them to the lives of our peers.  With a never-ending newsfeed, we have an endless supply of everyone’s seemingly perfect lives: everyone’s seeming reality.


The key word there is seeming, for underneath that seeming reality is nothing but an illusion; a façade of a reality that is not nor anywhere close to what is being seen played out onstage or in your favorite movie.   Or, rather, what is being seen played out in “real” life.

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© 2020 Patrick McAndrew