It was never my intention to use this blog to make political statements, or to express my political views, but I’m an aspiring writer – that’s what writers do…isn’t it? If you’re studying screenwriting, at some stage you’ll be told you have to ‘find your voice’. I always took that to mean you have to inject your scripts with a dose of your own personality, views and themes that mean something to you. Well I hope that’s what it means; otherwise I’m doing something wrong. So, the themes you choose to explore, characters you develop and scenarios you create will inevitably be influenced by your experiences, beliefs and political stance – right? Obviously people write for different reasons – some to entertain, and others write specifically to make a comment on society. In my opinion, a good writer is one that can do both…that’s my goal anyway. So when something happens within our society, whether it’s a terrorist attack, rioting or some other major event, people want to comment on it. I guess the media is our main source of information for such events, or at least it used to be, but now with the rapid growth and popular use of social networking sites to share information and express opinions, it’s kind of opened the flood gates. Now EVERYONE can put their opinion out into the world for all to see. Is this a good thing? Well I believe it’s always important to listen to other people’s views, even if you do think they’re a complete load of bullshit. What I’m more interested in is trying to understand where their views and opinions come from. Maybe it’s the researcher in me, but I think that’s the key to solving some of the problems we have in our society. If we can learn where people’s views, passions, issues and general outlooks come from, it might help us to understand where they get their motivation to do certain things. To give this some context, I thought I’d discuss the recent riots across England.
The riots. *Disclaimer* I don’t condone violence or looting. The reason I want to make that clear is because I’m not one of these people that believes everyone involved in the riots should’ve be shot. Don’t get me wrong, the riots were bad. They were wrong, they were unjust, and they were upsetting. But were they really without any political motivation? Was it really just a bunch of well-off kids turned opportunist thieves stealing to appease their greed? Did they really have no point to make? My sister is a London Fire-fighter and was at the first riot in Tottenham when the trouble started. She said it was like being in a film. She had to wear riot gear to protect her from missiles and attacks, and I was extremely concerned for her safety. I’m sure I would have been overwhelmed with anger towards any individual that might have hurt her, but still I wanted to understand why this was happening. I had this nagging feeling that the riots were happening for a reason, but no one wanted to face up to that fact. As far as I could make out, there were a number of issues that caused the riots to start and then spread. The way I see it is that you can divide the rioters into three main categories…
Type 1 – the ‘pissed off at the police’ rioter.
I have to say, as much as I understand the police have an extremely difficult job to do and are themselves frustrated by things such as ‘political correctness’, I’ve had a few dealings with the police (mainly as a victim) and they’ve pissed me off too! I’m not saying I want to hurl bottles at their heads, or that every police officer is the same, but I really do sympathise with those young people in London that are constantly badgered by the police for doing absolutely nothing wrong. I was working as an assistant director for a channel 4 show where we were filming on a North London estate. During the filming a gang turned up to confront some of the extras we had on set, and a gun was pulled. Fortunately the gun wasn’t fired, but I can tell you it was an extremely scary and volatile situation. The police were called immediately, but it wasn’t until 20 minutes after the incident that two officers turned up. They literally took the piss! As the only eye witness that wasn’t an extra and who was actually working for the production company, I was the one to give an account of what had happened. Once I had gone through the events, the officers proceeded to ask me a series of quite ridiculous questions in the most condescending manner. I was livid. One of the questions was ‘what colour eyes did he have’, after I’d already explained the guy had a hood up and scarf around his mouth. But the question that really did it for me was – ‘do you know what a gun looks like?’ I just wanted to tell them to ‘fuck off’. I know I haven’t lived in London for a few years now, and things are a lot different by the coast, but have things really got that bad that the police don’t even care about people carrying guns anymore? And even so – what sort of impression does that give me? I have to say I have a number of stories like that, and these experiences really have made me lose all faith in the police service. I don’t doubt there are plenty of good officers and many people who have had good experiences, but unfortunately I haven’t. All it makes me think is, if I’ve been treated badly as a victim, how have certain people been treated as potential suspects? There are obviously a lot of problems in London, but the police have to understand that when things come out in the media like the death of an innocent man (Jean Charles de Menezes), or the assault of a woman found asleep in her car (Pamela Somerville), there comes a point when people say ‘enough is enough’. I tweeted this link literally days before the riots started (obviously I’m a psychic genius), but seriously – this is not a new issue, this is something that’s been simmering away for a long time.
Whether you believe the shooting of Mark Duggan was justified or not, the man was a father of four and belonged to a community where he was well known. They’d obviously had enough. If the police say they find it difficult to police for whatever reason, let’s find out why and deal with those issues. The police need to do a lot to regain the respect they once had, and they need to do even more to regain my respect.
Type 2 –the ‘pissed off at society and the government’ rioter.
I don’t care what anyone says, these rioters existed. I heard so many news reports with people saying ‘we have to be careful not to turn this into something political’. Oh right, I see…let’s not turn it into anything political otherwise we might have to actually comment on it and face up to the fact that we have some major problems in this country. There are people that feel let down by this current government. They feel lost and let down by society. I’m fortunate to have a nice flat, a good job and enough money to get by each month, so it would be easy for me to sit on my high horse and say – ‘well they’re not doing anything to help themselves’, or ‘there are plenty of jobs out there’ or any other completely ignorant comment that allows me to feel safe in the knowledge that these people are just ‘bad’ and I don’t have to give them a second thought. The fact is, there are a huge number of people that are now worse-off due to decisions the government has made…we can’t just keep ignoring them.
Type 3 – the ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything and I want a free TV’ rioter.
Yes there were people out there that I’m sure were ‘bad’ people who literally used the riots as an excuse to make a quick buck off of a stolen TV. So, should we shoot them like a lot of people on facebook were saying? OK, let’s shoot them…but let’s think about this logically. What are we shooting them for? Theft? OK, if it’s theft, we now have to shoot every thief in our society. Oh wait a minute, doesn’t that mean we then have to shoot all of those politicians who were caught stealing off the tax payer? Whilst we’re at it, we better shoot those wankers…oops! I mean bankers. Maybe they steal legally, but who likes bankers? So that’s that sorted. Unless…just an idea…why don’t we try and understand why we have people in our society that think it’s OK to steal? To loot? To riot? What has happened in their lives that have made them the way they are? I’m sorry, but when you have a society with a government that are found to be stealing (and you can dress it up however you like – it’s still theft), what chance have we got? Way to go with setting a good example guys.
So that’s what I think, and I guess everyone’s going to be calling me a ‘crazy liberal’, or a ‘hippy’ or something to make it seem like the idea of trying to better our society by helping and understanding people is just some unrealistic fantasy. I purposely didn’t write any comments on any social networking sites at the time of the riots simply because I knew what they’d be met with. A couple of my friends put comments about the way some young people in London are treated and how certain groups might feel frustrated, but they were bombarded with abuse. Unfortunately I have a number of people on my facebook that would respond to such comments with the same ignorance, so I thought I’d save myself the onslaught. I guess I feel a little apprehensive about putting this blog out, but as well as giving my thoughts on this particular subject; I really want to think about how it’s relevant to screenwriting. As I said before, everyone now has the opportunity to express their views to a fairly wide audience. So I guess the goal of a writer/screenwriter is to reach the widest audience possible. Rather than write a blog, I could make a film that might include some comment on this subject, or a related subject, that tackles issues I’ve outlined in this blog. I don’t think it’s a matter of trying to influence people to think the way you do, or to change their views in an instant, but I believe it’s important to make them think. There are films I’ve watched that have really made me think, and I want to make films that make others question their own views and beliefs. I don’t claim to have the answers to all the problems in the world, but I like to think I’ve been brought up to maintain a set of morals and values that make me think about those individuals who are worse off than me. It’s easy to turn your back on people or issues that don’t directly affect you, or make comments and pass judgment on things you don’t fully understand, but perhaps it’s time we faced up to those problems we so readily ignore. Just like all the reports I read about communities coming together to protect their homes and clean up after the riots, why don’t we all come together to listen to these individuals and find out why they feel so frustrated and detached from their own communities that they feel the only option they have left is to destroy them.
So I’ve put my views across in black and white, but maybe I’ll go further and feed them into my scripts somewhere. I always remember what our lecturer Jon used to say to us – as a writer, you have to be responsible for what you’re putting out into the world. What you write can influence people in a good or bad way. I hope what I’ve written in this blog will make you think, just for a second, that maybe we should start looking at how we can avoid another disaster like the recent riots. Then, once that thought has passed, we can go back to building more prisons and locking up thousands of people that were involved without ever thinking about why we’ve let things get so bad. I know what I’m going to do – I’m going to write a film.