The alienation effect first came in sight at the time of Bertolt Brecht who was a German leftist playwright and also a director. The only thing that is famous of his time was that the theater of his time, which is just the same as most Hollywood movies now, completely relied on emotional manipulation to bring about a sense of disbelief for the audience, along with an emotional identification and a unique connection emotionally with the main character. The audience members that saw his shows were taken on an unexplained emotional roller coaster ride that means they used to cry when the main character cried, they laughed when the main character used to laugh, they gained a sense of identification with him/her (the main character’s story) even when the character had nothing in common with them or their interests had no relation with the lead role or the main character.
Brecht gave a close observation and saw that these audiences were manipulated by a different technology of the theater such as beautiful and realistic sets, attractive naturalistic lighting, the imaginary fourth wall (an imaginary and invisible wall that separates the actors from the audience), and most importantly, emotionally attaching acting techniques of the actors. According to him, the emotional manipulation was the first enemy of human decency.
It was at this time that Brecht developed his theory known as V-effect, Alienation effect, or distancing effect. The alienation effect attempts to lower down or reduce the emotional manipulation which viewers go through in the theater, and he tried replacing it with entertaining and surprising action. For example, rather than becoming the characters of the lead role or imitating their character, they might emotionally leave this thing and consider them with cool, witty, and skillful self character. Brecht first used this term in an essay on the topic “Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting” which was published in 1936, in which he described it as “playing any character or a role in such a way that the audiences refrained themselves or stopped themselves from simply identifying and relating their identity with the characters in the play and do not gain a sense of relativity with them.
The proper origin of this word “Verfremdungseffekt” has been a matter of debate since the past, some considered it to be an English origin and the rest had other thoughts regarding it. The word is sometimes stated as defamiliarization (not a sense of relatedness) effect or the distancing effect. This has caused some sort of little confusion for English scholars who confuse the German words with the English words.
Brecht wanted to “distance” or to “alienate” his audience from the characters and the actions and the roles that were performed by the characters of the story to separate the observers who would not further involved in the character or they may develop a sense of emotional sympathy by identifying and relating individually with the characters psychologically or establish a sense of heart feeling with them rather, he wanted the audience to understand mainly the character’s dilemmas and the conditions or the deeds that produce these dilemmas exposed in his dramatic plots and story outlines. By being “distanced” emotionally from the characters and the actors on stage, the audience could then be able to easily reach an intellectual and different level of understanding, while uplifted emotionally from the action and the characters, they would be empowered on a level in which they realize both to analyze and see a different perspective and perhaps even to try to change the world and have an entirely different look at the story plot. This was Brecht’s main social and political goal as a playwriter.
He also considered the thing that the audience can no longer have the illusion of becoming an unseen spectator of any event which is taking place in front of their eyes. He thought that the use of direct audience-address is one effective way of distorting the stage illusion of the people and generating the distancing effect. The main goal is to force the audiences or the viewers in such a critical and an analytical frame of mindset so that it serves to dis-relate him or she of the moment in which he is and what he is watching is necessarily something in which they should not indulge themselves in such a way that they may feel the character going on in the script of the play. This effect mainly aims to teach the viewer that they should not take the style and content of it for granted.
Some examples can be the explanatory captions or illustrations projected on a screen just like any actor stepping out of character to do something that is not related to his character that is to give a short lecture, to summarize some points, or to sing songs and anything that does not specifically represent any anything but in fact it helps in keeping the audiences and viewers aware of being inside a theatre watching something. The degree of identification and relatedness of the audience with the characters of the play and events is thus controlled up to some extend, and it can more clearly see the “real” world reflected in the drama and what the character is up to.
Brecht said that the alienation effect is not only regarded as a specific aesthetic program but also regarded as a political mission of the theatre. Inspired by the theories of many great directors, play writers, and actors he regarded his method as a great way of helping the spectators understand the actual development and social relationships in our surroundings. He used to create such interesting and unusual stage effects Brecht aimed at the audience so that they can have an active role in the production and this also forced the audience to ask questions about individual elements related to life. Doing this thing he had a strong belief that the viewers would distance themselves from the characters emotionally and also from the problem of being connected emotionally instead they will demand solutions to their questions while seeing the drama or the play.