Yesterday, speaking in regard to a meeting on the Syrian catastrophe, Hillary Clinton expressed reluctance to the possible inclusion of Iranian diplomats. While doing so, she used phrases like ‘stage managed’ to refer to ostensibly deceptive actions of the Iranian government, and ‘bad actors’ synonymously with that government’s officials. ‘Bad actor’, in particular, is a phrase I hear used frequently these days to qualify people and entities as morally suspect, based on their activities in a given sphere. Investment firms that got rich betting on the failure of the housing market have been named bad actors in retrospect. The FBI has stated that it would like the ability in the social networking universe to “geospatially locate bad actors or groups and analyze their movements, vulnerabilities, limitations, and possible adverse actions.” The Washington Times recently ran an op-ed in which the author urges Congress to get “bad actors out of missile defense.”
It is without possibility that Secretary Clinton, or any of these sources, intended to disparage theatre making and the artists who do it. In fact, ‘actor’ is probably being used in such instances just to mean a participant in a series of processes. But ‘actor’ is also generally accepted as a person who behaves disingenuously, and ‘theatrical’ often points to activity considered inauthentic. It’s unfortunate that the vocabulary of theatre has been so readily appropriated, euphemistically, to suggest moral decrepitude in many scenarios.
Yes, actors at work may not be who they seem to be. Theatrical creations do in fact traffic in illusion to generate their realities (or is it the other way around?). The people involved expend exceptional degrees of energy to convince you that things may not be the way you assume they are. Yet I draw a line between the iniquity of lying and the promise of coming at the truth tangentially. There are many ways to strike at truth, which is rarely one thing. Actors, bad and good, invite us to locate truth in uncharted regions of the heart and mind. Theatre workers enable our imaginations to touch alternative heavens and relationships and moral codes. This is not the same thing as lying. Nor should it be equated with facilitating massacres, ruining economies, or annihilating lives. In fact, theatrical forays into existences resembling our own often portend against these destructive events. Our leaders and representatives would do well to make this distinction.