I smooth my scruffy hair down.
I replace my sneakers for black suede heels.
Swap skinny jeans for tailored trousers and baggy t-shirt for crisp white shirt.
Today I am a receptionist.
And when the first client approaches me my Irish twang has somehow become more RP. I smile more than I usually smile. There is no sarcasm and there are no jokes.
BBC Subconsciously, I hold ideas/images about who a receptionist is and I use them, reflect them back to the client because more than likely he holds them too.
I’m just temping here and I want the client to believe I am a “real” receptionist, a “good” receptionist not a playwright faking it.
It’s all just semiotics I guess.
I watched Three Girls (the BBC drama based on the Rochdale paedophile ring) the other week. It’s not an easy watch but one that I would highly recommend. From it, two things really stood out to me:
1) That we can look at the same image/person/narrative and see completely different things. The image is the same but we, the viewer, is not. One person will look at a mouthy, working class 12-year-old girl in a sexual health clinic asking for condoms to have sex with her older boyfriend and think – slut. Another person will look at that same girl and see a vulnerable child being abused. This has absolutely nothing to do with that girl, the picture or the narrative – it’s us, the audience and our pre-existing attitudes that create this meaning.
2) There are good and bad victims; credible and un-credible ones. Well, I mean there aren’t, there are just victims BUT we the audience (or the jury) are more likely to believe one victim over another. In cases of sexual assault (like the Rochdale case) we are more likely to believe the girl who cries and who “looks” traumatised. We (generalising of course) are less likely to believe the coarse, obnoxious girl who brags about her other sexual exploits.
In Three Girls two victims are used as witnesses but one, even though she really wants go to trial and speak out, is rejected because she is not a “good” victim – she does not help the narrative that the lawyers/child protection services wish to create nor will she meet the view of what the (majority) of the jury believe a victim looks like, acts like, sounds like.
She doesn’t get her day in court because of semiotics? Because of the pre-existing ideas/attitudes that the jury/audience/we all hold?
That does not seem right…
A play that looks at these ideas SO excellently is Scarborough by Fiona Evans. If you haven’t seen it then skip this paragraph because **SPOILERS**. In short, it’s the story of a 15-year-old and their teacher on an illicit weekend away together. You watch the same exact story twice but the first time the 15-year-old is male and the teacher female, the second time the genders are swapped. For me, the play is all about what’s going on inside the audience and how they read these two scenes differently – most people laugh and enjoy the first scenario, the boy is even seen as a hero but when it’s reversed we see abuse/or maybe we just see a slut – the audience’s sexism is exposed.
So…. in terms of the content of our musical…
Lawyers knowingly use semiotics and the jury’s prejudices to win cases.
Celebrities create themselves to better sell their products to us.
Journalists pick and choose the angle to place on their stories to create more exciting/sellable articles.
On twitter we retweet and retweet these constructed narratives.
On facebook we create ones about ourselves.
We all do it in all the time, some of us more consciously than others.
And we all consume these narratives too, again some with more knowing than others.
So maybe this musical is about shining a light on how easily we are misled? How readily we follow the lies, allow our attitudes/stereotypes/pre-conceptions to be manipulated and abused? How we allow there to be “good” or a “bad” victims because we do not stop and think hang on am I being a bit sexist or a bit racist, a bit elitist or maybe a bit homophobic here?
And what better way to explore this than through constructing another narrative – a narrative about narratives?