Photo: Princeton University
A few years ago, my college invited Crispin Freeman to speak at our campus about comparative representation of women between American and Japanese animation. For those of you who have never heard his name, you may know Mr. Freeman’s voice acting work, particularly in English dubs of Japanese animation. Certainly, much of his career has been immersed in this specific aspect of popular culture, but the lecture itself had little to do with the production and localization side of which he had been a part. This, instead, was more along the lines of filmic criticism, an in depth look at cultural gender assumptions and how popular culture can propagate or challenge those assumptions. Honestly, it was a surprisingly thorough and thought-provoking presentation.
The problem, however, came when the evening turned from monologue to dialogue. As with most lectures, the worst part was the question and answer portion. The first person up to the microphone to ask Mr. Freeman a question was a young woman who breathlessly requested that he perform a line a dialogue from one of his shows. He was taken aback, a palpable wave of vicarious embarrassment washed over the audience, and, after Mr. Freeman graciously obliged the request, our professor hurriedly clarified that questions must relate to the subject matter of the lecture. Still, it led me to wonder how our preconceptions of public figures shape our expectations of their public output. Does James Franco suffer from similar disappointment when dealing with people in his current studies? Was Mr. Freeman more comfortable with that out of place question or the grad students’ criticism of his cultural assumptions?
This was the sort of thing I thought about when I heard that the 92nd Street Y had issued refunds and apologies to its audience for Steve Martin’s appearance. They were dissatisfied apparently because he spoke about art criticism, the topic of his book, rather than, I don’t know, walking on stage with an arrow through his head or something. People had assumptions, and when those assumptions were denied, they grew bored and restless, apparently enough to complain and ask for a refund. What’s great, however, is Mr. Martin’s hopeful opinion piece in the New York Times afterward. Rather than wishing he had played to expectations from the beginning, he regrets caving to them at all. He laments abandoning intellectual opportunities in favor of safety and familiarity.
This sort of denial of expectation can lead to the sorts of exciting things this blog was meant to celebrate, so April Fools, everyone! This month is full of blog posts about surprises, the terrific things they lead to, and the bad taste they leave in some people’s mouths. I’m pretty excited about it; I hope you are too.