Televsion

The Battle of the Bastards

Monday’s Game of Thrones episode, The Battle of the Bastards, has been hailed as one of the best episodes in the entire series, and more importantly, the battle sequence has been described as one of the greatest battle scenes in television history.

Ramsay Bolton employed tactics which would involve Jon Snow giving up his advantageous, defensive  position; Jon Snow fell for it. He charged forward, alone, as Bolton slaughtered Rickon and Jon Snow’s army was forced to follow their commander, straight into the trap laid by Bolton. Bolton’s archers released arrows, encircled Jon Snow’s army with rows and rows long spears and shields as Jon Snow’s army became trapped between that and the mounds of corpses.

Cinematically, the battle scenes were amazingly shot, each and every shot very artistically and mindfully built- but to my mind, it just brought one poem which I had studied in my literature course. The poem was written by Wilfred Owen, one of the greatest English poets of World War I, and was titled Dulce et Decorum est.

The poem is named after the old Latin saying Dulce et Decorum est, pro patria mori, which translates to meaning, it is a great honor to fight and die for your country. For is that not how they make people go to war? Is that not how they convince that this is the right thing to do, that this must be done, that our country must be defended and the other attacked? Do they not tell us that there is pride and glory in laying down our lives for something that is much bigger than us, than our circles of friends and families?

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge

This is how Wilfred Owen begins to describe the soldiers of the Great War- like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed and coughing like hags. They were all ‘drunk with fatigue’ he said, before Owen sees his comrade dying in the poisonous gas. ‘Guttering, choking, drowning’, Owen said, his comrade was simply dying, helpless, in the most pathetic way possible.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Not much glory in gargling from ‘froth-corrupted lungs’, ‘obscene as cancer’ and in ‘vile, incurable sores’, is there?

This is exactly what the Game of Thrones episode showed. As Bolton’s army collided with Snow’s, man fell against horse and there was absolute chaos; heads went flying about, horses maimed, limbs cut off as Jon Snow went about in utter confusion, trying to distinguish friend from foe, killing those who attempted to slaughter him. Blood poured in every direction, arrows rained upon men as swords were wielded without knowing what they would destroy. As Snow’s army was encircled and trapped, Jon Snow got trampled beneath the ensuing chaos buried under heaps of corpses and flailing soldiers who attempted to run and defend themselves. With difficulty, he emerged from within the riot of bodies, covered in blood and grime, only to stare at death in the face.

That, then, is perhaps the reality of wars and battles; not pride, not honor and definitely not the sweet taste of glory- just a bunch of ragged limbs, barely functioning, arms outstretched, trying to gain a semblance of reality, a perspective about the senselessness, all around.

Image Source: blogs.wsj.com

Money Can’t Make You Work

Marlo Stanfield, an unbelievably young drug kingpin in the city of Baltimore, is caught in a multi-million dollar drug bust. Behind the drugs lies a trail of murders and black money, pinning him responsible for all these crimes, something that can ensure that he stays in jail till the day he dies and yet have years and years left in his sentence. His snarky lawyer is able to cut a deal for him that allows him to walk free with all that money, and let his subordinates take all the blame. Guilty of a drug conspiracy and more than two dozen murders, Marlo Stanfield walks away with more money than he can possibly spend in ten lifetimes. It is nothing new; with democratic legal systems, it happens all the time.

Now imagine this.

Jimmy McNulty, a police officer who has caught several murderers in his service to the police, puts his career at stake by misleading his superiors into allocating funds to their department, funds that will catch Marlo Stanfield, funds that do catch Marlo Stanfield and his associates. But once Jimmy McNulty’s fraud is caught, he is fired, and could possibly face a criminal charge.

In the face of a situation so contrasting wherein a drug dealer walks free and a police officer is fired for bending the law in trying to catch the drug dealer, one can wonder what inspires people to take up certain jobs. What can inspire you to be a police officer, with salaries that can barely sustain you, when you witness first hand how much money lies in being on the other side of the law? What inspires people to take up certain professions that seem too dangerous to us? What can inspire you to be poor policeman, when you can be the rich criminal?

It is simply the difference between doing the right thing and doing the wrong thing.

A difference that is underrated and overused, the one with the very thin line in between.

The difference between right and wrong.

It is this which convinces me that money is not the motivational factor, that it is not even close. Some people work for money, yes, but there are some things that can drive people in a way money never can. Marlo Stanfield, despite his millions, despite a fortune that can be spent without heed, is unable to leave his drug dealing. He is unable to quit. Just like for McNulty, it is not about the money, for Stanfield too, it is not about the money, but the thrill of the game.

Money is something that is needed to function in a society, money is something that is needed to buy our comforts and our luxuries.

But money cannot make you work.

That is where money fails.

It’s all about the money, But

[Image source: http://www.tv.com/news/breaking-bad-how-much-cash-was-in-that-storage-unit-29497/]

A lack of money is often seen to be compensated by possession of spiritual wealth- they don’t have a lot of money, but they are good people, which is what matters. Often, it is implied that limited monetary resources help inculcate good value and morality systems in people. Then the converse must also be true- an overhaul of wealth would signify a debauchery of the mind. In the same way, the city and the village binary is also used- people in villages may not have as many facilities as city life provides, but atleast they have peace of mind.

Power corrupts, and in most parts of the world, money is power. But then we can ask- is this discourse appropriated only to comfort ourselves in our shortage of money? When we maintain that we do not have money, we also maintain that we have something that money can’t buy- spiritual contentment, tranquillity, a clear conscience, honor, dignity, and blamelessness. We validate our ways of living, and put ourselves on a higher pedestal- so what if we don’t have money, we have some things that money can’t buy.

MasterCard banged all the right doors when it said, “There are some things money can’t buy. For everything else, there’s MasterCard.” Money might not be able to buy abstractions, but it sure can buy everything tangible, which makes you think, who said there isn’t happiness in money? In a consumerist world, it can buy you the best of apparel, and the best of household possessions- thereby, it can buy you admiration, praise, style, and envy. Money can buy you travel, and by implication, it can buy you not just good times, but also practical experience. Money can buy you the best of medical services, and the most prestigious of education systems. It can buy you nutritious food and personal safety. More often than not, it can buy you time.

And yet I would assert, after everything seen and done, money is not the answer, and it is never the answer. Money, when you look back and realize, whether now or at the end of life, is the least enjoyable thing.

A scene in Breaking Bad intrigued me. Walter White, a man dying from cancer afraid of leaving his family penniless and debt-ridden after his death, turns to making methamphetamine, and quickly makes unthinkable amounts of money. But the drug business was never so clean and simple. In the process, he is forced to commit several crimes, not the worst of which was murder, and turns into a hardened criminal, breaking bad, losing the trust, love and respect of his family, and especially his wife, Skyler.

“Take a drive with me”, Skyler asks of Walt and leads him to the compound where they have been storing their money. They enter a room full of money, so much money that even ten generations of their family could not exhaust it, living in luxury. There was so much money that it was impossible to count it anymore- “How much is this?” Walt asks her, to which she says she has no earthly idea.

As they stand in front of a future full of luxury cars and yachts, condos and summer houses, glitzy parties and unshakable glam, their whole lives stretched out in front of them where they wouldn’t have to work a day in their life and yet live like royalty, Skyler looks at the pile once again and says to him, “I just stack it up, keep it dry and spray it for silverfish.” Millions and millions of dollars, a dry stack free of silverfish.

“Walt,” she tells him, “I want my kids back. I want my life back. Please tell me- how much is enough. How big does this pile have to be?” as they both stare at that meaningless pile, bereft, empty, speechless.

In another scene, Jesse Pinkman, Walt’s partner in meth-making, got his cut of the deal in the business, but having a more troubling conscience than Walt, he is unable to spend that blood money. In a deranged state in the middle of the night, Jesse drives across the town, throwing stacks of dollars, in front of every home, finally collapsing at a deserted park.

It may be all about money- life may be all about money. Money for treatment and money for college, money for survival and money for luxuries, money to win and money to lose. Money to get you out of jail and money to protect you from bad neighbourhoods, and yet

Money is the least enjoyable thing. Possessions are useless unless they can be shared with someone, and travel, dry, unless the stories can’t be laughed over dinner, unless souvenirs can’t be brought back, unless it can, again, the experience can be shared with someone. Money can’t buy you the practical experience that travel brings along with itself without immanent curiosity, without an eagerness to explore. What fun is excellent food if had alone, or worse, with sycophants and sullen faces? What good is time, if there is nobody to return to? Money can buy you a living, it cannot buy you a life- it is always that something other which comes along with the money that makes life meaningful.