Mental models, (de)compressions, and the actor’s process in body-swap movies
The body-swap comedy, where someone finds themselves inhabiting an entirely different body, is a well-established Hollywood tradition. Crucially, American filmmakers have tried every twist and contortion of this genre premise at a point or another over the past few decades. And yet, other countries, such as Egypt, Japan, and South Africa, seem to have just now put different spins on the theme. Nevertheless, this genre is under-theorized and under-explored. Drawing on insights from blending theory (Fauconnier and Turner 2002), mental models (van Dijk 2014), and the actor’s process as described by, among others, Stanislavsky (1995, 2008) and Brecht (1964, 1970), this article provides cognitively plausible answers to the perennial questions: What is so funny in body-swap films? How do spectators make sense of this genre? How do blending processes operate in body-swap movies? Do spectators “live in the blend?” What patterns of compression or decompression are at work in body-swap templates? Can humor be a strong determiner of moral-political cognition? And what connections can be drawn between acting and cognitive neuroscience? A discussion of English and Arabic examples (i) points to some of the cultural concepts involved in body-swap films, (ii) shows how conceptual blending in humorous films serves to both perpetuate and modify culturally relevant concepts, and (iii) highlights the necessity to expand the current scope in compression, embodiment and identity research. More generally, then, this article presents a new cognitive theory of how cinema, television, or theatre communicates meaning. The most important aim of this study is thus to contribute to the small but growing number of publications that use the cognitive sciences to inform scholarly and practical explorations in theatre and performance studies, as well as to the study of Arab theatre and cinema, which are among the most neglected subjects in the field.
Keywords: body-swap comedy, mental models, (de)compression, the method acting process, spectatorship, moral cognition, Egyptian vs. American popular culture
Published online: 14 February 2019
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