Voyou Désœuvré

Black Jesus at homeAs it seems like no-one with more theological training is interested, it falls on me to consider the religious significance of Black Jesus. The curious thing about the show is that its biblical references are pervasive but ambient, half-meant rather than specific analogies. Much of the first season involves Jesus and his friends attempting to establish a community garden, and of course there are many biblical gardens this could be referencing, but the show never settles on any particular one. Or, maybe more obviously, one of Jesus’s friends is called “Fish,” and the one woman in his circle is called “Mags,” but the show is never clear on how far it wants us to take the analogy with Mary Magdalene (she’s not a prostitute, but she does get involved in a lot of Instagram beef; are we to read that as making her a sinful woman?). Read more↴

THE CARRIE DIARIESIt wouldn’t have immediately occurred to me to call 2014 a brilliant year in television, but there have been significantly more shows I’m excited about than I have time to watch, which speaks rather well of current TV quality.

To begin by mourning the shows that were tragically cancelled, I’m saddest about The Carrie DiariesRead more↴

carriediariesI like The Carrie Diaries, the prequel to Sex and the City on the teen-focussed CW network, a lot. It’s a fun show, but there’s an underlying issue-of-the-week earnestness to it which differentiates it from Gossip Girl (with which it shares a production team) and which I like to think is a period detail, harking back to 1980s programmes like Grange Hill. The way it negotiates the period setting for an audience of contemporary teenagers is interesting, with the way a mild griminess stands in for pre-Giuliani New York, or everyone wears technically-accurate 80s clothes that happen to align neatly with what’s fashionable today as 80s revival (except for the antagonists, the mean girls, who wear the clothes people actually wore in the 80s).  But the most interesting revision of 80s mores is the way the show portrays homosexuality, or more precisely how it portrays tolerance of homosexuality. Read more↴

revenge-emily-capeI think I liked Revenge more when it started as Gossip Girl meets The Count of Monte Cristo, before it turned into 9/11 conspiracy theorist Batman. The first season, in which Emily remorselessly enacted revenge on the family that framed her father, did have a war on terror connection, but it seemed properly post-9/11 in that terrorism was almost purely background (I initially thought, on the basis of some back-of-the-envelope calculations, that the terrorist event that formed the backdrop of the show took place in 2001, although it turns out there was an additional chunk of the timeline that puts it nominally pre 9/11). In the second season the terrorist attack becomes a more direct focus of the show, with Emily now targeting the vague conspiracy of politicians and businessmen who planned it (under the guidance of the man who taught her the Batman skills necessary to her quest for vengeance). Read more↴

People usually describe The West Wing as idealistic. This is reflected in what is taken to be the show’s signature directorial move, the “walk and talk,” in which two characters walk briskly through the corridors of the West Wing engaged in some high-powered discussion of the story of the week; this is a visual representation of the show’s commitment to the idea of the good that can be accomplished by energetic, intelligent, good people. But I always thought the heart of the show was in a slighty different move, that usually appeared towards the end of the episode. Again two characters, but this time usually static, in the muted light of an office somewhere out of the way; one character gives an impassioned speech to persuade the other of the moral rightness of some course of action, and just as this speech reaches its argumentative climax, the character breaks off and says, “but of course, we’ll never be able to implement that policy.” This reveals the cynicism which Žižek identifies as central to idealism: the idea, not just that good people sometimes do bad things, but that the “goodness” of good people is an internal, essential, quality untouched by any bad things they may by chance happen to do; indeed, the very distance between the bad actions and the internal goodness, perversely, comes to be taken as evidence of this internal goodness.

While The West Wing exhibits the cynicism of idealism, there is also a naivete of cynicism. Cynicism operates by revealing that, behind people’s actions lie their true, hidden, motives; but this just reproduces naivete at one remove, with a simple faith in the reality of these underlying motives. What I like about Political Animals is that it challenges this naive cynicism.  Read more↴

I thought this week’s episode of Mad Men was one of the weakest the show has ever done – this season has often been a bit obvious, but this episode went beyond that to be genuinely clunky: the heavy handedness of the episode’s insistence that prostitution is bad (a simplicity which undermines the show’s previous, much more interesting, awareness of the way in which, for women in the 60s, all choices were bad choices); the strange insistence on presenting Don as a “good” person; the blindingly obvious parallels between Joan’s storyline, the ad campaign they are working on, and the subplot involving Megan. So I’m annoyed by this post, which praises the episode for all the things that make it clumsy, in the service of a moralizing critique of capitalism which, because it ties that moralism to women’s bodies, also manages to be sexist. The key line, regarding the supposed ethical superiority of Don and Peggy:

They are free to act ethically because they are not trying to find a way to belong, and they understand themselves as having nothing to lose…. Thus, they are not simply good capitalist subjects in the fashion that, say, Pete Campbell is. They are ambitious in wanting to work the system but also understand the impossibility of obtaining the object that would provide complete inclusion.

That is, they make an ethical choice to resist being “included” in the capitalist system. Read more↴