People Should Never Be Commodities

I’ve been silent this past month, mainly because it was way too busy, or way too fun (friends from America and Australia came over) and when it was not I was way too tired and thinking hurt my brain.

Like this. All month.

I’m a bit on a recuperating slope now and in between waiting for the next Game of Thrones episode and work, I watch old series I didn’t get to watch from the very start, but the premise of which I really like. Usually they are medical dramas/mysteries or police/investigator whodunnits that keep me entertained.

So a few minutes ago I finished watching Episode 10 of Season 1 of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, aptly titled ‘Enemy Within’.

It’s the uber-dramatic and gritty titles that make it a guilty pleasure!

Usually in a whodunnit like L&O, the guilty party is someone that doesn’t earn much of your sympathy. They’re usually a cold-blooded killer or some other flavour of psychopath, and you want them to get caught, even if the victim didn’t win any gold stars on being a decent human either.

The fellow that was guilty in this episode wasn’t exactly sympathetic as a personality either. But he was the everyman, a person trying his best for his family, being probably marginally middle class, maybe working class, surrounded by disgustingly rich people he was offering services to. What he did and how he did it wasn’t commendable or heroic or a win on the ethical scale even if the law demanded conviction. What he did was conspiracy to murder and he was pretty Machiavellian about it as well- but not more so than the aforementioned disgustingly rich people, who were also blatantly shown scheming to murder the victim.

The victim himself was an old man along the lines of a Scrooge type, fraught with paranoia and the like, who in a way also brought his death on his own self.

The episode played out just like any other in the series and it wouldn’t really have stood out if not for the very last few seconds, when the culprit was caught. During then, the marginally (or actually, your mileage might vary on that) abusive conduct of the victim towards his nurse (who was the culprit) is described and how he slighted him, even though the nurse had been the one making sure he could function through life. The nurse is charged with manslaughter and the detective goes to leave the interview room.

Then the nurse says “he owed me.” And the detective replies with obvious disgust in his voice “he only owed ya the wages he paid ya.” And fade out.

And that’s what really, really rubbed me the wrong way.

 

He just owed him money? What a crass and inhumane thing to say, within that context!

Theoretically, of course, if you think only in terms of buying and selling work and commodities, the statement is true. You don’t owe any employee you hire, or any clerk or retail worker you encounter anything more than the wages you pay him/her or the money it says on the price tag of whatever you choose to buy.

And that is a wonderful rule of thumb, as long as you remember that you’re buying the work or the service, but not the individual.

The episode portrayed the old man treating the nurse like he had actually bought not only the nursing services but the entire individual. He acted as if he owned the person for the time the nurse was on the clock. There was no respect, there was no consideration, there was no cordiality let alone any concern that the nurse was a human being. There was constant abuse, however subtly portrayed in the episode, blatantly obvious.

So no, Bobby the detective character in the first season of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, the victim as an employer didn’t just owe his nurse his money. He also owed him respect and consideration, and even a little compassion. That is also part of law, unfortunately usually unwritten or slighted in everyday life. People should not be used as robots that offer services, if they happen to be pursuing dependent jobs. They should not be treated as things or as beings that are somehow inferior to the boss or the client.

Nobody should accept, tolerate or dish out this kind of entitlement, this endorsement that your money can buy you superiority over any one individual or the right to treat people like dirt.

We are parts of a human society and as such, we need to treat each other as humans, rather than treat only those with more money than us as humans, because in no time at all, the society will simply stop being human at all and will instead be a pyramid of drones, oppressors and criminals, and we will be entertained by human pain and agony which we will seek to extract from those with the stigma of less money than we have.

Kinda like this.

 

But someone always will end up having more money than you, and they will come for you and demand your human pain and agony while demanding that you grin and bear all the tongue lashing and abuse his money can buy over you.

And how will you call yourself human then?

Don’t be Bobby the detective in Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Season 1 Episode 10, thinking in such callous terms of buying and selling a person along with the person’s services, like TV is in this case trying to teach you. You’re going to be part of the problem, both the culprit and the victim, and you will be unhappy in your life.

Don’t be the viewer that follows shows like this. You’re going to have your humanity stolen from you.

Don’t tolerate things like this to happen around you, so long as they aren’t happening to you. Life is such that at some point, something in these proportions will.

Be this person instead. Make the world we live in more human.

Then you can worry about just owing the damn wage.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Nobody Resists for Sport

Nothing is more alluring and epic than a story of revolution and resistance. So much so that there is an entire trope for it.

It’s badass and romantic at the same time.

 

In the same time, it is also extremely threatening to the status quo/regime against which the people doing the resistance and the revolution are going. They go from this:

From lurking alarm…

To this:

Overt problem solving.

 

It doesn’t even take all that much to do. There doesn’t need to be a full-blown revolution for things to escalate this much, one way or the other, and result in the death of revolutionaries and people resisting the system. One such textbook occasion is commemorated in Joan Baez’s beautiful voice, about Joe Hill. If you don’t know who he was, I highly recommend you check him out.

In Greece we have our fair share of songs singing about shining personalities of revolutionaries from all parts of life, who one way or the other ended up facing this sort of retribution, from Marinos Antypas to Gregory Lambrakis.

And there’s the rub regarding revolution and resistance: You often need to lose it all before you win, and you might not live to see the winnings.

Such bummer!

 

Which brings me to the point of today’s post, holding true to life, and as such, if you respect it, you will write yourselves some quality revolutionaries:

Nobody Resists for Sport or Ideology Alone.

For anyone to risk this much, the stakes must be high and impossible every day, every moment. He or she must have no other way out BUT to resist and go into revolution, big or small. Believe me, I speak from experience.

(By the way, all resistance is always big, even when societally small-scale)

 

If you take the time to see the conditions people who revolted were facing in daily living, you will find that these conditions were always appalling one way or the other. They always prevented natural human growth. They always presented practical problems that couldn’t be resolved within the status quo the people ended up revolting against. No revolution ran on full stomachs and just for the sake of an abstract concept. It was always about the average person’s practical, viable capacity to be able to actually pursue happiness and stability in that happiness.

And that is not only NOT bad, or low, or petty, it’s how Ideologies are BORN. Every single one of them is in reality a theory that offers a way to achieving just that: practical and attainable grasp of sustainable growth and happiness.

 

So when you sit down to write characters that are genuinely going up against some kind of authority, be it political or social or within the family, you must first have established securely what the real motive of the character is to be resisting, even if they don’t admit to it. You must make it so your character is, one way or the other, forced to go the way they go, forced to go against the tide, against the grain, against everything they’d grown up in, simply because they have no other choice BUT to do it.

Otherwise, they will sound unreal, and there’s a chance your audience will not identify or care for them or, even worse, react at all to them.

And nobody wants that.

 

 

 

On the Awards Issue

Hey everyone! I had in mind something completely different to blog about today, but I stumbled across … a lot of Puppies.

Some Sad, some Rabid.

For those not aware (as I was 24 hours ago), there is a whole lot of controversy regarding the Hugo Awards.

To be honest until stumbling upon them completely by chance and through the magic of twitter,  I was not very much aware of even the Hugo Awards themselves.

Apparently, this is what I live under.
Apparently, this is what I live under.

The general hullaballoo on the matter is that two different factions, the Rabid Puppies and the Sad Puppies (why puppies, people? they’re hardly a symbol of strife…) have created a pre-prepared slate of authors and their stories/novels to nominate for the Hugo Awards and subsequently make it so their selections are voted up to receive the Hugo. So basically, we’re saying that two groups of people, who unsurprisingly claim to have political reasons/affiliations behind their actions, are openly trying to rig the awards to serve their own agenda.

For the greater good, of course.

 

As an author myself, I totally sympathise with the authors that have been nominated and will either need to withdraw to save their dignity, or stick it out with a potentially ugly win when it should have been a dream come true for them.

Personally, I have never received or been nominated for a Hugo, or any award for that matter, mainly because either I’m completely unaware of the competition’s existence or (as of late, and after the rollercoaster I’ve been experiencing since 2007 in terms of political unrest and struggle)  I opt not to submit my work in this kind of melee.

I don’t need more competitions, I got Life. 😛

The main reason is that any kind of competition regarding the arts and even the sciences is unfair from the get go, in my opinion.

In a painting contest, how do you decide who gets the number 1 position when Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo Da Vinci and Donatello are all running? How can you say that one is inferior to the other? How can you say that one should be more rewarded than the other? In the end, especially assuming you are “the most prestigious award” in painting, how do you discourage any of these three in favour of the one?

Your brain won’t handle it.

 

The point I am trying to make is that, especially from a cut off point of excellence and up, trying to award works of art on an ordinal scale only creates problems in the creative process and self-esteem of the participants and even those simply watching. For one thing, we run the risk of having people curb and prune their art to be as similar to winners of the awards as possible, not because they like elements and assimilate them into their own personal imprint on their art of choice, but because it’s what wins awards, or what is trending.

Thus metal bikinis popped up everywhere.

Another is that audiences are taught what to like (or say they like), in the sense that often what makes a good work of art is dictated not by personal taste, but by pop culture or, even worse, how much that particular piece of art is used as a status symbol: abstract (meaningless) art for the nouveau riches, Jean Paul Sartre for uppity existential horny college majors, Simone de Beauvoir for the cultured suffragette, Dostoevsky for the revolutionaries, Tolkien (once upon a time) for the fantasy connoisseurs (but only if you know The Silmarillion by heart) and so on and so forth.

And this for the suppressed housewife.

All of the works of art I’ve mentioned are absolute masterpieces in their own right, created by the greats (illustrated example not included, obviously). Everyone should read them just to hear the internal voice of these astoundingly remarkable people in your head, talking to you from across the ages, delivering their message.

But this is not all there is. There’s so much more that shouldn’t be overshadowed, so that it may grow and develop in a new masterpiece to add to humanity’s enrichment.

A contest often stunts this growth, either by too much encouragement, or way too little.

And then of course, there’s the rigging.

For the greater good, of course.

 

Contests can be not only rigged but controlled, manipulated, biased, unfair, and any other such characteristic you might want to add to them. Looking at Hugo’s winner lists, there’s certainly a lot of big names there- so either the Hugos seem to have some reliability to their choices… OR they create enough hype around a (decidedly decent, good or excellent, of course) piece of work to propel it to the right circles to make it big.

I take that it is the first option and not the second so much, although that someone felt the need to rig the Awards implies that the resulting fame/exposure is significant enough to create success, rather than simply be its result.

So why does it need to be a contest? Why, among so many super-talented, worthwhile people that bring the cream of the crop for American Fantasy and Science Fiction, there is need to have them be put in an ordinal scale of ‘least to most talented’? How is it different from beauty pageants, where everyone is ridiculously beautiful and we nitpick about who is the fairest, as if it isn’t subjective by this point?

The practice never ends well.

The sheer issue that has risen is from the fact that there’s an award given via contest, which they want to swing one way or the other. And any way you look at it, the sheer context of contesting has spurred this need for corruption, so much so that it is open and shockingly aggressive. In my opinion, since it has openly become not about talent and enjoyment of art but about political agendas, this year the Hugo Awards shouldn’t run at all, at least not as a contest.

If the Hugos weren’t a contest but, say, a showcase where the award would be to simply MAKE it there, no matter how many and how diverse each year, be it one or one hundred, then we wouldn’t be recruiting puppies to fight our wars.

Go to war now, if you can.

 

Easter Thoughts on Story Telling

Most of the world has already had their Easter last Sunday (happy belated Easter to you, everywhere!), but not us! Here in Greece, we’re Greek Orthodox Christians, and we do things not just the Orthodox way, but the Greek Orthodox Way!

In truth, the Greek Orthodox Easter is my favourite Christian Holiday (for the curious, yes, I’m Orthodox Christian, albeit a weird borderline heretic one depending on who you ask). It isn’t just Easter Sunday. The entire Good Week is special, with the culmination being Good Thursday, Good Friday and Good Saturday (Resurrection Day) that uses beautiful Byzantine hymns and excerpts from the Gospels to tell the story of Jesus’ torture, crucifixion and resurrection.

There is re-enactment involved, but in a very big way it counts more on the emotions the mix of hymns and story telling from the Gospels create than any theatrics to involve you not only in the concrete Divine Pathos, which is crushing to actually consider for any transgressor, let alone someone completely undeserving of any punishment, but also on the existential and cosmic level, making you a part of it across time and age. If you observe it right and pay attention to what is actually being said, I dare say you leave mass each of those three days with enough food for thought for a lifetime. Even if you don’t observe Christianity, or don’t even believe in God, the story will serve its purpose, and so will these hymns and atmosphere, if you let them.

One has to experience it to know what I mean, and maybe after having already met a required quota of pain and injustice in their own personal life.

But this aside, what can the Greek Orthodox Easter tell us about story telling?

Too many things, way too many things!

There are truly a lot of lessons to be had for writers and authors on how the Greek Orthodox Easter Hymns and Masses manage to spellbind and inspire devoutness in even the least devout of the participants- on the use of music, drama and even elements of the black box theatre. But what I want to focus on tonight is none of that, though I definitely should one of these days, simply because ecclesiastic arts nowdays tend to be often overlooked exactly because they are church-oriented in a world that is afraid to dabble in religion in worry of being called racist or backward- something that I believe is a great loss for the Arts in general.

What I want to do instead is less profound but I think pretty interesting- I want to take this opportunity to add to the general ongoing discussion going on about retellings of the same story and how that can often become tacky, stale or downright redundant.

How many of the same can you possibly get?

As I’m writing this, it’s the early hours of Good Friday. Today we will sing the Laments of the Epitaph (Επιτάφιος Θρήνος) in a procession, a literal funeral for Jesus Christ complete with an Epitaph symbolizing his tomb, from which he will Rise tomorrow, on Saturday.

It looks like this.
And this.

The Laments contain some of the most beautiful byzantine music. It is hundreds of years old, and it hasn’t gotten old yet. Musicians still play it- not in church alone, but as a vibrant piece of music they tell and retell in various ways all the way from when it was first composed in Medieval Times to today.

The lyrics are supposed to be the words of lament the Virgin Mary says as she cries over her Son. There are a lot of verses but I’ll translate the most widely known ones for you to give you a feel of the mood:

O my Sweet Spring

my sweetest child,

where did your beauty set?

O light of my eyes, 

my sweetest child, 

how can you be in a tomb now?

Please Rise, O lifegiving,

the mother who gave birth to you

is telling you in tears.

Powerful stuff already, right? Let’s now hear the music.

This is the piece, as it was originally performed in the middle ages (and is still performed thus in church), complete with bells. And yes, all Byzantine music is a capella:

In my opinion, it is already powerfully beautiful.

But is there really no  other way to tell this visceral grief, this lyricism of pain with just a touch of hope for the promised joy to come?

Of course there is.

You might want to rip the touch of hope for the promised joy right out.

Or you might want to put in far more hope than grief, wanting to focus on what’s to come, rather than the now.

Or you might want to take out both the grief and the hope, and jump right into the joy, optimism and awe.

So what am I pointing out with all these different versions?

They aren’t trying to alter the tune, or the words of the Lament. But they are starkly different in the impact they have on the listener, depending on what the musician or the singer wants to convey. You come away from listening to it with different emotions.

So it doesn’t matter if a story is retold a thousand times (most of them are), as long as the story is solid and powerful, just like this music is. The problem isn’t the custom of retelling the same stories.

The problem is that either the one who retells it has nothing new to add or anything different to say, or does it very badly.

Or, there is the off chance that the story isn’t up to it.

But that is very rare, because no story lacks potential, because it is a vessel. Flimsy or not, if you want to make it go someplace, it will.

Happy Easter to everyone, belated or not- and if you aren’t Christian, well wishes to you too 🙂

Hypocrisy, thy name is…

EVERY (awesome) VILLAIN EVER!

These are just Disney’s.

And man, do they make for some perfect antagonists.

They don’t just need to be a cheat.

They don’t just need to lie.

They don’t just need to maim, murder and slaughter.

They most certainly don’t just need to aim for money, or ruling the world.

Oh no.

They must be hypocrites to be memorable.

There is just something about the nature of hypocrisy, that trait of NOT doing or following what you are preaching and enforcing for all the others (especially if you do have an impact on them), that amps up the whole character of a villain to eleven.

It is what makes the audience viscerally hate the villain, adds that level of despise like odious icing on a personality cake of mud and (possibly) excrement. And the more luxuriously the character pours it all over what they’re serving, the more the audience wants, and does go

Searching for this was ridiculous fun.

As a writer you get extra points if you make the audience or reader go through these stages of connection towards your villainous character:

(ridiculously lots of fun)

 

Villains that don’t have generous helpings of some kind of hypocrisy risk becoming just a plot device and forgettable. I’ll stick to using Disney villains as my examples, as I’m confident most will be familiar with all of the main ones. So to illustrate my point, do you remember Shang Yu?

This upstanding fella.

His wiki says he’s a popular villain, but he’s rarely drawn together with the greats- whereas Frollo is, although he comes from a Disney feature that has received far more flak than Mulan did. And in my opinion there’s a real good reason for it. Shang Yu is a lot of things but he’s not a hypocrite. He wears his heart on his sleeve- and black as it is it goes great with his outfit; from the get go he announces his intent AND his motivation for doing what he does, and he never strays from those attestations or tries to deceive. For all we know, if we see it from his perspective, he HAD to invade China so his army wouldn’t kick him off the saddle for being a pansy Hun.

So as far as personalities go, he’s a straight (bad) arrow- and for that he’s totally forgettable as a villain. In fact, he’s not a villain. He’s a plot device, a mere antagonist without any powerful imprint of his own, much like the avalanche that swallowed his invincible army.

However, for a story to really pop, you need powerful villains. They are the frame that showcases your heroes. If the villains aren’t strong, serious, powerful and adequately villainous, then the stakes the hero goes against, no matter how awesome in his/her design, will get this sort of reaction more often than not from your audience:

Hurrah.

 

If Mulan didn’t have the whole Hana Kimi plot device going for it (girl cross dresses to go to a male-only affair) that essentially doesn’t need any other villain, the movie would have been completely bland and generic. And I’m saying that with Mulan so far being my favourite Disney 2D animated feature.

So, then, when we construct our story we need powerful villains. Excellent villains. Villains that make the audience worry, that make them be uneasy around them and uncomfortable.

And that requires hypocrisy.

I’m picking that trait over any other, including a complete lack of scruples or antisocial characteristics or anything else, because hypocrisy encompasses all of those. A hypocrite knows what is right and what is ethical for the context and society he/she is living in, and knowingly pretends to adhere to it while they don’t.

In order for that to happen, personality wise, it means that the hypocrite is unscupulous, calculating, manipulating and willing to twist and strong arm people to obey his/her wishes. This person is above any law, provided they can get away with it. There is nothing they will draw the line at, if you give them a strong enough dose of hypocrisy.

That’s why Frollo is a kick ass villain.

It doesn’t matter if she’s got a personality, you want her away from the chastity-preaching pseudo pious perv.

 

The more delicately you write the hypocrisy in the villain, the more dangerous and vicious the villain will seem, even if they never use physical violence. Mother Goethel from Tangled fits that pattern (minus the last bit, but that doesn’t count as her general MO).

The more the villain manifests their true colours in backstage, rather than front stage, where they will normally project their righteous facade, the more you get someone the audience will love to hate and will emotionally react to. The more that backstage manifestation causes the hero emotional pain (especially if they can’t get retribution, or can’t prove the villain guilty of it) the more the villain will come across as potent and threatening, a true devilish fiend that the hero will need everything he/she has to be able to survive, and push the limits to even have a shot at defeating- if that is even on the table.

One of the best villains I’ve seen on television, to stray a bit from Disney, is from Major Crimes, surprisingly so- it’s Rusty’s mother.

MAJOR CRIMES (TNT)
Here she is with Rusty. Harmless enough eh?

 

A seemingly weak and penitent junky that has been looked after by her son (who has his own terrible backstory). She’s not only written beautifully but the actress playing her just hits it right out of the park, making you hate her absolute guts, to the point you want to just fly at her and tear her apart. In the entire series so far, she has never once used physical violence, but she’s easily the one that has dished out the harshest kind of blows and trauma out of anyone else. But you fear her, for Rusty’s sake, and for other characters she puts into emotional and actual danger. She is a serious threat, and thus a strong villain, even though technically she should be harmless and weak. And she makes everyone she goes up against absolutely shine as the hero, or protagonist if you like. I highly recommend the series just for that one character, even if you don’t like cop drama whodunnits.

So in writing your story, go forth and make your villains absolutely doused in various types and spins of hypocrisy. The viler the better. Just do your worst, and let your hero handle them, while your audience cries out:

I had to.

Abuse is Not A Joke

As I’m writing this, the new day has just rolled in so technically it’s April First, April Fool’s day.

What better day for me to restart this blog? That way if I fall off the grid again, I can claim I had planned it all along and avoid this:

 

But no, this is NOT a hoax! This blog of mine is officially live again, people! Thank you all that still continue following me even with a long radio silence. I will do my best to reward you with something worthwhile to read here at all times 🙂

My sincere intent is to keep this updated at least three times a week. Here’s hoping this relatively sensible goal shall be achieved. But enough of that!

I want to talk about jokes today. The art of joking is delicate, exquisite and as powerful as an exploding bomb.

Punchline.

In the creative writing and sequential arts, joking can take the form of slapstick, satire, comedy and black comedy. I won’t talk about slapstick today, though it has its own powerful niche in the art of making us laugh until we drop when it’s done right.

Today it’s all about satire, comedy, humor and their black counterparts. Through them entire political regimes have become unhinged and powerful, hurtful social issues, legal issues, even global issues have gained wide awareness through movies, sketches and songs. Laughter is contagious, and information passed through things that make us laugh can and very often do go a very long way.

Here’s an example- as stark and as recently made as I could find: German satire and black humor aimed to criticize and inform people about a great injustice done against the people of Greece:

Try as I might I couldn’t find one with English subtitles. If you do, please let me know so I can replace the video. It truly is worth it, this is quality satire and as such, it makes you laugh while it stabs your heart.

But here’s a not so recent British one in the same vein, from the ever brilliant series Blackadder, on the creators’ commentary on war.

It doesn’t matter who you are, how much you know about the history of the subject matter- just seeing those three minutes of black comedy and satire can’t have but made you think about the issue the writers wanted you to: war and the waste and madness that goes with it.

Any work of art that can make you want to laugh while you cry, or ache, is cream of the crop. We can’t have enough of those gems, and creating them means going through a process similar to how nature makes a diamond: you must have felt the pain and made it yours before you can make jokes about it, one way or the other.

Sort of like this:

 

Of course, there’s a whole different can of worms on the other side of the spectrum: crass, aggressive satire aimed to hurt without the payoff of any message. Hurting just to hurt, or just to make the one unleashing such joking/satire/comedy appear clever at the expense of another person, like so:

 

Stand up comedy (as is portrayed in The Nutty Professor from which comes the clip) often falls victim to this kind of debased humor, which is just a slightly joke-wrapped version of kindergarten schoolyard type name calling. And I believe that exactly because it is infantile and debased without any other purpose than to extract laughter at the expense of someone without any other meaning or point to it, this kind of joking hurts very deeply. It opens up old wounds, it strikes sensitive chords, it sets back people that have been trying to grapple with their own demons. And it is a real shame, because real stand up comedians can make their audience laugh, and walk out of the room with their mind full of new food for thought. One is abuse, the other one is entertainment; one is instruction, the other destruction.

If you are a creator of comedy, you have a responsibility to your audience not to cause them harm or traumatize them just for the sake of trauma. You are there to educate and entertain, not to bully and harrass- especially this goes to stand up comedians. Society has a ton of problems and flaws to castigate.

Have the spine and the skill to attack those with your humor, your satire, your comedy, rather than ask for willing victims to ridiculize and bully on their personal lives or misgivings.

This post is starting to feel a bit like a rant; I guess it is, because I’ve come across so many stories of flat out bullying and ‘joking’ of that sort, beginning with a story of a young student over here in Greece that most likely killed himself after several months’ worth of bullying (aka ‘making fun and jokes’ with him, as his classmates said) to bullying of assorted social groups, from theists and atheists to feminists to pro/con choice to sexual preference to anything else you can imagine, with the cherry on top being international bullying through the press of entire coutries- like Bild vs. Greece/ the Greek people. It’s become so bad that German cities are starting to boycott the newspaper exactly for that reason.

We have become more and more a society built on bullying and strongarming of one another, after a post-war lull.

And it all begins with how we’re taught to flaunt our intelligence- by making someone else look unworthy.

To those doing it, I say stop. Anyone can make fat jokes or sex jokes or gay jokes. ANYONE.

And even if this victim of yours doesn’t retalliate, there will come the time when you meet the one that does, and the shoe will be on the other foot.

And who will save your self esteem then?

 

 

365 Days Without Electricity… But Not Without Power

                So after a long hiatus regarding my consistent presence in cyberspace, I return!

And just as promised, I’m taking the time now that I have the luxury to explain what happened to me this past year; and since what happened is directly connected to Greece’s political and social situation, you get the bonus of being informed of that too.

In 2011, in the consistent and ongoing effort of the government to sap Greek economy of the entirety of its cash flow, as well as punish the Greeks for their cultural penchant of investing in owning their own house rather than spend their income otherwise, it was announced that an added property tax on top of some 5 different property taxes already in effect would be enforced. This property tax would be collected through the electricity bills. If people failed to pay it, then the electricity in their homes would be cut, even if the actual electricity bill (i.e. what electricity had been consumed) was paid for.

In essence it was the first (unrelated) tax imposed with the threat of revoking access to goods vital for survival, as is electricity. On top of everything, the tax itself was blatantly unconstitutional and illegal, given Greece’s Constitution and Tax Laws.

My mother and I decided that this could not pass.

Like this.

If this sort of tax collection practice did pass, there would be no end to what the government would threaten to take away from what a human needs to physically survive in order to collect money our People doesn’t have. We literally are forced to struggle for food and basic amenities. In a country that didn’t have ANY homeless in the 90s, the possibility of homelessness has become real for the entirety of the Greek middle class.

So we composed the first legal document opposing this law and the way it was enforced, declaring its unconstitutionality and illegality, and calling the People to refuse to pay for it in a legal manner (i.e. a series of injunctions and action taken that can achieve that in Greece).

And the Greek People responded, by doing exactly that: not paying the tax through the electricity bills.

Like this.

To cut a long story short, this action created such a pan-Hellenic wave that it resulted in getting the courts involved via groups that had the cash to take the case to the Greek Supreme Court. And in late 2012, indeed the threat of cutting electricity if an unrelated tax was not paid by the citizen was forbidden by court order.

By then, however, the electricity company (DEI) had devised another plan to enforce this power outage threat on the citizens. When you paid your bill, instead of logging your payment as payment for the electricity, DEI instead paid the tax with it, and logged the electricity as unpaid. Hence now, if you didn’t pay both tax and electricity, you again found yourself in the predicament of getting your power cut. With, of course, the tolerance of the government and courts.

Most definitely like this.

This is what was done to us, my mother and me, as the instigators of the opposition in this affair.

This, however, is called unlawful seizure of money, and it’s punishable by law.

So we refused to pay what DEI claimed was unpaid power, when it was obvious that it wasn’t that- something we presented documentation to prove. When we presented this documentation, DEI cut our power without responding to our claims in any way that shot down our proof.

This happened in February 2013.

We immediately filed an injuction of course. But the judge refused to issue a temporary order to have our power restored until the trial.

There was reason for this: there was no way to lose our case. So it came down to blackmail, and how much Mother and I could endure hardship: surviving without electricity, rather than caving and paying what was an illegal, unlawful claim.

We had to wait 4 months until the trial was held, and then another 8 months until the decision was issued and publicized- a total of 12 months without power.

To give you a sense of how unusual a waiting period this is, an injunction trial usually takes place within 2 months of its documents being filed, and the decision comes out within another couple of months on the average.

In our case, exactly this.

But we endured. We lived an official 365 days without electricity, jury rigging things to manage to do things other people do easily without a second thought (e.g. cooking, lighting, communications, taking warm baths or showers, recharging appliances, typing up documents, access to the internet for e-mail and communication with authorities, access to files stored in our desktop computers, vital for our work or activism, etc.) and just completely giving up on others.

And in February 2014, the court order was finally issued, ordering DEI to reconnect our power.

We won.

Is this the end of things?

Absolutely not. We now have to defend this court order and force DEI to obey it- because in Greece at this point in time, there exists extreme lawlessness within every governmental organization, mainly because they count on the fact that the average citizen is effectively locked out of the justice system because of insufficient funds to gain access to it.

But the fact remains that we have won, and we have become far stronger than we were a year ago, both in morale and in stamina and in combativeness- and on top of that, we have managed to legally procure access to electricity even despite DEI’s fanatical efforts to keep it from us.

And so I am back, and will stay that way if God wills it.

Resistance doesn’t happen without being prepared to endure hardship, by yourself or as part of a group. Resistance sets you free and empowers you, because above all, it is your personal judgment that guides your actions, and not the orders of an institution that sets itself above the law or ethics. Being forced to Resist is what galvanizes Humanity’s Freedom- and though it hurts and at time leaves scars, it is part of what in the end of the day defines you when you gaze in the mirror.

And when by Resisting, you overcome hardship and win, the feeling is simply Divine.

What My First Script Becoming a Movie Taught Me

 

About a full year ago, maybe a tiny bit more, I watched a short film made by a group of Greek film students on youtube.

The team had the will and the enthusiasm, but the end result had been vein-slashingly boring despite it being a short on WWII in Greece, and about a raid between Greek partisans and Nazis. So I dropped them a note in the comments (they’d been getting a ton of flak on their effort) that the problem with their movie lay in the script and the pace of scenes, and that if they ever wanted me to help them (without remuneration) I’d be more than happy to do so.

 

I got no response for a couple of months, until the director contacted me saying that he wanted to make his real debut in the world of film and he needed someone with expertise and some story-building sense to make him a good script based on an idea that had received a minimum, shoestring budget funding.

To keep a long story short, I wrote him a script for an action film, this time set in modern times (his key funder wanted airsoft guns that didn’t fit the 1940s era), which everyone loved and set on filming.

 

Yesterday, the movie premiered. It was then that I found out how about 50% of the script had been cut, because the movie got truncated to being a short, rather than a full one. Which meant that a good part of how I’d designed the film to work went out the window, some characters that were supposed to die, lived, and several powerful scenes lost their ‘oomph’.

Still, the director did an honest job of trying to patch the scenes together to still give the gist and feel of what I’d written, and he had done his best to get his actors to rise up to the demands of the script, which admittedly had been an issue we’d talked about several times during filming (I’d coached him some on how to do it).

The end result? Definitely not the cutting edge film I’d had in mind, but still a pretty decent one, considering resources and limitations.

I’m going to post it below, but first I’ll make a list of what I learned through the whole experience, starting with making the script, to watching the filmed clips raw, to watching the end product with all its music and special effect dressings:

1. When writing a script, try to do it before the casting is done (as is the norm). But if you are presented with an already set cast for whatever reason, see them all (from how they look to what level of acting, if at all, they can produce) before you write (or ascribe) a single role.

2. When writing a script for a full movie, write a script for a short. When writing a script for a short, write a script for T-10 minutes. That way, there will be very little to nothing of your script that gets cut.

3. If you have the capacity (I didn’t, I live in Athens and the film was shot up north in Thessaloniki), be there for the filming. Nobody has a better knowledge of how a line should be delivered than you; and although the director has final say, it’s good for him/her to know what was in your mind when you were writing.

4. Pray.

 

And that’s what I’ve learnt, and for the whole experience I’m more than glad and thankful. I’m looking forward to my next film script.

Without any more ado, here’s the film! It has english subs, so you’re all set!

ACTION!

The Country of the One-Eyed

I was watching one of the series I follow today, and this quote came up:

“An eye for an eye, the whole world becomes blind.”

And it made me think of another quote that turns up a lot in literature, movies and series, especially when the authors want to show that the hero is better than the villain, that he/she wins on more than just the level of brawn or strategy against his/her antagonist:

“If you kill him (or perform any other ‘eye for an eye’ action), you will be just like him.”

And that made me think of yet another swarm of quotes that are considered very spiritual and superior:

“To err is human, to forgive is divine.” “Forgiveness is for the strong.” “Forgiveness gives life.” “Forgiveness is healing.”

Run a google image search, and you’ll get the lot, along with pastel colors and pictures of sunny pastures and pigeons flying in the sun.

A few joyous, uplifting moments before this occurs.

What does all of the above point to, in broad, superficial strokes?

Leniency, protection for the villain.

The villain gets to be protected from a fate in the same coin as whatever he/she has dealt, because of all of the above- this almost catatonic need to prove oneself superior, a better person, by not punishing the perpetrator of a crime.

Many stories show this- the first that comes to mind, is Lord of the Rings. In the end of the Return of the King, which in my opinion is the best part (and which the movies omitted like it was surplus), we watch as the four hobbits, led by Frodo and Sam, need to fight extra to clear their homeland from the tyranical rule of Saruman, who has gone there to defile it. They succeed, and Frodo turns Saruman away (Wormtongue too). As he goes to leave, Saruman tries to mortally stab Frodo- and he’d have managed, if Frodo hadn’t been wearing his mithril chainmail under his shirt.

Then Frodo forgives him and lets him go free, against everyone else’s demand that he be executed.

And Saruman is devastated by this forgiveness, far more than any sentence.

And I can understand the whole reasoning on why Saruman finds this especially traumatic and punishing, but man… what I can’t understand is the unsung, unmentioned cruelty to the world at letting that guy go free.

To make Saruman feel like dirt (as ‘punishment’), Frodo is risking Saruman turning whole villages, areas even, into dirt simply by the fact that he’s roaming free and simply by the fact that a wizard who can enchant anyone he talks to can easily regain an army of minions to make up for any weaknesses.

No way anything can go wrong with that plan.

Nobody ever thinks of the victims, their rights, their future. Victims are expected to forgive in order to heal, regardless of what was done to them and who the perpetrator was, both in real life and in literature.

You can’t imagine how catastrophic this is for the human soul.

Humans are creatures of logic (believe it or not). And logic demands a balance- cause and effect have to be sound. And part of that cycle includes retribution, punishment for a crime. Making amends for a crime.

Forgiveness really is divine, but it’s also the most horribly abused concept on earth after ‘love’.

What do you teach by forgiving a non-repentant man?

The non-repentant man is taught that he’s surrounded by stupid people that throw away their advantage over him and he’d do well to do whatever he was caught doing again, and do it in a bolder, brasher, worse way than before because they’ve given him the chance to do it.

The victim is taught that the person that scarred him is getting off without an equal burden as the one that was put upon the victim’s shoulders, free to carry on living as before whereas the victim is called to learn to live with an awful experience.

What do you do by forgiving a non-repentant man?

You unleash him in society to victimize more. Even yourself.

A non-repentant man should never be forgiven. He should be punished and stopped from doing what he did again, because that’s the only way for human society to improve itself, and to teach its members that it’s a haven of protection for those that deserve protection.

And who should be forgiven?

The penitent man, of course.

Only the penitent man will pass.

Who is the penitent man, you may wonder?

Surely not the one that says:

I’m so, so sorry, you guys.

A truly penitent man doesn’t need punishment, because he makes amends on his own, going out of his way to do it, and feeling awful he did what he did the whole while.

Forgive this person, because he’s made changes to himself already, on his own, and thus he deserves that second chance.

The logic of ‘an eye for an eye’ aimed at the desire of everyone wanting to keep both of theirs. And of course you don’t want to turn the whole world blind because of an enthusiastic enforcement of that principle (metaphorical or not) but right now what we’re doing is we’re leaving the villains with two eyes while their victims only have one.

And to abuse forgiveness, and those giving it, to cripple Justice is precisely what a villain would aim at doing.

Greeks say that in every conundrum, the golden rule applies- you can’t forgive everything, and you can’t not forgive anything. You have to learn the golden rule of what to do when.

Because consider:

If the one eyed man is king over the blind, what do you think the two-eyed man is over the one-eyed?

 

This.