Tuesday, May 25, 2010

On Melodrama: TV is all about "Making Faces"

I don't watch much TV, I watch lots of films but not very many television programs. Far less than I should given my work and interest in media, culture and pop-culture. One of the benefits of watching little TV is that when I do, I am overwhelmingly struck by the characteristics and exaggerated characteristics of the television program format.

In the past month I strayed way outside of my comfort zone and watched Survivor (I never watch reality TV), CSI Miami and the final episode of Lost. What really stood out for me is how much TV is about people "making faces" at one another and by extension the viewer. In the final episode of Lost most scenes end with a close-up and hold on an actor making a dramatic face into the camera. Most scenes "procedurals" like CSI Miami are loaded with shots of actors making dramatic faces.

What would an episode of CSI Miami be like if all of the frames that included dialog were edited out? (This would be the most interesting way to reveal the melodramatic "face-making".)

If I shortened the long, dramatic shots on actors making faces in CSI Miami I wonder how much it would shorten the episode?

It would be fun to storyboard out the close-ups on faces in each episode of a full season of CSI Miami and look at them side-by-side.

Answers.com defines Melodrama as:
1a. A drama, such as a play, film, or television program, characterized by exaggerated emotions, stereotypical characters, and interpersonal conflicts.
1b. The dramatic genre characterized by this treatment.
2a. Behavior or occurrences having melodramatic characteristics.

Violence and over-sexualization in media get a lot of attention, but what is completely overlooked is melodrama. In addition to "face-making" I would include "attitude" and "posturing" as expressions of melodrama in television shows. I speculate whether Melodrama is to blame for increasing sarcastic and snarky behavior exhibited in society. The kind of behavior recast in shows like Glee and iCarly).

The rise of reality television makes perfect sense if you see it as a purer and more raw expression of melodrama (stereotypical characters, interpersonal conflict and exaggerated emotion). The overly drawn-out scenes in reality programs when contestants are being eliminated are filled with dramatic "face-making" shots.

Final thoughts on television.
I don't believe that televisions are devices for transmitting and receiving moving images and sound. That definition makes sense if you look at the object in the room. If you examine process, a more accurate way of defining television is: a device for eliciting patterns of emotional response from human beings. People look at television in order to go on an emotional thrill-ride filled with ups, downs and loop-de-loops. (Given how bad most of the writing is it can't possibly be about narrative and telling stories.)

"The face" of melodrama.
If I had to "put a face on" Melodrama it would most certainly have to go to actor David Caruso (Horatio Caine on CSI Miami). No one hams it up like David.


ANIMIKE said...

I can only imagine what the dramatic series has taken away from the dramatic animated movie. For instance, a lot of the emotion in an animated movie (pixar, dreamworks) is depending on the actors (animators) who have a fixed set of audio to work with. they have to sell through the drama and intent with only gestures as there is limited access into recording other lines. I'm sure the evolution of the two genres has been parallel and symbiotic, but they no doubt have influenced each other.

kathleen said...

Ahh, yes, David Caruso and the Sunglasses of Doom. Well, that takes care of faces, asses and melodrama. Now you need a piece on props (if you don't already have one).

On the topics of faces, melodrama, and animation, let's not forget the Chuck Jones classic, "Feed the Kitty" or the modern homage to it in Monsters, Inc (the trash compactor scene).