Let’s face it. Drama is interesting. It is! Think of what our lives would be like without it? With whom would we compare our lives? How would the more insecure of us find substance in our little lives without having a lessor one with which to compare? Drama makes us feel better about ourselves. Drama adds excitement to the mundane. Drama makes us feel alive.
I was watching The Borgias last night yes, I’m admitting to it and reveled at how truly enticing this series is to me. It’s not just that The Borgias were the first Mafia family. It’s not just that the characters are so beautiful well most of them. It’s not just the time in which it is set. (one of my favorite historical times) But what TRULY makes it worth watching is how the writers blur the lines between true history and “drama”. In grad school I had an advisor that loved to debate the merits of what makes a perfect story (i.e. book or movie or play) I loved hanging out with him when I was writing a paper (Big props to you Dr. Litton) He and I would debate every Rhetorician/Philosopher’s idea from Aristotle to Freud from E.M. Forster to Nietzsche as to what made the perfect story. We both had big dreams of being writers. What we both agreed upon, and what I have always kept is that Rhetoric is not just style over substance. It is not just drama over reality. Rhetoric is not just, as Plato so ridiculously stated, “mere flattery”. No, Rhetoric is the blending of the black and white. Rhetoric has a substantive as well as stylistic genome….and a good story, like good bone structure is a gift.
For the sake of today’s argument, and to keep you reading, I won’t dissect or re-educate you on the five canons of Rhetoric. What I will do is explain why I think drama is necessary in our lives using rhetoric as my argument and the Showtime Series The Borgias as my subject. Using some of the rhetorical and philosophical thoughts of greater thinkers than me, I will try to convince you of my argument: Drama is a necessary evil. Yeah okay, I may just be showing off my grad degree in Rhetoric, but shouldn’t I? Sheesh, I’m still paying for it! Since literary devices are so akin to rhetorical devices, those of you who are purists may want to argue later….to that I say, “Bring it” with a smile.
Let’s start with Kenneth Burke who stated:
The most characteristic concern of rhetoric [is] the manipulation of men’s beliefs for political ends….the basic function of rhetoric [is] the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents.
I don’t know much about the writers of The Borgias. Are they Catholic? Are they Jewish? Are they Atheistic? Or are they just hacks getting paid to write an almost semi-porn series with historical overtones? In other words, what is their will for writing this series? In watching it, and because I tend to be optimistic, I think they are truly attempting to appeal to the more educated viewer while also appealing to the “voyeur” viewer who really is just watching it for entertainment. For instance, the Pope Rodrigo (Alexander VI) quotes Socrates while his son Cesare lustfully beds his daughter Lucrezia. In skillfully blending the two appeals, the writers attract a larger audience through drama. Personally, the show has made me want to know more about The House of Borgia in order to delineate between dramatic truth and manufactured drama. Which leads me to the next definition of Rhetoric by Francis Bacon who wrote in (1561-1626): Advancement of Learning:
The duty and office of rhetoric is to apply reason to imagination for the better moving of the will.
Using Bacon’s definition, this would mean the writers of The Borgias are forcing us, the viewers, to use our imagination to make willfull observations, right? But are they for the better? I am not Catholic, but I empathize with those who are in regards to this series. Has the Catholic Church become the media darling of all things wrong with religion? Is this series just another testament to the abuses of the Catholic Church? As a Protestant, I have suffered and witnessed the hypocrisy of those who feel their religious worldview is better than others. It just seems that the Catholic Church has a history of drama; from the Borgias to medieval relics to modern day pedophilic priests. Has the Catholic Church publically asked for an apology from the writers for making their religion look like a God-ordained form of organized crime? And would other religions react the same? Or do the writers have a more noble, daresay, religious agenda by athey showing that though religious, we are all still sinners….and there is no sin greater than another? nota bene: the Catholic Church DOES believe that some sins are greater than others and they are divided into mortal and venial sins. Just knowing that makes a difference in applying reason to imagination. So what indeed are the writers’ trying to persuade their audience to see or believe? Which leads me to….Sappho who was far from being religious:
Persuasion is Aphrodite’s daughter: it is she who beguiles our mortal hearts (frg 90).
Good rhetoric, communication, poetry, writing, film, and speech are designed to persuade someone to see the artist’s point of view. I’m not always the most fun person to watch a movie with, and definitely not commercials. I immediately try to pinpoint the persuasive element behind the words, images, sounds and actions of others. This could also be a reason I have difficult times in relationships! ssshh!! What I do know, is that if you can beguile my mortal heart, you have my attention. The writers of The Borgias have done that for me. Though I don’t condone nudity and violence for the sake of shocking the viewer into watching more, I do appreciate the artful mixing of history and fantasy to tell a good story. And I also appreciate drama that has intellect. And maybe that’s where I should end this, because in the end, The Borgias is just a dramatic television series meant to entertain. Don’t you think?