Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Okay, I admit it--we're finished with this second season of House of Cards, and (spoiler alert) Frank Underwood's sleazy, murderous ascent to the American Presidency was--at least to me--unconditionally repulsive. It made me want to step outside and hurl.
But then, among television's dark dramas--and there are legion--we've come to expect tortured evil. It may well be the "third Golden age" of television, as some call it, but starting with Tony Soprano, its heroes haven't been heroes, period. Often as not, they're jerks or at best jerks who should know better but can't or won't.
That I watch House is itself a tribute to its excellence, I suppose--as television, as drama, as story-telling, even if the material risks utter shamelessness. Evil triumphs in House of Cards--or at least it did, royally, this season. I will watch again, hoping that someone--maybe even God almighty--will finally give Underwood and his blonde Lady Macbeth the flogging they've earned. Bad guys win--and win big.
Why do I watch?
I don't know. I hate it when evil triumphs. The most well-known Christian hymn of all time (I'm told) is the old country favorite "Farther Along," a sad lament for what the saintly song-writer can't help but notice all around, that the bad guys get all the breaks.
Tempted and tried, we’re oft made to wonder
Why it should be thus all the day long;
While there are others living about us,
Never molested, though in the wrong.
Christianly speaking, there's always eternity to sort things out, as the chorus offers:
Farther along we’ll know more about it,
Farther along we’ll understand why;
Cheer up, my brother, live in the sunshine,
We’ll understand it all by and by.
Just wait, guys. Eternity's a'comin' and we'll all get what's comin'. Frank Underwood too. It's going to make sense. Farther along.
In an interesting little essay in The Weekly Standard, Norman Podohoritz calls yet another facet of what's happening on screen these days "the white-trashing of TV" for the almost endless march of southern-fried good ol' boys, from Duck Dynasty to True Detectives, doing inexplicably bizarre things. Wherever and whenever you look, white trash is rising from bayou mists and walking off with all the ratings, often as not repossessing cars--Operation Repo, Bear Swamp Recovery, Lizard Lick South Beach Tow--seriously, the list is endless. How about Dog the Bounty Hunter, the godfather of 'em all.
Why? How is it we've come to be obsessed with endless tattoos on endlessly big men and women?
Podhoretz says it's Hollywood snobbery: "rich Hollywood folk making mincemeat out of poor rural folk is another element of the ongoing American culture war that should not go unremarked." Well, maybe. But the heroes of Pawn Stars aren't the flush of backwaters.
It's hard to miss really, isn't it? Podhoretz includes Don Draper (Mad Men), given his hard-knocks, mysterious childhood; and, of course, Walter White of Breaking Bad. Podhoretz suggests that it may be coastal liberals to blame, in fine boilerplate Weekly Standard tradition; but then walks it all back to commend what he sees on his own TV screen, calling the whole range of white-trash programming "just too good, too interesting, too flavorful." Which is to say, he likes 'em.
Still, the white-trashing of TV is a mystery to me, although we've always loved freak shows. A hundred years ago already, Mencken said, "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people."
Some time ago, our entire family--all of them--celebrated a sweet holiday for our 40th wedding anniversary by holing up in a mansion atop a Arkansas mountain, mid-winter, and just hanging out. Once in a while, a television would be on. The only network series we could talk about or watch in common, whole family in tow, was, Storage Wars, starring urban white-trash in sleeveless sweatshirts and sweaty baseball caps looking to turn a buck on someone else's refuse.
We're really crazy for 'em somehow.
Just exactly how is it we take so much joy in watching? I don't think I know. And why are sleazy characters like Frank Underwood, a malignancy in the American body politic, so popular? I don't know that either.
Farther along, we'll know all about it, I guess. Farther along, we'll understand why.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:30 AM