Archives for posts with tag: the sopranos

Deconstructing Derrida: Who's the fairest of them all?

1.
Thinking about Lena Dunham’s Girls, and the New York magazine drama derby, in which the best TV shows of the past 25 years battled for dominance in two parallel contests — one voted on by readers (Breaking Bad vs. Buffy was their titanic final battle, both fantasies of suburban vigilantism), one voted on by scholars of television (The Wire vs. The Sopranos, urban vigilantism), in which all the protagonists are violent and repellent beyond belief. Mad Men was a quarter finalist in the critics’ lists, and its sexual violence is well described in the contest.

This violence and repulsiveness snuck up on me. I remember first being shocked by my callousness while baby-sitting for one of my godsons 20 years ago. I stepped away from the TV to the kitchen, from which he was visible, but from which I could ignore the tube. When I tuned back into the tube, I found him watching Married with Children. He was about five or six, and he had the familiar mouth-open hypnotized look children got when the cathode ray started zigzaggin’ their cones.

And I was appalled by what was permitted on TV at 6 p.m. for little boys to watch. Married with Children? Holy crap? Christina Applegate? Disgusting. I am reminded of what happens when, taking a break from my bacon fast, I ordered bacon for breakfast at the local greasy spoon. I nearly fainted when those nitrates hit my tongue. Watching that depraved television show with a six-year-old was like having a clean, innocent, nitrate-free tongue. Ouch.

There are a lot of good points in the critics’ discussion of the drama derby contenders, including some very subtle ones about how self-defeatingly full of non sequiturs Breaking Bad is. It breaks the narrative and character development arc and makes you wonder why — aside from the tongue-panging violence — you care so little. Another interesting point; the Breaking Bad wife, Skyler, is a thousand times more interesting than either Betty Draper, Peggy Olson, or Carmela Soprano, all of whom are….boring.

That all the heroes are vigilantes, and all the women of the best TV dramas of the last 25 years — with the possible, and very problematic, exception of Buffy — are wusses, to put it politely, is a serious critique. The woman thing drew the attention of the perspicaceous New Yorkers, as did the parallels — one heroic suburbanite with a dark secret — between Walter White and Buffy. If those links ever come back up, I’ll get them for you.

2.
Vigilantism. Whoa. Don Draper, the swordsman, is the one exception. So far.

3.
Interesting discussion of Derrida on Virginia Woolf on deconstruction on the VW listserv.
My email:

I was just reading a review of a new biography of Simone Weil, who has been ignored and also vilified, most recently by Francine du Plessix Grey in her 2001 biography. For many of the same reasons V. Woolf has been vilified (frigidity, mandarinism, anorexia, anti-semitism, whatever).
http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?id=237

The new Weil bio has been written by a philosopher who recognizes, in Weil’s notes about, for example, eating and gazing, key philosophical concepts rather than neurotic self-hating Jewish anorexia.

It strikes me Derrida is doing the du Plessix Grey thing here. Certainly Woolf asserts that Defoe is deconstructing the desert island. Deal with it.

I’d love to hear an account or get a URL for Jane Goldman’s paper, and for the VW Among the Philosophers conference in general. I suspect (based on a query to VW long ago about her familiarity with Bergson) that VW is a mighty philosopher, as perhaps Weil is, whose clarity of apprehension has been much belittled by psychobabble. And not just from the French.

4.
This is part of what Virginia Woolf, who had she written no novels, no feminist manifestoes, would be immortal as a literary critic, wrote about Daniel Defoe and Robinson Crusoe:

Nobody who has any slight acquaintance with English literature needs to be told how many hours can be spent and how many lives have been spent in tracing the development of the novel and in examining the chins of the novelists. Only now and then, as we turn from theory to biography and from biography to theory, a doubt insinuates itself — if we knew the very moment of Defoe’s birth and whom he loved and why, if we had by heart the history of the origin, rise, growth, decline, and fall of the English novel from its conception (say) in Egypt to its decease in the wilds (perhaps) of Paraguay, should we suck an ounce of additional pleasure from Robinson Crusoe or read it one whit more intelligently?
http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91c2/chapter4.html

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Watched Girls last night.
http://www.hbo.com/girls/index.html#/girls/episodes/index.html&isVideoPage=true&g=u&subcategories=none&order=date-desc&limit=none

It reminded me of nothing so much as Larry David. The ultimately repellent characters of Seinfeld and the entirely repellent character of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

As I am very easily entertained, I thought I’d dash my response in here and then Google it. I was chuffed to find George Packer, for example, a straight-arrow reporter of apocalypse, backing me up on the creepy frivolity of Mad Men, if not the very nearly pornographic use of anachronism. I think the falling man credits approach obscenity. Aaaaaaaaaaaanyway, let’s see who thinks Lena Dunham is Larry David.

Watch this space.

Apparently there’s a Conan ep with David and Dunham. Let’s see if they acknowledge one another.
http://teamcoco.com/video/full-episode-weds-411-larry-david-lena-dunham-and-musical-guest-craig-morgan

Nope, David is as repellent as ever, touting a neo-Three Stooges movie — Stooges a landmark abyss between the sexes, men loving them and women finding them disgusting. Go, Lare.

Dunham appears at about 30.12, can’t get it to stream for me yet.

The recent face-off in New York magazine of the best TV shows of the last 25 years had the Sopranos and Mad Men and The Wire coming down to the wire, hehehe, and serious scholars of TV writing about it. (The fans had their own massively gendered version of the playoffs, which, like the fans’ list of the best 100 non-fiction books of the last 25 years was deeply wack. The fans drama derby had Breaking Bad vs. Buffy as finalists, and Breaking Bad won.)

Buffy is the only non-criminal among them. Sort of. And while the Sopranos, of which I’m resuming my study after a three-year hiatus, has something deeply frivolous about it, interspersed with excellent writing on character development, pissing corpses and closeups of septic wounds, Mad Men is even more frivolous and also pernicious. When I finally grokked the whole falling man thing, I fell out, and will have to think about this some more. All of them, except Don Draper, are vigilantes of the subway vigilante Bernard Goetz ilk — the libertarians’ wet dream. Make my day!
http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2009/04/19/falling-man-and-mad-men-154

But the repellent hero — from the Larry David/Seinfeld character, through Tony Soprano, Don Draper, Walter White, and now Lena Dunham (she directs! she creates! she writes! she stars! she takes her clothes off! she grifts her parents! she sleeps with nasty men!) — has held sway now for 25 years. Was it Puck on MTV’s Real World who led the way, through Punk’d and Jackass to Don Draper and the lads? Or was it Maj. Nelson and all of the characters ever played by Larry Hagman?

I have to think about the persistence other repellent heroes in American life: Ishmael, Hester Prynne, Nick Caraway et al., back to the Aristotelian value that the devil has all the good lines.

But for this cluster of amazingly violent television shows, I’m blaming Gen X, their Prozac, their nihilism, their ironies.

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