Enter, Stage Right

The Other Chap picked up on this, and passed it to this Chap.

Our hero enters from the right, and we know something, even if we do not know it. We suspect something bad is about to happen —

— or perhaps we just suspect the hero is a Japanese anime character. This came to our notice through the wonderful Futility Closet, which uses TinTin as an example, pointing out that most movements there are left to right: Right to left movements always have adverse outcomes.

Incidentally, the above image should be unsettling — it was deliberately flipped just for that effect.

This is the original.

But it takes only a little digging to realise how internalised this is, and the emotional effect is used by dramatists in stage directions. There’s even a word for such non-dialog elements of the dramatic experience –

Didascaliae is the written text that is not dialogue: any expository prefaces or epilogues not spoken; qualities, appearance, or background of characters; descriptions (or proscriptions) of the setting, mood, atmosphere, or emotions which the play should convey.

The effect is also highly culture-specific. In the West we read from left to right, and this feels to us like progress. As Lang points out, a right-to-left movement feels to Westerners like obstruction, adversity. Obstacles to be overcome will enter from the right, heading left towards our hero, who must overcome the difficulties to continue progress.

For the Japanese reader, however, the exact opposite may be true. Japanese visual language is often reverse, with the characters entering from the right. Movement from left to right is not a good sign…

This Chap found the original Futility Closet article fascinating …

… but knew he could not do it justice and equally that the other Chap would. The other Chap did not disappoint – and thus that this Chap cannot add to this piece – other than to observe that we Chaps reference Futility Closet a lot. Which got him to wondering.

Is Futility Closet indeed Futile? And if so are the Chaps? And if not, which this Chap believes to be the case, then is not Futility Closet the best misnomer on the web?

One small note from the first Chap…

Stage Right would, oddly enough, be the “correct” place for the hero to enter — the nature of theater being such that many things are reversed, and that would actually be the audience’s left. But the reverse nature of theater is another thing, altogether.