Voyou Désœuvré

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↴

I really enjoyed Adam Kotsko’s Why We Love Sociopaths, in part because of the additional perspective it gives on his previous book, Awkwardness. The “fantasy sociopath” the book studies is introduced as the opposite of  awkwardness: where awkwardness is an anxiety in relation to social norms, sociopaths, at least in TV fantasy, never experience social norms as something that makes them anxious, only as tools they can use to manipulate others. But what unites awkwardness and sociopathy is that these anti-social experiences reveal something fundamental which underlies the possibility of sociality. That is to say, Adam’s project is a kind of dialectical redemption of the anti-social, in which anti-sociality, by revealing the conditions of our sociality denaturalize it and provide ways of thinking about an alternative sociality which we might choose. Awkwardness and Why We Love Sociopaths thus I think have something in common with what Judith Halberstam calls “anti-social” queer theory; the connection is perhaps clearest in the anti-familial theme that surfaces periodically through Why We Love Sociopaths (which Adam has also discussed at An und für Sich). Read more↴

Not gay as in happy, but queer as in fuck OPD So. Farewell then
Wizards of Waverly Place
You were the best Disney Channel Show
About egoist anarchism
And queer anti-sociality.

“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law”
That was almost your
Catchphrase Read more↴