3/27/2007

First day of 4th quarter! Whee!

And also, we had what I think is one of the most interesting discussions of the whole course: the subjectivity/objectivity talk.

Subjectivity and objectivity are terms that have to do with points of view, or, if you prefer, perspectives. I mean those words in a literal sense, as in, the physical position from which you watch a particular event. Are you the person performing an action; are you a particicipant in the event? Or are you separated from the action, physically, psychologically, or emotionally?

To grasp the distinction, it might be useful to envision a football game in a large stadium. The action in this case occurs on the field as the players try to move the ball back and forth. If the main action is on the field, then it is the audience who are the uninvolved, “objective” observers. They are separated from the action on the field by several different “barriers”: lack of expertise, lack of protective uniforms, actual fences that prevent them from stepping onto the field, security personnel that would arrest them if they tried, etc. An audience at a large sporting event is about as physically “objective” as you can get, although physical separation isn’t everything, as we’ll see momentarily.

On the other side of the divide, the “subjective” perspective of the game action is represented by the players on the field. One student today pointed out that to picture a player’s point of view you actually have to imagine the bars of the facemask in front of your eyes, which is a nice way to visualize the difference between subjective and objective. The subjective view is in some ways more limited than the objective (players stuck in the middle of the action sometimes are distracted by other players trying to hit them; sometimes their view of the main action is blocked by, well, blockers, etc.), but in other ways the subjective observer knows more than the objective one. For example, some of the players on the field know what plays are being called and where the ball will be moving before the play actually begins. And there are other things “subjective” observers know: A player on the field might have partied with some of the other players on the field the night before, and might know certain things about those other players that objective observers in the crowd would never know–would never want to know! Also, subjective observers are subject to emotional swings and biases that objective observers might not be party to: Clearly, every player on the field has loyalty to one particular team, a fact made clear by their uniforms, if nothing else.

Once we set up these definitions we can mess with them however we want. For example, is it really true that the fans at a game are “objective” observers, disconnected from what goes on on the field? Of course not. Fans have their own opinions, biases, memories of past triumphs and failures, and they are “ubjects” within their own spheres of events which involves the players and the action on the field. Fans at a game don’t have an “objective” view at all, except, maybe, in a strictly physical sense.

Which brings up my next point: Is there really any such thing as an objective observer in this world? After all, don’t even spectators in the stands have some knowledge about the personal lives of players, and some opinion about the outcome of the game? Is anyone truly “objective,” that is emotionally, physically, and psychologically separate from the “action” they are observing?

In order to plumb the murky depths of this philosphical question, we played a party game that I made up. I think this party game is going to really take off this year. It’s called Subjectivity/Objectivity Charades. Here’s the gist: A couple of volunteers take a pre-written scenario out in the hall to rehearse its performance as a silent pantomime. The rest of the class sits patiently engaging in light “small talk.” The performers then re-enter and perform their charade. After the performance, everyone sits down to write. The “objective” observers (the students in the audience) write down what they saw the people do. The performers tell the story from their “subjective” view as characters in the little play. Then we all compared notes.

This revealed two things: First, none of the “objective” accounts were exactly the same, indicating that nobody in the room had a truly “objective” view of the action, unimpeded by distance, angle, or personal biases. No purely “objective” view existsed. The second revelation was that the subjective observations of the characters in the play were more interesting and detailed, although only be hearing several accounts could we piece together the “truth” about what happened.

Anyway, all of this is like life and important to storytelling, which we’ll be getting started with on Thursday.

MT

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