Zola and the Theater

A Scripted Freelance Writer Writing Sample

The idea of naturalism was first exposed by Emile Zola in his 1880 essay "Naturalism on the Stage." Throughout this essay, Zola explores the idea that dramatic entertainment is going to have to change in the coming years because the masses are craving something more natural. His main idea is that "the impulse of the century is towards naturalism. Today this force, racing towards us, is being emphasized more and more and everything must obey it. This force has abducted the novel and the drama" (Zola). The theories he lays out in this essay can be viewed as a foreshadowing of shows such as Big Brother. To Zola, this is real drama.

Zola mentions crediting the work of genius playwrights as just that, genius pieces of art. He does not seem to discount the brilliance of theater so much as he is predicting the need for a change or the inevitable change itself. He claims that he is "waiting for someone to rid us of fictitious characters, of these symbols of virtue and vice, which have no worth as human data. I am waiting for the environment to determine the characters and for the characters to act accordingly to the logic of facts combined with logic of their own disposition" (Zola). This is an exact foreshadowing of a show such as Big Brother where there are no pre-written characters or events. There are only real people and the environment the show's producers place them in is what forces them to illicit emotions. The characters do not act according to a script, they act according to their own disposition.

While it can be argued that Zola was foreshadowing reality TV shows in general, this is one line that stands out in particular as being relevant to Big Brother. Big Brother is one of the first and only reality shows where viewers can pay to watch a 24/7 live feed of the participants. Therefore, for audiences, the story of these "characters" unfolds in real time and is not condensed into a three hour piece of work. "A plot which calls for fifteen days, for example, must be played in the three hours we set apart for reading a novel or seeing it played at the theatre" (Zola). This quote can be viewed as Zola's argument for why naturalism is not present on the stage and an argument for why it is present in Big Brother.

Zola goes on to mention the language used on the stage and how many believe it needs to be proper and refined but how this causes a lot of nuances and ideas to be lost. It appears to be evident to Zola that a freer, more natural style of language is what people will crave after being beat over the head with the same proper phrases found in stage and literature. This can certainly be related to reality shows, especially Big Brother, in which the language spoken is not pre-determined and only censored according to local broadcasting regulations. If Zola wanted more naturalism, Big Brother is about as natural as it gets.

Finally, Zola's idea that "the situation will become more and more annoying because the public will certainly acquire a taste for reality in reading novels" (Zola) has become alarmingly accurate as most audiences prefer reality television over scripted programs in the present day. Moreover, it can be pointed out that Zola's argument is much more closely related to Big Brother than that of another reality show such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians as the latter is slightly scripted and does not provide a 24/7 live feed access to the "characters." Zola points out that "the greatest and most useful lessons will be taught by depicting life as it is, and not by repeated generalities nor by speeches of bravado which are spoken merely to please our ears" (Zola). This has become true, as audiences flock to their televisions and computer screens to tune into the lives of people they have no connection to simply because it is raw, unscripted and real.

Elizabeth T
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