3. Conflicters

One thing playwrights do is to build conflict. Conflict is not the most important element in drama (behavior and compelling characters rate higher for me) but it is a strong element. A good example of building conflict is what happened this past weekend at UC-Davis, where the campus police used pepper-spray on student activists staging a sit-in. I don't know what they had done to warrant this punishment, as they were peaceful on the YouTube video I saw. I looked in two local newspapers and found one article on the altercation. The students were joining in with student activists at various campuses protesting their concerns about how dismal their financial futures look, with the imbalance of Wall Street profits and Main Street losses. There is obviously anger and fear among the activists.

This type of societal anger builds slowly. I doubt these are overtly angry people under normal circumstances. However, these circumstances are not normal. They are angry about how the top 1% is using its resources to purchase an overt economic advantage to the detriment of the bottom 99%. They feel oppressed. They are oppressed. The concerns of the bottom 99% are real. Their futures look bleak because they are. A well meaning response would listen to their genuine concerns and attempt to ease their anger by addressing their concerns. An illogical response would be to suppress or aggravate their anger. If I were writing this for the stage, I'd do an illogical response, as it's more dramatic. Though, in real life, you'd think students could expect some decency and humanity on a college campus.

When I first heard about the campus police at UC-Davis pepper-spraying students, my mind flashed back to the Kent State Massacre. National Guard troops turned en masse and fired high-powered rifles with live ammunition on unarmed students. Four students were killed; nine were injured; one of the injured was paralyzed from the waist down. Three students who were shot were between 60 and 100 feet away from the Guardsmen; the others were between 225 feet and 750 feet away (Caputo, Philip. 13 Seconds. 70-71). There were 28 Guardsmen who shot: twenty shot in the air or in the ground; eight shot at people (Caputo 69). There had been trouble and significant destruction over the weekend. However, this was on Monday, May 4th 1970. An anti-war rally was scheduled for that afternoon, but no protesting was going on. It was around noon, so many students were milling around the Commons. One student killed, Sandy Scheur, was simply walking to class (Caputo 65).

In Shakespeare's Henry V, late in the second battle, Henry's vastly out numbered army has decimated the French forces at Agincourt. In a barbarous act a few of the French sneak into the English camp and kill the boys who travel with the army; the boys are unarmed of course. After weeks of marching and two draining battles Henry says, "I was not angry since I came to France / Until this instant" (IV.vii.). Using pepper-spray on unarmed students will incite anger, not soothe it.

originally posted Thanksgiving 2011
reposted March 2018

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