the words usually associated with brecht’s theater—the estrangement, alienation, or distanciation effect—are not particularly inviting for the general audience. they suggest a forbidding, standoffish, unfriendly attitude. if anything, the german playwright wanted his public to become more, rather than less, involved in the tale. whereas in ordinary theater one doesn’t question the story, in his own work brecht invited the audience to cogitate about the premises taken for granted by the situations they were watching, even question the characters’ responses to them. we should for instance pay attention to the fact that othello is not just a military commander. he is also a political leader like general franco or general pinochet. desdemona, for him, is thus more than a beautiful young woman. she is a token of his power. for her to be unfaithful would expose him to ridicule, loss of prestige and possibly bring an end to his political career.
judging characters, even criticizing them, has of course remained taboo in our cultural production. the ploy is said to keep the audience from enjoying the work or, worse, to be preaching to them. to counteract this prospect, brecht embedded the commenting in movies, music, and songs that were genuinely entertaining. another tactic involved getting rid of the fourth wall thereby converting passive spectators into implicated parties. these maneuvers bolstered his theater, making it more exciting than traditional straightforward productions.
to call something cerebral in our culture means it lacks emotion. it is a kiss of death when attached to a work. yet why would awaking a response in the brain be perceived so inimically compared to more straightforward sensory feedback? it is happening in our body after all and we are bodily impacted by it. in brecht’s view then, to be able, as a spectator, to see through the ideological construct that organizes social life (the one in our life as well as that experienced by the characters in the play), that is to say, the system of beliefs and ideas which makes the world what it is instead of what it could be or what it can still become, is a sensation of the first order, a lightning flash running through the mind.