Monday, 13 February 2012

Prick us do we not Bleed?

Something that's come to my attention recently in my industry as a screenwriter is that a lot of people seem to look upon characters who have a lot of money as though that because they are affluent they should have no problems in their life. I first came across this when I was taking a class for "Great Screenplay" the first of which was the legendary Orson Welles masterpiece; Citizen Kane. The film is about a young man Charles Foster Kane who inherits a lot of money and builds a media empire. It also tells us the story of a man that no matter how much money he makes or how much "stuff" he can buy and never even look at in his massive mansion of Xanadu he lives in but was never actually finished before his death, all Kane really wanted was to be loved and appreciated his final thoughts going back to the last truly happy memory he had playing with the Rosebud sleigh.

Now many of my classmates including myself enjoyed this film and really took it's meaning to heart. Others on the other hand had a slightly different feeling about it and that was that the character of Kane was unrelatable; he was a rich man "why should I feel sorry for his problems?". Understandable, I've often said that certain characters aren't meant to be related to; such as the age old argument of how Superman is just not relateable as a character to which I say; he's not meant to be related to he's meant to be looked up to and someone to aspire to be. That being said a lot of people no matter what fancy film school you pay through the nose to go to aren't going to be able to relate to the character of Charles Foster Kane. And if you can't relate to someone like that in a story rooted in emotional development because you can't see yourself in their shoes why should you care about them?

Now I will admit now, I'm fairly privileged; my family is very well off, we own a rather large house in a nice neighbourhood in North London and a small house in Paphos, Cyprus as well as a shared car for my mother and father and my own car. I've made some of my own money with which I've bought various things. My family and I are in a fairly good situation economically or else I wouldn't be able to afford to live in Los Angeles and have gone to great college like I did. That being said we've not always been so well off; I remember times when we seemed to be moving from rented house to rented house whilst my father spent on average nine months at sea just scraping enough money together to get food for our family. I was never ghetto poor, but there were rough times that fortunately we've gotten away from for the most part. For a while there I had something of a guilt hanging over me about that in a strange way, like that I never wanted to admit that I was well off. While I have not had the kind of life that Charles Foster Kane had but I can certainly relate to him. Not because I consider myself rich because I've never let my money define who I was and in the case of Kane that's not how he defines himself either in spite of all the trinkets that he owns in his unfinished manor representative of his own life; it's incomplete and always will be.

In Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice" the Jewish money-lender Shylock is put on trial, a trial which is a complete sham, and gives one of the Bard's greatest monologues.

"Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means,
warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us,
do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?
If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that.
If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility?
Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his
sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge.
The villainy you teach me, I will execute,
and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction."

In this speech Shylock is asking if a Jew is some kind of monster? No he's a human being, just because he is different to a Christian does not mean he's got any less human feelings and frailties. My favourite line in all of it is the title of the blog-post. "Prick us, do we not bleed?" Blood is the very life force that runs though human veins. It's indicative of the whole human experience when it's used in symbolism. 

If you cut the hand of a rich man, he bleeds too. Character's like Charles Foster Kane are human too; they have emotions, many of which stem from the fact that people define them only by their economic prosperity. This leaves them feeling alone and empty that in spite of all their achievements, be it financial, artistic or even personal there is almost a lack of soul inside them. People question whether or not we should feel bad for these people because they are rich? I say if you prick them do they not bleed? They are human, with all the flesh, blood and bone of any one of us. Money cannot solve emotional issues, it cannot solve that feeling inside each of us that sometimes we feel that no matter what we achieve it could all just be meaningless. Anyone who says that they truly are happy because of their money is lying through their teeth. Money does no solve true human issues. If we feel empty, or wish to be loved, we can't just comfort ourselves by buying a new shirt, or a car; that would only mask the problem. Perhaps to those without money it seems like that would be enough but it never is. Rich people bleed too; their emotional need to be loved, to feel more than the sum of their successes is just as great as ours. 

Should we feel bad for the rich? I mean they have all this money. But what does that get you? Why should we care about their emotional problems of the 1%? They're rich. Yes, they are; but they are also human.