Sunday, July 3, 2016

Compassion as a source of entertainment.

In my opinion, a lot of writers seem to think that in order to be entertaining as a writer, you need to try to appear as cool as possible. They think that you need to be edgy and that showing awareness and empathy towards others isn't really that needed.

Personally speaking, I have never understood this approach at all. In my opinion by far the most important thing about being a good writer is that you show compassion to your characters so that your audience might care.

In any case, in order to hopefully give an example on how to write stuff that is both full of compassion and entertainment, let's take a look at an episode of one of my favorite television shows that was created by my favorite writer, David E. Kelley. 

In this case, we're talking about 'The Practice', a legal drama that managed to win multiple Emmy awards - including the best drama series - during its eight year run. This show was not only known for its entertainment values but also for its compassion.

Very likely my favorite 'entertainment through compassion' moment of all time happened during the show's final season, when the series gave us a new lead character, a sleazy, yet a good hearted lawyer, named Alan Shore. 

As his first case as a defense lawyer on the show - played wonderfully by the great James Spader - Alan Shore had to take a poor client who was suspected for committing a sexual assault on a female business executive.

At face value, this storyline didn't seem like one where 'entertainment' or 'compassion' would be the first thing in your mind. It's hard to imagine that you would feel for a person who had committed a crime against a woman.

Yet, it didn't take that long in the episode before you started to get second thoughts about the case and started to feel for the suspect in question. Things definitely weren't like one might have expected at first here.

That is that, the poor suspect's crime in this case hadn't been that bad. His illegal act was that he had publicly kissed the female executive on the office floor of the company as an act of  revenge and to get even with her.

That is because shortly before the sexual assault, the female in question had berated the suspect outside the office building for being a dirty, smelly worker. She had no compassion whatsoever for this man, who also happened to be a homeless person.

To make the situation even more humiliating for the man, his ten year old daughter had just happened to be close by when the berating happened. This man had been extremely humiliated and for no 'real' reason at all.

So when the story progressed, even though you wouldn't had thought at first, you couldn't help but to root for the blue collar guy. You couldn't help but to feel empathy for this homeless worker who was now in trouble.

After all, when you think about it, the worst that happened to this upper class female was that her 'embarrassment' would last only a couple of days or a week. Her co-workers wouldn't think about the incident that much and would forget it soon.

On the other hand, the humiliation that our homeless blue collar worker went through in front of his ten 10 year old daughter might even last a lifetime. It might well be that his daughter would never be able to forget what had happened.

This emotional aspect of the case was pretty much what Alan Shore's character emphasized when he gave his passionate closing argument to the court. The jury had to feel that sentencing the man for that crime would have simply been wrong.

Fortunately, at the end of the episode, the jury did manage to find our unlikely protagonist not guilty of the crime that he was accused of. He was let go and you were finally able to breath in relief that there was still some justice left in this world.

In any case, after the episode ended, all I could think was that the whole storyline in this episode (S8x01) about the underdog was simply fantastic. It showed what you can do as a writer when you have the talent and the courage to show kindness and be real.

It's just too bad that there aren't enough talented writers like David Kelley out there who can pull off stuff like this. Most of the so called 'professionals' couldn't write compassionate stuff like this even in their wildest dreams.

In my opinion that's a shame, because we as human beings clearly deserve to experience compassionate moments like these. These are the moments that make at least myself think that we aren't perhaps that bad.

In that sense, I just wish that we would have more good television shows like 'The Practice' on tv that took our struggles seriously and paid attention to issues that people in the audience found to be important and real.

That same way, I just wish that we had more writers like David Kelley, who understood what it means to be a human being and who understood that you don't always have to be hip or cool in order to be entertaining.

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