Screenwriters regularly engage in a key element of the craft we call "Spit-balling" or "breaking a story". It's a relatively simple process in which you ask two basic questions -- "What if…?" and "And then what?"
Take any real life situation, apply this inner, fellow-writer debated or white-boarded dialectic and you'll soon map out a story in which the motivations of the major players have come into conflict and a plot has been constructed that should keep the audience interested until you're ready to share the climax.
Over the last few weeks, I've been watching the ramp up to the G20 Conference in Toronto as security budgets have sky-rocketed past the Billion dollar mark and the people who live in the city watch it being transformed by security fences, CCTV cameras and public demonstrations of high tech crowd control weapons.
In an effort to deal with an expected influx of anarchists, anti-Globalists, groups with an economic beef or a chip on their shoulder regarding some individual head of State, or the Bilderburgers, or some Ring Wraith of the Illuminati, tens of thousands of police and military will be deployed on our streets.
More will arrive with their national delegations. President Obama alone is reported to be travelling with a personal security force of 1000.
Depending on where you reside within the political spectrum, this is either making you feel very secure, adding to your unease about the state of personal freedoms, or really screwing up your plans to watch the first World Cup Round of 16 Games in your favorite downtown sports bar.
However, approaching this as a potential script opportunity, the first "What if…" question to roll through my mind was -- "What if the demonstrators don't do what they're expected to do?"
What happens then…?
One of the first things I learned during all my police ride-alongs and research for "Top Cops" was how much both the police and criminal communities cleave to specific roles and designated patterns. It was almost as if everybody had learned how cops or crooks behaved from going to the movies.
There was always some cop emulating "Dirty Harry" or "Axel Foley" while the bad guys took their cues from "The Godfather" or "Boyz 'n the Hood". From silk pocket puffs to practiced street swagger, you almost wanted to lean across the interrogation table and whisper, "I loved your work in 'Scarface'!".
Based on what we're seeing right now in Toronto, it's clear the police are rehearsing characters based on what's gone on at every major economic conference since the WTO debacle in Seattle in 1999.
In all of those instances, street protests disrupted the conferences as commercial property was damaged. Tear gas and pepper spray were released as phalanxes of riot police confronted the demonstrators. Heads on both sides were beaten in and everybody went home happy knowing the 24 hour news cycle had lots of cool footage.
But "What if…" that doesn't happen this time? "What if…" those the powers that be don't want anywhere near the G20 Conference decide not to get tear gassed and pepper sprayed this time. I mean, let's face it, tear gas isn't exactly an occupational perk.
Which is where Hannibal comes in.
For those who hear the name "Hannibal" and picture some Fava beans and a nice Chianti, there was a guy with the same name who lived about 2000 years earlier.
Hannibal was a Carthaginian General who swore an oath to destroy the Roman Empire when he was 12 years old and almost succeeded. He is universally recognized as the greatest military tactician of all time, most famous for taking an army and his war elephants over the Alps into Northern Italy when everybody in Rome was building warships because they expected him to sail across the Mediterranean from Carthage.
Hannibal's tactical brilliance can be summed up quite simply. He went where the Roman army wasn't and wasn't where they wanted him to be. Maybe it was because they just didn't have movies back then, but Hannibal succeeded by not doing what the Romans needed him to do for them to win.
For almost a decade, Rome kept preparing for him to attack the city. But Hannibal, knowing he'd wear down his own forces by engaging in a long siege, instead roved back and forth across the countryside, bleeding Rome dry while simultaneously continuing to terrorize them.
One of his goals was to eliminate Roman influence over the far flung territories of the ancient world and for the most part he succeeded.
So, "What if…" the demonstrators hoping to send their various messages to the G20 leaders opted to ignore the designated "Red" and "Yellow" zones, decided to avoid inhaling tear gas and eschew baton pummeling and simply went where the Romans aren't?
Are the guys at CNN and Fox News, who mostly can't find Toronto on a map anyway, going to know that the intersection hosting a peaceful demonstration is in Mississauga or Brampton? Are the guys watching a viral video of an ATM blockade going to nit pick that it's in a 7/11 in Markham?
Come to think of it, how ridiculous are all those armored cops and their police state motif going to look if you don't show up at all except maybe to bounce a soccer ball off the razor wire while screaming "Forza Italia!"
Let's be honest. All those economists and astute politicians attending the G20 have pretty much completely revealed their ineptitude over the last year of economic collapse. There's a good chance the Euro will be completely in the dumper by the time this conference opens and nobody has to tell the average guy on the street that his government hasn't got a clue anymore.
Trust me, most members of the public have looked at their pension plans and realized how fucked the system is. That Papier Mache puppet you're making of some Prime Minister or Finance Secretary is a bigger waste than the money they're spending on security.
Yeah, you could further emulate Hannibal and trash some fat and unprotected suburban bank or corporate branch office instead of the HQ's that are within the protected zone. But that's just going to alienate all the people who are on your side but still need a place to work in the morning.
So far, the best approach I've seen to the whole G20 Conference is taking place on Twitter with messages like these…
Last summer, I took a University course on Hannibal and while the professors kept coming up with theories as to why he never focused his immense strategic skills on destroying Rome, the answer seemed completely clear to me.
Where would you like to hang out, Tuscany or some armpit of a sand dune in Morocco?
The guy also knew that politicians, as much as they screw with us, always screw themselves far worse in the end. And the best thing we can do to speed up the process is not doing what they want us to do -- make that need us to do to justify their actions.