Songs for the Struggling Artist

Snot Acting
January 13, 2021, 12:40 am
Filed under: Acting, art, Creative Process, movies, theatre, TV | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’m going to talk about snot today. I’ve been trying to formulate thoughts about this abhorrent coup attempt that just happened but snot is a lot less disgusting so I’m going with snot right now.

Why am I writing about snot? Well, I was reading an article about the best movie performances of 2020 and they were talking about Viola Davis’ work and said, “Davis has never been hampered by vanity, as past scenes of snot-dripping emotion attest.”

I have thoughts. Not about Viola Davis. (Aside from she’s amazing and we’re lucky to have her and she came from the stage so, also, we miss her.) I have thoughts about these kudos for snot acting.

Here’s the thing about snot pouring down an actor’s face when they’re crying. It is NOT a lack of vanity on an actor’s part. It is bait for awards. Because of responses like that article. It is, in fact, a kind of showmanship – an expression of pride in one’s ability to cry real tears and snot real snot. One might call that a sort of skill-based vanity. Or maybe it’s just something encouraged by those watching.

Anyway – the reason I am not impressed by it is that I have seen people cry in real life and have also cried myself, believe it or not, and real people generally do not let snot stream down their faces when they cry. Children do, up to a point – but grown-ass adults will almost never just sit somewhere with snot on their faces for minutes at a time. Likewise, most people watching someone cry are unlikely to just sit there watching snot drip all over their face without handing them a kleenex or a handkerchief.

To snot is human but only an actor will leave it there on their face as a sort of trophy of their tears. Most of us wipe away snot and tears when we cry. Not because we are vain or even ashamed but because….we just do!

Why do I care what those screen actors do to earn their awards? I don’t know. I suppose I chafe a little at the way actors on screen are praised for realism when things like snot acting are not, in fact, human behavior. It is a choice. Maybe it’s the actor’s choice, maybe it’s the director’s, maybe it’s the awards committees, maybe it’s a ploy for Oscars and Emmys – but it is a choice, a stylistic choice and I feel like it should be acknowledged as such. In my house, it’s become a performance category and we laugh every time we see it. While someone is acting their snot out, trying to show us tragedy or pain or something, we can’t help giggling and saying, “That’s some high-powered snot acting right there.”

I’m not saying an actor can’t snot on screen. If you’re crying and you snot, that’s normal – just, you know, treat it like you would if you snotted in real life. Pull out a kleenex or something. Use your sleeve! The back of your hand! Anything.

We don’t fetishize crying in quite the same way on stage so it’s not something I’ve encountered in the theatre. Actors crying on stage just try and clear their faces so they can keep acting. They’ll get it done any old way they can so the show can go on.

But on screen, they’re probably waiting for someone to call cut before they can deal with tears or snot or whatever on their faces.

Hey – being an actor ain’t easy. Crying for a living isn’t a walk in the park. I’m not trying to make it harder for folks. But critics and awards people might want to slow down their praise for snot acting or we are going to be looking at a lot of people’s snot for years to come.

You know what this crying girl in Pietro Rotari’s print would do if her nose started dripping? She’d use that handkerchief, of course!

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