Sunday, August 8, 2010

Displacement: The Dramatic Energy of the Twenty-first Century

The act of wanting something triggers useful and delightful energy, provided that the desired something is in fact something you deeply and genuinely feel.  Engaging in action not genuinely wished for nor sincerely felt may also produce energy, but like so many medicinal and psychological products advertised on television, doing so also produces side effects.  

Notable side effects from activity not genuinely wished or sincerely felt are boredom, resentment, tiredness, and anomie.  Notable effects of performing at levels of indifference or distraction (sometimes referred to as multitasking) include mediocre results, blurred intent, and loss of focus.

Knowing what a character wants is an enormous step toward knowing that individual.  Indeed, knowing you want is an enormous step toward defining yourself.  Since the thrust of this observation is about the kinds of energy so useful to writers as tools for presenting dimensional characters, it seems to you instructive to mention here a phenomenon of accumulated energy many psychiatrists refer to as displacement, which is a shifting of actions from a desired target to a substitute target.  

Or to move into the purview of that fellow from Vienna, the Id wants to do something the Superego does not permit.  The Ego comes forth with a substitute way--displacement--of the psychic energy of the Id.

Neat, huh?

A classic specific of displacement at work is the tale of the unfortunate individual who is yelled at by the boss.  Feeling he cannot safely yell back at the boss, the subject goes home whereupon he yells at his wife, who goes storming into the kid's room, demanding to know why the kid hasn't cleaned his room.  In this truly democratic sharing of the energy, the kid storms into the back yard whereupon he kicks the family dog.

Displacement is thus a splendid tool for use in fiction; it is true Reaganesque trickle-down.  As agreement is a spoiler for story, the displacement of the individual who is being yelled at by his boss can spoil the trickle-down by the stratagem of telling the boss to go be fruitful and multiply himself.  Of course story begins again if the boss says, "You're fired," and is given yet another direction when the individual goes home energized by having told the boss off, then boasting of it to his wife, whose response is the cross-court volley of "Schmuck!  You'll be fired."  

Of course we have to wait until the next day to see if the boss has acted as on the retort as predicted by the wife, which gives us a chance to switch the strategy by having individual himself confront the son about the condition of his room.

Look at the possibilities there:  The son can say "Fuck you, I'm outta here," which gives/provokes/motivates the wife to say, "Like father, like son."  The son can also say the equivalent of white man speak with forked tongue, to which the father can reply along the lines of being older and wiser gives him the privilege to tell the boss to go fuck himself because he, the boss, was morally wrong (a judgement call, of course) and because the father has the pride of the family breadwinner to uphold, which gives you, the writer, a chance to show hypocrisy in action.

Comes the dawn, the individual can receive an email from the boss, saying in effect, undoubtedly you were preparing to come into work this morning, which is a noble thought in the abstract, but since you no longer have a place to work here, I hope you have another place you can go to work.  

You also have the opportunity for some moments of suspense by having our boy being directed by the receptionist to stop at the boss' office first thing on arrival, whereupon the boss tells our boy how refreshing it is to have an employee who sticks up for his rights, and won't he please accept this upgrade in job status because he, the boss, values the strength of independent thinking and the absence of presence of a yes-man.

Using a yes-person as a lead character in a story is bound to produce results using displacement, unless, of course, the yes-person agrees with the boss, and so to make this trope work, you'd have to begin the story with the boss complaining to the loyal (and sincere, don't forget) employee that the boss finds the employee too agreeable and, thus, not a reliable dissenting voice, which could possibly get said adoring employee to tell the boss to go be fruitful and multiply himself, thus does displacement become a viable tool in the construction of dialogue as well as story points. 

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