Are you writing your life story or letting someone else write it for you? What happens when what you want to do runs counter to every logical action you should be taking – at least according to those around you? Do you follow your inner voice; ignore it’s/your profound urges; or forge a compromise somewhere in between?
That question came to mind after watching the movie “Anonymous” this weekend.
For the 99% of you who haven’t yet seen this movie and will no doubt EVER see it –
“Anonymous” asks the burning 2011 question – did Shakespeare really write all of his own plays and sonnets or was it someone else? Perhaps accounting for its grosses, the very 2011 answer to this question is:
WHO GIVES A RAT’S ASS! I CAN’T GET A JOB; I’M BROKE; I’M NOT DOING WHAT I WANT IN LIFE; I HATE MY JOB; MY LACK OF LOVE LIFE OR PRESENT LOVER/MATE/HOOK UP STINKS; THE WORLD IS GOING INTO THE CRAPPER SO WHY BOTHER WITH ANYTHYING; AND TO TOP IT OFF KIM KARSDAHSIAN GOT PAID $17 MILLION (despite what her Mama says) TO GET MARRIED ON TV AND HAS FAME, FORTUNE AND UNLIMITED MILES TO EVERY AIRLINES AND NOW GETS WHAT LOOKS LIKE A PRETTY CLEAN, SCOTT FREE DIVORCE SO WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT SOME QUILL PUSHER FROM 400 YEARS AGO WHO WROTE PLAYS THAT I NEVER UNDERSTOOD ANYWAY AND ALWAYS MADE ME FEEL STUPID!?
Uh, okay. Point taken. But still —
Here’s the thing — It’s not really about whether you think this movie, or any movie, TV show, play or web site, is good or bad or indifferent. It’s really, “can this make me laugh, cry or, perish the thought, think?” “Anonymous” has made a lot of purists of the literary theatrical world angry about issues that matter to them. They don’t fancy that some uppity TV writer (screenwriter John Orloff, best known for “Band of Brothers”) is telling the world that a nobleman named the Earl of Oxford wrote all those plays instead of an uneducated former actor (Shakespeare) who also did odd working class jobs before he could support himself with his art. They think the issue of this movie is whether Shakespeare did indeed write all of that stuff.
Quite simply – they’re wrong. As wrong as the rest of us who don’t really want to see films anymore about subjects that, on the surface, don’t lead with our obvious interests. (Me included – though I did see “Real Steal” and had a fun time!). What the movie/story of “Anonymous” IS really asking us is this: What happens when you don’t following your heart and are stuck living a life that is dictated by other people? What the movie “Anonymous” poses is that the REAL Shakespeare was really this educated guy named the Earl of Oxford who was not SUPPOSED to be a writer but live in a respectable way because of what his FAMILY and PEERS expected him to be. But all the Earl feels passionate about is his WRITING (They called it being a “poet” in those days). But instead of facing them (family and friends) head on, this RICH KID tried to have it both ways (never a good idea) and be extra crafty. So he wrote and wrote and wrote anonymously and when he was ready and older (and way less happy) with a huge output of work, he hired a younger guy (Shakespeare) to pass himself off as the public author of all the Earl’s writings so the Earl could continue his anonymous life as a nobleman with the satisfaction that what he wanted to say to the world (and there were a lot of “screw you’s in his plays”) would finally get out there and he could still be “RESPECTABLE” (or be hidden).
Recipe for disaster? Well, uh, yeah. As we really know in 2011, you can’t have your cake and eat it too (calling Herman Cain? Maybe even the Kardashians) because any time you try to live a little bit of a lie or do things for the wrong reasons it just gets worse and worse for you until you end up with, well, living and dying on the twisted end of fame – hounded by the very forces you once were convinced were your “lovers” or even friends.
Spoiler: It doesn’t end well for the Earl of Oxford. So the real 2011 question is – what do we learn from his story? No – the answer is not don’t make a serious costume drama in 2011 and expect today’s Kardashian-bent moviegoers to attend, even though I’d be hard pressed to mark that answer wrong on a multiple choice test. Nor is it – I don’t want to be a writer or anything in the arts so I don’t care. It is – I’m going to have to take my shot; make my mistakes; because in the end at least I’ll know they’re mine. That alone has to be better than succeeding on someone else’s terms (ask the Earl of Oxford or, well, even Kim Kardashian at this point, who seems to not be quite laughing all the way to divorce court).
Most human beings that I know, myself included, don’t dedicate their life to full service (Gandhi and Mother Teresa were exceptions. Or – were they?). So it’s hard to follow the advice of people like Tom Brokaw who this week said that you measure your life by contributions to your government and community, not the amount of toys you can buy; or Steve Jobs, whose sister Mona Simpson eulogized him as a guy who worked every single day of life (including weekends). This is especially so since they got to play with all the toys they ever wanted. Brokaw, through his network TV work, had hundreds of acres of farm land in his home state and quite fancy and expensive NY digs, and hobnobbed with every famous person in the world for decades. Jobs, lauded as one of the great inventors of modern times, still indulged himself with 100s of the same shirts he loved from a single store or flying in the best marble in the world from a particular region in Italy in order to build Apple headquarters exactly the way he wanted. Yes, one man’s toy is another man’s discarded Kardashian – but still – what’s important to remember is they both got their toys doing what they loved to do. Just as Shakespeare – or whoever he was – found his only true happiness (and wealth – personal and/or literal – who knows why some hit the money jackpot and get both) from doing HIS writing. As he wisely once said — the PLAY‘s, the thing. No matter who he (or they?) really was. The words still hold true today.