Life is larger than life
Dave Trotton 05 November, 2012 at 05:11
In the early years of the twentieth century, the biggest of all the silent movie stars was Charlie Chaplin.
You could make anyone laugh just by imitating Charlie Chaplin.
The cheeky grin, the twirly cane, the funny walk with quick short steps.
In fact so many people copied him that Charlie Chaplin lookalike contests were held all over the world.
This fascinated the real Charlie Chaplin.
In San Francisco, he anonymously entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest.
But he didn’t win.
In fact he didn’t even get to the final.
There were loads of people there who looked more like Charlie Chaplin than he did.
People who could do a better funny walk, cheeky grin, twirly cane, than he could.
So the real Charlie Chaplin was rejected early on.
But how could that be?
Well, the Charlie Chaplin everyone knew was the one on the cinema screen.
Black and white grainy film, quick jerky movements from a hand-cranked camera.
That’s what everyone knew Charlie Chaplin should look like.
But the real Charlie Chaplin didn’t move like the speeded up character on the screen.
Because the old-fashioned movie camera added all that.
All the fake Charlie Chaplins could do that walk, because they’d copied it from the films.
But the real Charlie Chaplin couldn’t do that.
He wasn’t copying what was on film, he was doing the real thing.
The walk before the camera made it black and white and speeded it up.
But no one ever saw the real thing.
All they saw was what was on film.
So the real Charlie Chaplin looked fake, and the fake ones looked real.
That’s how the mind is.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant calls this noumena.
Noumena is the world as it exists without the senses.
But we can’t experience anything except through our senses.
So the actual world out there is something we can never know.
We can only ever know what our senses tell us.
We don’t experience the world, we experience our senses.
This is really important for everyone in the business of communication.
Which, of course, is everyone.
Simply showing the truth, may not be enough.
It may not communicate.
Because people may not experience it as the truth.
We have to simplify and exaggerate the truth.
Just the way Chaplin’s on-screen image became the real Charlie Chaplin.
Mark Lund gives a good example of this.
If we let actors walk on stage looking exactly the way they do in real life, everything will be too subtle.
Their facial expression won’t register to the audience sitting between twenty and sixty feet away.
So the actors wear stage makeup.
This brings those subtle facial expressions to life.
It simplifies and exaggerates them so the audience can see them.
And the exaggeration works.
But if we see the same actors in the street, close up, in full makeup, it wouldn’t work at all.
Massive great black eyebrows, big fat red lips, fake rosy cheeks, thick dark eyeliner.
The same people who looked perfectly fine onstage will suddenly look grotesque.
The stage makeup doesn’t work close up.
So, before we try to communicate, we need to work out which world we’re in.
Are we in a close up, subtle, world where our audience has nothing to do but look at but us?
Nothing to do but concentrate on our every little nuance.
Or are we in a world where we need to cut through?
A world where a million things are happening simultaneously.
Where subtlety and nuance will get swamped and disappear unnoticed.
We have to understand which world we’re working in, before we start work.