As Amy Poehler shared in her Harvard commencement address, the art of improvisation holds a number of lessons that are applicable and useful in our daily lives. One of the most important lessons is listening because it helps you avoid negation. In a recent angry rant about Occupy Wall Street, Frank Miller made it clear that he isn’t listening where he negated the reality of thousands of protesters by essentially saying that there is no problem.
Improv is a collaborative endeavor, you can’t do it alone. It’s hard to move forward and create a meaningful (or at least coherent) narrative with someone else when you’re doing it on the spot, without a common destination mapped out ahead of time. One of the better known tools to help accomplish this is the adage, “yes, and…” When someone tells you something, you must listen, accept it, acknowledge it, and then add something else in order to keep the scene moving forward. For example:
Improver 1: Thanks for coming to my housewarming party, Steve!
Improver 2: Yes, well, you know how much I love housewarming parties! Speaking of warm houses, can I move in? They shut off my heat.
Improver 1: Well, I do have a spare bedroom. Wait, is that a moving van in the driveway?
Negation is when you don’t accept what your partner establishes and instead you say something else that contradicts the reality they’ve just established, and then the narrative is fucked.
Improver 1: Want to test out my new piano?
Improver 2: That’s not a piano, it’s a dog.
Improver 1: Uhhh…..
This kind of negation is exactly what Frank Miller is doing in his rant about Occupy Wall Street. He writes:
“Occupy” is nothing short of a clumsy, poorly-expressed attempt at anarchy, to the extent that the “movement” – HAH! Some “movement”, except if the word “bowel” is attached – is anything more than an ugly fashion statement by a bunch of iPhone, iPad wielding spoiled brats who should stop getting in the way of working people and find jobs for themselves.
Thousands of people in cities across the country are saying “There is a problem with corporate greed in America” and Frank Miller responds by saying, essentially, “That’s not a piano, it’s a dog.”
Improv is a team sport where everyone shares the common goal of creating a funny or compelling narrative. Everyone needs to work together in order to establish the problem and reach some kind of resolution. If one person negates the established premise, you’re never going to reach a resolution.
The truth is that OWS opponents like Frank Miller aren’t playing on the same team. They aren’t interested in coming together to achieve a common goal; they aren’t interested in finding a resolution because they wont admit there’s a problem. And that’s really shitty because to ever hope to move forward in a scene, or as a nation, the 1% needs to listen, accept, and acknowledge what the Occupiers are saying.
I guess the only silver lining is how absolutely stupid Frank Miller and his cronies look when when thousands of people are standing in front of them saying “This is a movement,” and they say “It’s not a movement; it’s a dog.”