Summary: Sociologist Erving Goffman is famous for theorizing social interactions from a dramaturlogical approach. Using the metaphor of a theatrical performance and deploying dramaturlogical concepts for support, Goffman argued that, when human beings interact, each person desires to manage the impressions that others receive of them; social actors do this by putting on a "show" for others. Goffman believed that social actors are especially motivated to engage in certain social practices so as to avoid embarrassment, either of themselves or others. To carry out this impression management, interactants, either by themselves or in groups, give "performances" during which they enact "parts," "roles," or "routines," and they make use of a "setting," "props," and "costumes." Goffman's analysis of "front stage" and "back stage" carries this metaphor further, as he pointed to the different rules and expected behaviors, or scripts, that social actors follow when performing in the front region of a scene versus when they are back stage, hidden from an audience. This clip of rapper Kanye West and actor Mike Meyers can be used to illustrate Goffman's concept of social scripts and, more specifically, what happens when social actors go "off script." The clip is from the fundraiser A Concert for Hurricane Relief, a live televised event organized in September 2005 to raise money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. West and Meyers have a teleprompted script from which to read, in which they are to relay the extent of the disaster and provide information about the Red Cross's efforts to address the devastation. After Meyers reads his introductory script, West takes a sharp turn and goes completely off script, not only deviating from the teleprompted script, but also going off his social script by delivering a very public (i.e., front stage) and biting critique against the mainstream media's portrayal of the predominantly poor African Americans most devastated by Katrina, and also against then-President George W. Bush for failing to address the needs of this marginalized and vulnerable community. As Goffman predicted, when one social interactant goes off script, the opportunity for embarrassment is heightened. Meyers tries to manage the situation—though he is clearly uncomfortable as he fidgets his body—by continuing to read the teleprompter as though the social interaction is moving along smoothly. West does not follow the rules of social interaction, as he gives Meyers little assistance, and in fact creates more tension with his explicit accusation: "George Bush doesn't care about black people." Since the event, West has been both harshly criticized and enthusiastically applauded for his decision to go off script. Viewers can be encouraged to consider the implications of going off script. In his essay, "What Can We Do? Becoming Part of the Solution," Allan Johnson identifies going off script as one way to enact social change. Though often scary to do so (indeed, West's nervousness is palpable), Johnson argues that deviating from pre-determined scripts or, "paths of least resistance," is one way we can break from the status quo and routines that foster inequality.
Submitted By: Valerie Chepp