4:33 am

Woke up from a dream in which I was about to be shot in the head on my grandmother’s front lawn in front of my two year old by a man who was then going to shoot my child.

I watched most of the pilot of The Following last night.

Something happened, post anti-hero as protagonist, wherein we writers went from telling stories about main characters who were damaged but understandable and somehow redeemable through their good intentions to stories about main characters who are just bad. Now our stories are about getting into the minds of people who do not have good intentions, who set out intentionally to harm, and to try to make that relatable. I’m talking about Dexter, I’m talking about all the SVU’s where we find out that the child molester is only a child molester because he was molested as a child so we should pity him, too, not just his sad victims.

Something happened where we went from writing naturalism, as in show people as they really are, zits and all, to showing humanity at its worst. I’m talking about House of Cards, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield.

What happened to beauty? What happened to acknowledging that the human creature is flawed, yes, but capable of great beauty, and not just in blood spatter patterns after decapitating their latest victim with a chainsaw?

I want beauty. I want to see humanity with good intentions. I want to see it fail and try again. Maybe we don’t need heroes, maybe as a culture we just don’t buy it anymore, but I could use a proper anti-hero, zits, good intentions, and all.

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4 thoughts on “4:33 am

  1. migrantintellectual

    //a proper anti-hero, zits, good intentions, and all.//you just dismissed the best written, acted, conceived, produced, and directed shows on television. Where is this anti-hero you look for if not Dexter or Vic Mackey or Jax? I haven't seen HOUSE OF CARDS or THE FOLLOWING. But, I have watched with great interest the shows you reach out to take down in the midst of this nightmare moment. The Shield attempts to find order in chaos as the world goes to shit. It's about war not cops/robbers. It's a story that parallels our lives as a nation torn apart by war in distant lands where all against all is daily life. Shawn Ryna just happened to set his war epic in Los Angeles.Kurt Sutter's Sons of Anarchy is about family, again, holding on — desperate. It's also not afraid to show the deep flaws of characters. Season Three is one of the best written works of art I have encountered in a long time, maybe not since Anthony Anderson's season on THE SHIELD. Broken people groping for something to hold on to. Squaring off with a hyper-reality where most accept "reality television" and endless mindless garbage as entertainment.Same for The Walking Dead. Not about zombies. It's never just about zombies (or pimps or drug dealers or asshole bikers treating everyone like objects but learning to be human again. Every story you cited contains the thing you are searching for,These are some of the best written, best conceived, best executed, and best acted shows on television.Have you watched the shows you have cited? I get ths impression that you're generalizing to make sense of a dream or an experience watching a show that may not rise to the standards of the series programming you cite.Perhaps the focus should be on the over-flowing cesspool of reality and celebrity and wanna be reality and celebrity shows up and down the satellite and cable services. Shocking levels of hubris. Unbridled pride. Hate, not struggle; cruelty, not redeption.FWIW — Dexter isn's a show about a serial killer; it's a show about the hammer taken to the Brechtian mirror and smashed only to use the shards as weapons of mass instruction.

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  2. Dave Marcus

    There is a difference between anti heros and psychopathic mass murderers, Jax, Vic and Dexter are decidedly the latter. Their actions are justified within the universes of the shows in exactly the way you suggest, by placing them in a context in which they basically have no choice. But this is nonsense, its simply not the reality that most Americans live in. Is our nation really torn apart by wars in distant lands? I just don't see it. Its important to remember that Brecht lived under brutal governmental and social regimes, he and his fellow citizens were oppressed and that oppression is clear in the anger and brutality of his work. Too many artists in the US suffer from oppression envy, if only we were oppressed we would have something to write about that was important. So we pretend that we are, we pretend that Jax can't simply move away and stop killing people. Rather than the Brechtian mirror, American artists should look to Joyce's "cracked lookinglass of a servant", his symbol for Irish art. We are a country of mainly middle class, comfortable and safe people, at least compared to the rest of the world. Not unlike most of Joyce's characters. Watching horrifying violence (which lets face it, is a big selling point for these shows) is fine, but I agree with Libby that I would like to see our shows and plays talk a little more about things well made, as Yeats put it, and a little less about the devaluation of human lives that are not central to our stories.

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  3. Libby Emmons

    The writing on these shows is compelling, the stories are compelling, the characters are compelling, the shows are well produced, directed, and acted. If not, I wouldn't have watched so much of them, stayed up all night hitting the next button on Netflix. I don't quibble with their well-done-ness, or their being engrossing, or with the writers being skilled at writing. I quibble with the perspective, the world-view, represented by these shows. Character flaws are great, are human, are necessary to have a sympathetic character, and as I said, I'm not looking for heroes. But many of the lead characters you mention represent the worst humanity has to offer, and that's just not realistic either. As for the reality genre, I don't watch it, unless History Detectives counts as reality. Also I'm pretty sure Dexter is a show about a serial killer, on at least the most basic level.

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  4. migrantintellectual

    Then write them, David and Libby.No one is stopping you. :)Jax is a Shakespearian Hamlet figure. It's a story. He's a character in a story.The craftsmanship of the Season Three (Ireland) is LEGION, not just good.Come on.You love great drama; you must.Kurt Sutter schooled us all.And I'm not afraid to admit that.Have you forgotten that vital part of theatre and performance?Well-drawn characters? Plot lines? Arcs? Themes that appeal to the heart and soul?You know, the basics of drama?So, you substitute one metaphor for another.And also speak for the majority of Americans.Your conceit grows deeper with each passing month.The point of SONS OF ANARCHY is that Jax simply can't move away. You watch the show? I don't think you do. Why couldn't Jax get out right away? What was his plan across Season Four? How is that not a perfect statement of the human condition that sometimes the choices we make to do the right thing just simply bury us deeper and deeper in the shit.Kurt Sutter, like Sean Ryan, are amazing writers who sat at the helm of unique television programs. Their violence, like the kind you would find in TITUS ANDRONICUS or the plays of John Webster, is an "accessive" not excessive violence. I'm so tired of having to make this point. Over and over, I read in blogs or in the mainstream press how the violence is what made ThE SHIELD or SONS OF ANARCHY or DEXTER a success.The success is in the effective writing, the compelling stories, and the characters. Period. Everything else is pure conjecture, and the worst kind: the kind that comes from people who haven't even bothered to consider the craftsmanship of the narratives as well as the cultural appeal to a nation whose very concept of family has been broken down to the point of utter hopelessness.Let's complicate matters: BREAKING BAD. It took me three tries to even get through the second episode. I didn't trust the creator yet. I knew it was going to be a rough ride and I just didn't want to feel cheated. Like a Toni Morrison novel or Cormac McCarthy epic, trust needs to be established with me. Key scenes in all of the shows you cited established that kind of trust the way others couldn't. It seemed to me your point about "devaluation of human lives" was once again on full display. I simply don't agree. There's more to all of these successful shows than the violence. There's an engagement with the violence of living in this world that is ANYTHING but middle-class. Certainly, the spectator/spectacle aspect of this conversation cannot be avoided. No one is in control of a visual mediums message — it's always already slipping. Enforcing or challenging your opinion, my opinion; your conclusion, my conclusion. But, we have to make an attempt to get to the bigger themes that are NOT lost of the audience you claim to understand; which you really don't understand. Let's face it, neither you nor I, David, know what sells these shows. I thought it was having characters and families and lives we actually care about. And in that unique way, every show you discuss here, and the BREAKING BAD I grew to love, succeeds in meeting my expectations for great narrative drama. I look forward to continuing this conversation.-Robert in VT (Migrant Intellectual)

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