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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 85 | volume XV | July-August, 2012



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                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 85July-August, 2012
Sound Reviews

Emotional Manipulation and the Alienation Effect

A Reflection on The Threepenny Opera


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Darija Andovska

“Sometimes it’s more important to be human, than to have good taste”
    – Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) looked for ways that would help him dramatize Karl Marx’s postulates on capitalism, particularly focusing on set design, music and playacting when relating the story, thus attempting to have audiences remove themselves from the stance of a mere character identification, which is typical for conventional realism and naturalism, all with the goal of achieving an effect of estrangement or distancing (Verfremdungseffekt), namely, have audiences act critically, shed the passivity that feeds the conditions which instigate the process of alienation within a capitalist society.

Brecht despised the bourgeoisie theatre of his time, since it heavily invested in emotionally manipulating its audiences, mainly by having them identify, emotionally, with the protagonist. He realized that this manipulation was the result of crafty technology – beautiful, realistic sets, naturalistic lighting, the imagined fourth wall (towards the audience), as well as the emotional and extrovert acting techniques. Soon enough he understood the threatening power of such an approach, seeing how in his homeland, Germany, the Nazi movement, with its racist, nationalist, xenophobic demagogy, had gained staggering support based on a similar kind of emotional manipulation. According to Brecht, emotional manipulation stands as the worst enemy (enemy number one) of human consciousness and decency.
    
    The Threepenny Opera
(Die Dreigroschenoper) was written with the aim of mocking the conventionalism of sentimental musicals, as well as striking a direct attack to Wagnerian opera, and with that, have the world of theatre intersect with the world of the commoners rather than the elites of society. The libretto was created during his early period, together with such texts as Drums in the Night, Man Equals Man and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. These plays are in fact humorous, for they possess a dry and cynical center, and relate the key social and political issues of their times, thus attacking the bourgeoisie’s value system and accepted conventions.

Brecht was influenced then by expressionism and experimented with new techniques. Convinced that theatre ought to act as the harbinger of social and political changes, he sought out a compatible theatrical form to his theories, hence the creation of what we have come to call Brecht’s ‘Epic Theatre’. “Today when human character must be understood as the ‘totality of all social conditions’ the epic form is the only one that can comprehend all the processes, which could serve






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