Even the closest similarity in language or action is a very abstract similarity, and the concrete and full current of our two lives, on which the quality of intuitions depends, may be quite different. All dramatic understanding of which I am capable is, by hypothesis, my discourse. The most contagious feelings, the clearest thoughts, of others are clear or contagious only because I can readily make them my own.
George Santayana - Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923)
Drama stimulates interest in a number of ways and one of them is via our inbuilt fascination with what happens next. We navigate through life by avoiding surprises and a visceral interest in what happens next seems linked to that.
Maybe drama suggests to us that we are learning about surprises and how to avoid them. It relies on something fundamental to our humanity and in that respect cannot be superficial in spite of daytime television. We need to see what is going on around the next rock, the next corner, over in the next valley or the building across the street. Or the bedroom - it varies.
Drama seems to stimulate our engagement with outcomes, a fascination which is more visceral than the story itself. As Santayana says, contagious feelings are far more engaging than abstract similarity in language, far more involving than some dry comparison of similar situations. The most contagious feelings, the clearest thoughts, of others are clear or contagious only because I can readily make them my own
. This is what drama does, the feelings and thoughts of others become contagious through drama. Dramatic understanding and comprehension become contagious through drama. Not necessarily accurate and objective but contagious. The political class and the media know it well.
Screen-based drama may be artificial but it stimulates something important we cannot easily set aside. Even the most vapid daytime TV drama catches the attention if only temporarily. Drama is an aspect of life and always was. Over the past century or so we have moved on from the drama of an occasional fight outside the village inn, the milkmaid’s pregnancy or the squire’s peccadilloes. Now we are presented with high drama on a daily basis and tomorrow the media will find more.
The popular aspect of the recent pandemic for example. Popular? Yes, ‘popular’ seems to be the right word for a particular aspect of it. Even though it was not admitted, the drama of it was obviously popular, as if we were extras invited onto the set of a scary movie.
Another example. A defence or promotion of some aspect of woke culture such as climate change often reads as if what is being defended is the drama which sustains it. Dramatic language can be very woke. Fighting climate change, the struggle for climate justice, battling against fossil fuel interests, climate warriors, catastrophes, killer storms, the Doomsday Clock and even Donald Trump as a pantomime monster.
Unfortunately there is no good rational way to tackle the power of drama. Satire, sarcasm and parody perhaps, but rational argument not so much.