No More Drama

In reality TV shows like Survivor and (my favourite) Project Runway, people quite frequently say that they don’t want any more “drama.” (eg. “I’m sick of Larry causing trouble on the Gingko Biloba tribe… I don’t want any more drama.”) In employing this phrase “no more drama,” they are declaring their wish to be exempt from the tortuously melodramatic goings-on which are the main reason people watch reality shows in the first place.

(Incidentally, another extremely common expression on reality shows is accusing people of “throwing them under the bus,” whatever that means… but I digress.)

“No more drama” is, of course, impossible. People in reality shows are notoriously unable to avoid “drama,” from the mundane to the ridiculous. And so are we. I bring this up because it came to mind yesterday as we were talking in class about Balthasar’s “Theo-Drama.” Human life is, in its very essence, dramatic. And that’s the way we want, even perhaps need it to be – we want to be able to see that our own actions have a meaning and purpose within a larger context or story, just as in a play each word, each gesture, each decision is charged with significance in relation to the play as a whole. If we can’t perceive our life as somehow exhibiting characteristics of the “dramatic” in this sense, we are apt to wonder if it is meaningless.

I remember someone once explaining to me a metaphor of the Trinity that goes like this: God is the author of a play, but he has written himself into the play as a character (Jesus) as well as writing a bit of himself into each of the characters (the Holy Spirit). This “structural” analogue with the theatre, however, is not what Balthasar has in mind. It is much too fixed, too deterministic; the end of the play is written, and all we are doing is unwittingly “playing it out” as we move inexorably towards the final curtain. Instead, Balthasar is (as someone in my class pointed out) interested in drama as a process: the unfolding of dramatic action, the unexpected twists and turns of narrative disclosure, the dynamic interplay of our actions as characters against a cosmic “backdrop.” This leaves room, perhaps, for spontaneity, surprise, even improvisation. And God is not just the “author of the play” (a bit of a cliche) but deeply involved in this ongoing, participatory process.

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