Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Money money money

Last night I attended a show performed by the seemingly great Mike Daisey called 'The Last Cargo Cult' as part of the Midsummer. The monologue which lasted a staggering 2 hours and 10 minutes (with no interval) was at it's root, about the nature of money. Or rather, human nature with regards to money. He raised some very interesting points and despite my bum being rather numb, and my attention drifting ever so slightly once or twice, his somewhat explosive and at times almost violent performance did keep me engaged throughout. You see, he gave us something that is impossible for any human, especially poor ones like myself to resist. He gave us money.

That's right. Cold hard cash. As we walked into the auditorium, we were each given a note. I received €5. My friend Amy who was just ahead of me, got €10, while everyone else I could see around me, appeared to also have €5 notes. Now, being the intelligent world aware person that I am, and feeling a little put out that by sheer chance Amy was richer than me, I figured the monologue I was about to watch would have something to do with the inequality of the rich vs. poor, and how there are so few rich compared to so many poor, etc etc. I wasn't entirely wrong.

About halfway through the monologue (a re-telling of his visit to some obscure islands in the South Pacific that don't really do money, interspersed with other short anecdotes of his life, all revolving around money and lack thereof and wanting more of), he brought our attention to the money on our hands. I must at this point tell you that the smell of the money, as it was handled became stronger throughout, and I can tell you, it's an intoxicating smell. He asked us to consider it. brought our attention to the fact that it was, in its essence, only rag paper. That it only had value because WE placed that value on it. He then revealed that there weren't just fives and tens among us. There were 20s, and 50s and even 100s.

What the fuck?! I had the chance to get a €100 note and I got stuck with a lousy €5? God damn it, just my luck. But of course this is exactly what he intended. How does it feel to only be worth that measly €5? Pretty crap. While those sitting pretty with their €50 and €100 must have been feeling very happy with themselves. I found myself eying Amy's €10 with some envy, although also slightly pleased that she was still far from top dog. And odd feeling.

You see money, which Mike went on to say, is the most important thing in the world. No! I hear you cry, love is the most important thing! or happiness! Family! contentment! Sorry to burst the bubble folks, but Mike has a point. As much as we'd all like to think that something like love, rather than money, makes the world go round, it's simply not true, and very naive.

Everyone in the world will claim to be Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic or even Atheist. And these, they will hold, is their Faith. Their supreme belief. Wrong again. Everyone in the world is in fact united under one great power - money. Think about it: the one thing that everyone in the world believes, trusts and has faith in, is the idea of money. The note I held in my hand was just rag paper. Worthless. But the colours, the size the images on that paper, I knew, because that is the system, I knew was worth €5. I trusted that. And for better or worse, whether we're rich poor or in between, we all trust that the notes we have in our wallets are worth what we believe them to be worth. We believe in money. We know, whether we like it or not, that we need money to survive, to live, in this world that we live in. It's a sad fact, but it's true. Or is it really that sad? I guess that depends on your opinion.

At the very end of the show Mike stands up, thanks us all for coming and addresses the issue that I know has burning in the minds of every single person in that theatre. I know this, because it was burning in me, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously: do we get to keep the money? I had already figured out (judge me if you will) that it would be so easy , had you been given a €20, how easy it would be to simply hand back a €5, and no one would be any the wiser. €15 profit, right there, with no repercussions. No one had taken any note of who had what note. As I only had €5, this plan was pointless to me, I was hardly going to keep a €5 and hand back a€10. But Mike had another trick up his sleave. The money did not belong the midsummer. It did not belong to the venue. It did not belong to Mike. At least, not yet. The money, was in transaction. It was his fee, his wages, his payment, for doing the show. A glass bowl appeared on the table. It was up to us, it seems, to decide, if he really deserved it. We had a choice: Give back exactly what we had. Give back less. Give back more. Give back nothing at all. Our choice.

What would you have done?

What did I do?

I gave it back. It was after all, only €5, and I had enjoyed the experience. Besides, I'm not sure my good Catholic conscience could endure the guilt if I hadn't. That and I was with a large group of people all of whom were watching one another with smiles that clearly stated: we are all aware that this societies idea of what is right and wrong clearly dictates that we give this money back an we cannot be seen to be doing otherwise.

Truth be told, if I wasn't as poor as I am, and I only had €5, I would have been tempted to give an extra €5. However, I couldn't quite ignore a question niggling at the back of my mind, it's still niggling now: poor as I am, if I had had the €100 or even the €50, what then? Would I have dutifully given it back as I did the lowly €5, or would I have given less, and kept the €50 or €100 for myself? It would be so easy, so very, very tempting. This, I dislike.

Now that it's all over, I would be curious to know, did Mike get back exactly what he gave? Or did he get more, or less? I guess I'll never know, but I wish I did. It's something I suppose would vary from city to city, country to country, depending on the mores, values and customs of that place.

I'm glad I returned the money. But it does disturb me a little that money really does have such an incredible power and hold on our lives. It does not bring happiness, or love or contentment, the more things you have, the more things you want, right? But still, it does dominate and at times dictate almost everything in our lives whether we like it or not. It often brings out the worst in people. The fact that I can't even say for if I would have kept €100 and given back a €50 or God forbid a €5 instead? That's a dark side to myself I hope I never have to encounter.


Anonymous said...

FYI, Mike Daisey posted a link to this via Facebook, and I thought you'd find this interesting:

Janice said...

Thanks for that, it really was very interesting. Wish I knew who you were to thank you properly, I'm afraid 'thank you kind stranger' will have to suffice.
Glad I'm not from Atlanta, but really want to know now more than ever how Cork fared in this little accidental examination of our values. I feel that he came out either bang on even, or a little above.