INCITE OUTRAGE TO BOOST YOUR SCREENPLAY
Or The Art Of Revenge In Korean Drama Series Taxi Driver
Wealthy Bentley Driver VS Old Security Guard
An incident sparked online outrage recently.
A driver of a Bentley cut a queue of cars and tried to drive into the school but was stopped by a 62-year-old security guard. The guard stood in front of the Bentley, scolded the driver, and told him to return to the queue. The driver responded by edging his luxury car forward, knocking into the knees of the guard. The Bentley driver was eventually arrested for a rash act to hurt. When I read about this incident, I felt what I believed many readers felt as well.
A surge of outrage.
Followed by a desire for justice.
Even the Minister for Education chipped in on social media with strong words of disapproval. Now I do not know the parties involved. I have no idea who the Bentley driver is, nor the unfortunate security guard who had to bear the brunt of the Bentley. But because of this incident, these people were suddenly elevated and transformed into characters in a drama that is familiar to us.
Especially if you follow Korean Movies and TV drama.
Which brings me to the latest K drama series on Netflix — TAXI DRIVER.
The Consequences of Revenge
Taxi driver tells the story of an ensemble of characters who have lost their loved ones to violent killers or unscrupulous con men. They were unable to seek justice from the proper authorities, and so, to find closure, under the guise of a taxi company, they operate a shadowy organization that helps victims find revenge.
Each episode showed the abuse suffered by a victim. Here’s a sampling.
A girl with developmental needs, is exploited for labor by an unscrupulous boss, and sexually harassed by the boss’s mentally challenged supervisor.
A young female undergraduate falls in love and later commits suicide when nude videos of her went online and people were paying to watch the uploaded video. It turns out her boyfriend was in on the scheme. He was paid by the CEO of the digital company to snare, seduce and video young women. As if the deed was not dastardly enough, when the victims commit suicide, the victim’s family are extorted next.
A grandmother who saved all her money for her grandchild’s education finds her pension and life savings wiped out by an organization of Voice Phishing scammers.
These were despicable acts committed against the old, and the vulnerable. These were crimes against ordinary citizens who were hardworking, loving, and bore no malice. Watching the villains revel in their crimes punched that outrage button in my psyche very hard. I felt a familiar surge of outrage.
Then the desire for justice.
And when justice was not delivered by the law, I felt the desire for revenge. The selfish vs the selfless. This is a timeless fight. In a story, this plays out as Villain vs Hero. Regardless of culture and language, you can relate to the story.
From Will Storr, author of Science of Storytelling -
We’re wired to find selfless acts heroic and selfish deeds evil. Selflessness is thought to be the basis of all human morality. An analysis of ethnographic accounts of ethics in sixty worldwide groups found they shared these rules; return favors, be courageous, help your group, respect authority, love your family, never steal and be fair, all a variation on “don’t put your own selfish interests before that of the tribe”.
Revenge in Korean Films
Is it any wonder why Korean films like Old Boy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, I See The Devil, and the Oscar winner Parasite, such global successes? As much as we hate the villains, we cheer for the heroes. Is that natural? Again, from Will Storr…
Even pre-verbal babies show approval of selfless behavior. Researchers showed six- to ten-month-old infants a simple puppet show in which a goodie square selflessly helps a ball up the hill while a baddie triangle tries to force it down. When offered the puppets to play with almost all these children chose the selfless square.
Mull on that for a few seconds. These were babies. They were not indoctrinated with any screenwriting or story theories. And yet they chose the selfless character. They rooted for the hero. One thing is clear. We just don’t like it when we see the helpless being stepped upon by the privileged. We put ourselves in the shoes of the helpless, and we feel the pain. And once we feel the pain, it is only natural that we want payback.
We want justice.
We want our status restored.
We want revenge.
A Theme As Old As Time
When people in brain scanners read of another’s wealth and good looks and qualifications, regions involved in the perception of pain became activated. When they read about them suffering from a misfortune, they enjoyed a pleasurable spike in the brain’s reward system. Status play permeates human storytelling. The lowly person on the bottom of the social ladder seeking to displace the top dog on the ladder is a common refrain running through popular stories.
(excerpt from Science of Storytelling)
Revenge arises when one perceives a loss of one’s status.
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius was not only envious of Caesar, but resentful. Cassius had saved Caesar from drowning when they were children. Cassius always felt that Caesar owed him. Yet when they grew up, Caesar became king and Cassius became the subject who had to bow to his friend, Caesar. If anyone should be groveling, it should be the king, not me, thinks Cassius.
This loss of status ate away at Cassius like a worm nibbling its way into the core of an apple. Cassius felt humiliation burrowing like a needle into his soul. Humiliation, according to psychologists, is defined as the removal of any ability to claim any status. And when one experiences severe humiliation, it is as good as wiping out your self- identity. And so, when Cassius sees Caesar being punished, he feels good. Just as we all feel rapturous when we see our enemies being punished.
Which was what I felt every time the heroes in Taxi Driver, delivered punishment to the villains, and why many readers felt good as well when they read that the Bentley driver had been arrested.
And since we are tribal people with tribal brains, restoration of status does not count unless other members of the tribe are aware of it. Hence the need to expose one’s villainy all over social media. Hatred of the enemy is meaningless unless the villainy is unmasked to people in his world.
Takeaway For Storytellers
As writers and storytellers, we’re constantly looking for ways to make the stories we tell transcend culture and language. One way to do so is through themes that resonate with everyone. Like revenge. Loss of status. Abuse of privilege. The self-entitled behavior of the wealthy. Desire for justice. The punishment of villains. These evoke powerful emotions in our primal brains.
The next time you wish to supercharge your story idea — incite outrage and take revenge.