Brevity is the soul of wit (hence that 280-character limit), and one needs little more than a Twitter account and a sharp-tongued wit to call our culture’s kings and princes to task. Sandy Erez considers the weight of the highly visible justice campaigns that play out on social media.
To Tweet or Not to Tweet, That is the Question
The gods of technology would like to deign us citizens to be but bit players on their world stage. Like woodpeckers on binary trees, we feed the information age by pecking furiously on our keyboards – tweeting tidbits of life as shrews encaged, hashtags hurled safely from that privy stage.
Like the great unwashed who once crowded Shakespeare’s Globe, we boo, jeer and throw our Apple cores at the actors prancing across the world stage, furrowing our brows and sharing our opinion in a vain attempt to change a well-worn script.
Is public opinion meaningless? As Macbeth would have it, nothing more than “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” How often does our online outrage dissipate into morning dew like WeWork’s IPO? But then again, how frequent do the roles of hero and villain, jester and hero, tragedy and comedy, change on nothing more than broadcasted thoughts which should otherwise be given no tongue?
How do we find a natural source of truth, a single measure to judge the worthy and condemn the guilty in this live-streamed court of public opinion? That’s not the point. For the world is not a courtroom, with all the men and women merely jurors and judges.
The Shakespearean Fool
We firmly believe in our ability to change the world with nothing more than a sleight of hand and a twitch of thumbs. For why should we not? When neither man nor beast is safe these days from the slings and arrows of outrage content, one well-timed meme is worth a thousand swords.
Because content is king, after all. “My crown is called content: A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy,” says Henry VI as England plunges into protracted civil war.
No wonder we yell so loudly from the pits when one needs only a sharp-tongued wit to break through the fourth wall, cast aside the players’ predetermined roles and crown the fool as king. And content is the crown he’ll wear. As the fool says to himself: “better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.”
Off with Their Heads
Watching the long line of corporate heads rolling after a pitched-tweet battle is akin to a religious culling that would make even an Elizabethan executioner blush. The Prince of Denmark has been tried and convicted, not of treason, but white-collar crime. Something is rotten in the state of Danske Bank, not to mention Boeing, Alphabet, Uber and the like. The corporate actors were found out as charlatans and, with Shakespearean tragedy, have abdicated in the face of the pitchfork-wielding shareholders.
And those are the lucky ones. The corporate villains who’ve had it the worst stumble over PR lines as stale as old bread. We watch and laugh as they plead their case and proclaim their innocence, for we, the audience, no longer believe the words they speak, and thus they have forsaken the right to rule their kingdoms forevermore.
The same scenes are repeated so often in our daily pages that we know them by heart. Why, this Lion King is nothing but the Scottish play with a new song by Beyoncé! What fools they take us for. #Boo
Now is the Winter of our Discontent
These days, the parapets of democracy are crumbling like a set piece left out in the rain. The homeless are heaped in piles on gentrified cobbled streets. The trust we had even in our mother’s own milk has gone sour.
Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder is sprinkled with cancer and Boeing relies on clowns to create the airplanes people crash and burn in. Charities swindle funds, kindly father figures from TV drug and beat up women and UN peacekeepers buy and sell the penniless and vulnerable they were tasked with safeguarding.
We may be living through the fall of Rome once again. Caesar’s blood runs cold, and now the Ides of March are upon each of us.
Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown
Elizabethans once believed they were on the cusp of a brave new world, where astounding inventions like the telescope, graphite pencil and thermometer glittered like brilliant stars in the darkest night. It was Act 1, Scene 1 of the scientific revolution, but there was hope that better times might be coming for all.
But unlike our sages, Shakespeare was not foolish enough to believe that life-changing inventions would forever alter the troublesome essence of human nature. As an astute observer of vices and virtues, Shakespeare did not expect the simple acquisition of knowledge to awaken man’s caring for his brethren any more than it did in the days of Sophocles. He understood how deeply corruption could infect those in power, blinding them to the needs of others while poisoning their own souls.
Perhaps the Bard even envisioned that those princes holding the keys to scientific advancement could end up using such new instruments to wield power over others… hmmm… Google, Google, wherefore art thou, Google? Oh yes! Here you are, in all of my personal data.
Despite the leaps and bounds of technology, not much has changed in human nature in the last 400 years. Crowned heads would do well to remember: Their divine right to rule has lain in tatters since about the time of Pharaoh. For us in the audience, there’s nothing more satisfying than the thud of a privileged head making contact with the muddy ground. We smirk and simmer when those humpty dumpties cannot be put back together again, even with expensive publicist glue. So long, Comeback Kid; we prefer to “lock her up” instead.
Measure for Measure
Even with the sold-out performances of scandalous crimes that have darkened yon global theater, there exists an unflickering truth that Shakespeare believed cannot be obscured: It is us, the simple folk, who pay to see the show. We tweet out injustices as fast as they can occur, each one sent with the intention to awaken world conscience, but out of millions of drafts, only one or two will catch the zeitgeist and endure down the centuries.
And it’s not justice, not even close. It’s the ability of the writer to capture an audience.
Like Noah’s dove, we are supposedly seeking out a new, distant shore where kindness is the measure of success. We, the audience, want nothing more than to see justice done at the end of the story. But stories are long, and it’s easy to get bored. Have you ever actually sat through a full-on Shakespeare play?
Whether comedy or tragedy – we like a bit of both – a riveting tale that has us collectively baying for blood, weeping for star-crossed lovers or cheering as tyrants fall will keep us engaged, keep us spending and keep us coming back for more.
So be you hero or villain, friend or foe, dismiss the audience’s reaction at your peril. For whether at the Globe or around it, all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, like it or not.