The picture above isn't me. It's Czeslaw Milosz, the writer. More about him in a minute. What I need to talk about now is cartoon acting.
Years ago I decided to specialize in funny cartoon acting. I did it because I loved it, and was a fan of the great cartoon actors like Rod Scribner, and because I thought it might give me an edge in the job market. Now years later I have to admit that the edge wasn't much of an edge. I think I lost as many jobs as I gained because of the acting thing. A lot of new animation was about design and and didn't seem to require acting; as a matter of fact, acting seemed downright out of place.
How did this design emphasis come about? Why does it seem to exclude acting? Why would artists want to exclude acting? I have a bizarre and probably wrong explanation for it. It's pretty silly, but then again this is a theory site and if you can't do silly theories here then where can you do them? the theory is all about...
According to the Wikipedia, ketman is an arabic word which means "paying lip service to authority while holding personal opposition." I prefer a broader definition that I got from Czelaw Milosz's Cold War-era book, "The Captive Mind." Milosz lived under communism where an unguarded word at a party could lead to a prison sentence. He said that the only sure way to be safe was not even to think of opposition to the government. If you allow yourself to think about it, even if you're good at holding it in, sooner or later you'll blurt it out in public and get in trouble. So you practice ketman... you avoid certain topics, you learn to think of controversial issues in terms of broad generalities and homilies, even if you're at home alone.
Of course in a state like the one Milosz lived in lots and lots of things were politicized so the number of subjects to avoid was pretty large. Milosz believed that this kind of restraint led to mass neurosis and a crippling of the elan and zest for life of a whole people. Only liquor seemed to help. Believe it or not all this has to do with animation.
My crackpot theory is that the reason modern animators have rejected comedic acting and work in such a cold style is because they've become uncomfortable with social interaction, and the reason they're uncomfortable with this is because they've practiced ketman all their lives. I blame political correctness.
Modern white guys are bundles of restraint. Talking to them you get the feeling that every sentence is a tortured navigation through dangerous waters. You can't say for example, "She's an idiot" because idiot is an offensive term... a hate crime... and men are not supposed to criticize women without a lengthy philosophical disclaimer stating their good intentions and history of fairness. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a student in art school where half of the students regard themselves as political police whose job it is to inhibit the speech of the other half of the students. My guess is that students resort to ketman to get through the day.
Remember what Milosz said about ketman? If it can cripple the elan and zest for life of whole nations, I don't think it would spare art students.
My guess is that design rules animation right now because design is appealing all by itself and doesn't require characters to have acted relationships with each other. Relationships are minefields to the young, at least to young men. Relationships have an unpleasant association requiring ketman to soothe things over.
Well, that's the argument. Do I believe it? I'm not sure. I can think of almost as many arguments against it as for it, and it is pretty self-serving. You could argue that design emphasis comes about because it's congenial to Flash animation, or that cold but beautiful graphic styles have been popping up ever since Picasso. I don't know...
...WHAT DO YOU THINK?