Please Pay Attention to the Folks Behind The Curtain

A woman’s hand is shaking a blue, pixelated hand coming out of a laptop screen.
A woman’s hand is shaking a blue, pixelated hand coming out of a laptop screen.
Image by kiquebg from Pixabay

Welcome to the Fictional Room

In order to understand what breaking the fourth wall means, you have to understand where all four walls are first. Imagine that you are watching a play that is set in a single room. The stage is quite literally set with three walls, one in the back and one on each side. Where the fourth wall would be is an opening through which the audience is seeing the action take place.

When We Escape the Room

When characters acknowledge and address their audience directly, they are breaking the fourth wall. This is usually done in a small way, as an “Easter egg” or a sly bit of humor. These one-off comments or actions are often done by one character, and are largely ignored by the others, played off without impacting the larger story.

A simple diagram of the Schrödingers Cat experiment. There are four blue boxes, with either living or dead cats inside.
A simple diagram of the Schrödingers Cat experiment. There are four blue boxes, with either living or dead cats inside.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Wall-Breaking Works

Fourth-wall breaking is usually reserved for comedies and parodies when it comes to film and television. Some of the earliest wall-breaks come from things like the Looney Toons when Bugs Bunny talks directly to the audience to comment on the absurdity of his situation. This is an instance of isolated breaking, as no one else seems to recognize that Bugs is talking to “thin air,” and he never uses the audience to get the upper hand in a situation, but simply to make witty remarks at the expense of his scene mates.

Bugs Bunny reclines, holding a carrot in his left hand.
Bugs Bunny reclines, holding a carrot in his left hand.
Image via Pixy
Standing left to right, the characters Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Deadpool, and Colossus. Deadpool points at the audience.
Standing left to right, the characters Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Deadpool, and Colossus. Deadpool points at the audience.
Image from the Deadpool Partner Toolkit

Hello! I’m Cat, author and amateur fandom historian based out of Georgia. I write about literature, theater, gaming, and fandom. Personal work: catwebling.com.

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