Homeland: An Over(re)view

 

Homeland: An over-review

            Showtime’s National-Security thriller, “Homeland”, is a Monster.  It’s intense, cerebral, nerve-wracking, absorbing and addictive.  It’s just the kind of stuff we like.  Claire Danes is either a genius or the world’s most egregious over-actor since Adolph Hitler.  Her eyes bug out of her head.  She gives Bipolar Disorder a new public face.  Her gaze darts everywhere in fits of paranoia.  Claire is sensing the facts as they are: everyone is out to get her.  Playing CIA analyst Carrie Mathison, she’s in disgrace.  The agency to which she is devoted, the CIA, is also in disgrace, thanks to flubs, fumbles, the 9/11 disaster and political turf wars. Carrie’s the scapegoat.  Everyone in the Intelligence community knows she’s a nut case.  The thing is, she’s a nut case who is RIGHT.  It takes a crazy person to identify the deeper reality.  It takes a slobbering paranoid to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together in ways that no sane person would dare.  This is a new era, a new paradigm.  The Cold War is over.  Hawkish right-wingers have spent the last decade enhancing the power of the Presidency, ditching congressional oversight and accountability.  There is political and moral turmoil. A real President is never mentioned; there is just “The President” and he is kept out of the picture. How do we handle such issues as torture, assassination, domestic surveillance and murder-by-drone? The gloves are off.  We do the expedient thing.  If we have to kill people to save an intelligence operation, we do the killing.  The operation is all-important. 

            There isn’t much ideology in “Homeland”.  The characters are mostly driven by ambition, greed and ego.  Carrie has given up trusting anyone.  She’s fallen in love with Nick Brody (played by Damian Lewis).  She doesn’t trust Brody, she’s “playing” him, but still she loves him.  She suspects that he’s an agent of Iranian Intelligence, and she’s right. Nick Brody has endured eight years of torture by the Taliban.  Now he’s a secret Jihadist.  He’s been “turned” by his captors.  He prays to Allah in his garage, out of sight of his family.  He’s the Trojan Horse who’s going to wear a suicide vest.  He’s going to blow up the political leaders of the U.S.A. in a single fiendish blast.  He’s been elected as a Congressman on the basis of his heroic persona and is now being touted as the Vice Presidential nominee for the next general election.

            “Allahu Akbar” he mutters reverently, bowing into his garage-floor prayer rug.  His sixteen year old daughter, Dana, catches him in the act.

Oops. 

She doesn’t say or do anything.  She’s confused.  She’s scared.   She wants to love her father, the father who’s been gone since she was eight, who was declared dead before his dramatic recovery from the Taliban. 

What do I know? Mandy Patinkin shrugs.

.

            Shouldn’t everyone be suspicious of Nick Brody?  But..but…he was a Marine, he survived eight years of captivity and didn’t break! He looks damn good in that uniform!  Why shouldn’t he run for Congress?  CIA sub-chief Saul Berenson is plenty suspicious.  He’s played by a wooly faced Mandy Patinkin.  He looks like the rabbi who presided over my Bar Mitzvah.  I want him to embrace me in a bear hug, I want him to smell like cigars as his beard scratches my boyhood cheeks.  He seems to be the only CIA officer who believes in Carrie’s crazed perceptions.  He’s her mentor and protector.  We, the audience, want to believe in his integrity.  When he (apparently) succumbs to external pressure and betrays Carrie, it looks like he’s been lost as the story’s only honest character.   Well, Carrie’s honest to a fault but she’s loop-dee-loo manic when she’s off her medications, which is most of the time.  She’s a dedicated operative, her life and her family are the CIA.  She’s on/again off/again with the CIA because she kept her Bipolar Disease a secret.  Yet she’s so valuable, her results so palpable that she’s allowed to remain a kind of house pet with access to most of the deep secrets.  In time she herself becomes one of the CIA’s secrets.  She doesn’t know that she’s a secret, maybe the most important secret of them all.  Well, I told you, she’s crazy!

            Damian Lewis looks like Steve McQueen.  His pursy little mouth is so McQueen.  I know, it’s irrelevant, but it drives me crazy.  I don’t know if he’s that good an actor.  I just don’t know. The important thing is that he’s good enough.  If he’s confused as Nick Brody, he damn well ought to be confused.  He went to war as a gung-ho Marine and was taken prisoner and thrown into a hole.  He spent five years in the hole and then was let out to be manipulated by arch-terrorist Abu Nazir.  It was Stockholm Syndrome with full maple syrup.  Devil-faced Abu Nazir played Good Cop on Nicholas Brody and converted him to Islam.

            How confusing would it be if you came home to a wife, two kids and a nice suburban house, masquerading as a war hero while plotting to become a Martyr to the cause of global Jihad?  Pretty damned confusing.  Damian Lewis plays confused to the point of impenetrability.  We don’t know who he is.  His aberrations are written off to PTSD.  As Congressman Brody he has access to all kinds of people and places.  How lovely for terror chief Abu Nazir, who employs a full-time suicide vest maker: the little tailor who runs a small shop in Gettysburg with a sideline in explosives.

Nick Brody before cleaning up

            “Homeland” is scary because we live in a scary world.  An all-pervasive war is being fought everywhere, invisibly.  It’s a war of computer hackers, Special Ops raids, spies, spooks, moles, rats, safe houses, cover identities, drone strikes, satellite imagery, surveillance at every traffic light and Seven Eleven.  Nothing is too far fetched in today’s world.  By creating a lead character who suffers from Bipolar Disorder, Showtime has pulled the band-aid off the wound.  Ow!  That hurts!  It’s disturbing to contemplate Carrie Mathison running around, defying orders, blowing covers, making extremely risky decisions while her “handlers” in the communications van chew the ends of their fingers with anger and frustration.  “Carrie, stop!  Get back under cover!”  Carrie doesn’t stop.  She’s off her meds.  Her judgment is impaired.  This is the kind of spook in whom our trust resides, the spook who holds the safety of our nation in her agile but deeply warped mind.  

            I don’t recommend watching “Homeland” before bed time.  We do it anyway.  We dream freaky dreams.  


Mindfields: TV Addicts Anonymous

Mind FieldsThere was a time when watching television would make people feel guilty…as if they had nothing better to do. I have something better to do. I can watch better quality TV instead of the ubiquitous TV crapola. These days we have choices in TV-Land. Sometimes my wife and I watch TV all day and all night. I admit to some exaggeration here. I don’t watch TV all day; not any more. There was a time when I was pretty  unmotivated and I watched TV around the clock…and I felt guilty about it. Fortunately that time is passed. I watch TV judiciously, choosing carefully what I expose myself to. There are as many TV universes as there are significant demographics. There are ravening people who feast on Jerry Springer and gentle wine-drinking people who watch PBS-only docs and dramas. I fall somewhere towards the latter. My spouse is more broadminded; she helps me expand my range of experiences. She’s addicted to The Home Shopping Network. We are both addicted to shows about animals and veterinarians.

I’m a keen observer of TV-as-cultural phenomenon. It’s the most powerful thing in the world outside of the Hydrogen Bomb. Television has dominated our experiential landscape since the early fifties and never more so than today. We have emerged into a golden age for television. There’s immense variety, convenience, amazing quality and the television sets have become so smart that they require control like a rowdy drunk at a party. It took me days to figure out how our new device functions. I still haven’t conquered the remote control. I can talk to it and it often responds. I’d be screwed if I couldn’t talk to that thing. It wouldn’t surprise me, if, some day soon, the remote responds with something like “Hey, I’m busy, asshole. Try again later.” I would expect rudeness from a television device. After all, this is the thing that brought us “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” Sometimes I hear my wife talking in the bedroom. Is she on the phone? No. She’s talking to the remote. Begging, pleading, bargaining with the remote.

We love to binge. That sets the tone of our lives. What will we binge tonight? It’s not easy to find binge-worthy stuff. Thank god for National Geographic, Netflix and Amazon Prime. Between Mrs. Maisel, Dr.Pol and Fleabag we have a good time. Fleabag is the work of actress/director/writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. When we saw the last episode of Fleabag I shouted “Magnificent!” I don’t always offer such spontaneous accolades. Phoebe plays the character known only as Fleabag. She’s a fairly gorgeous creature in her gawky comical way. She’s maybe too tall, her nose is a little skewed, but these aspects are essential to her character. She would be boring if she had all the beauty conventions. The stories revolve around the Search For Love. Who isn’t searching? This quest is especially powerful in the young. It surges in women who are reaching a certain age, an age when their mothers are asking “When are you going to get married?” Fleabag is precisely that age and her obsessions are pulling her puppet strings. If she weren’t wryly self-aware she’d be suicidal. She is recovering from an awful trauma. Her best friend committed suicide over a breakup. She walked out into traffic and gave up her life. This grief haunts Fleabag and steels her determination to continue living. She too has ended a long relationship. Now she’s thrust into the world of men, those strange groping creatures who don’t understand women. Sound familiar? That’s US! The thing is, Phoebe/Fleabag is funny! Her wit is corrosive yet compassionate. When the two seasons were over we were gasping for more. Alas, Phoebe is moving into new productions. Watch her!

We binged on the two seasons of “You”. It’s gripping, but it’s also repugnant. In the beginning of the series the protagonist, Joe Goldberg, seems to be a likeable fellow. He develops into a monster as the tale unfolds. I’m holding back the spoilers here. The story hangs on Joe’s transformation into something sinister. His obsession is, again, Love. Or, more specifically, Women. The show gives us Joe’s thought processes. The narration is Joe’s self-talk and he has a one track mind.

I must remind my readers that I have a “writer’s rule” that I scrupulously observe. “Is this story worth telling?” I have three criteria that stories should encompass. They should be entertaining, insightful, and, if possible, inspiring. If they can’t reach the level of inspiration they should at least not leave us depressed. We get enough of that shit all around us. After watching every episode of “You” and being entertained, I still have mixed feelings as to whether or not we should have gone through the experience. There are plenty of shows about dark characters. Darkness is important to drama. It’s like death itself. Without death there would be no passion in life. All of life’s tensions and excitement are generated by the clash between light and dark. Is this oversimplified? Perhaps. I’m left with a slightly sour feeling about “You”. If I had eaten Joe Goldberg for dinner, I would have gas and diarrhea in the morning. Watch the series, by all means. It’s very good, well acted, well written…but I’ve warned you. Take some Pepto Bismol to bed, put it on your night table.


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Lie To Me: TV For Shrinks

Art's Visual Media Review

Lie To Me

Actor Tim Roth is an odd creature. He can divide his face into zones and create two or three expressions simultaneously. He can be smiling and tender with his eyes while his lips and teeth express a feral snarl. It’s unsettling. In the TV series “Lie To Me” it’s supposed to be unsettling. Roth plays psychologist Cal Lightman. The character is a knock off of Dr. Paul Ekman, the innovative explorer of human body language. Dr. Ekman is the shrink who can read every tiny twitch of a person’s face. Termed Micro-Expressions, these muscle movements can be revealing of a subject’s inner state.

In Jungian psychology the mask that people wear for social interaction is called The Persona. It is just that, a mask. It’s essentially false, a place in which to hide our true anguish, guilt, depression and fear. It is a Lie, and we put it on our faces without knowing what we do.

In the series “Lie To Me” Dr. Cal Lightman is often dubbed “the human lie detector.” He sees through the Persona to the core emotions. This is a great device upon which to build a crime thriller series. It’s got enough of the cerebral to be interesting. It’s virtually shorn of physical violence. There are no car chases or fist fights, and guns are drawn only occasionally. It nearly makes me sigh with relief.

In short, there’s none of the usual crap.

Dr. Ekman was a consultant for the show. Nothing happened without his approval, including the casting of Tim Roth as his alter ego. Tim Roth bears no resemblance to Dr. Paul Ekman. Casting an Ekman lookalike would have been a dismal failure. Roth plays a feral, slouching, Cockney hoodlum with a lot of Phd’s behind his name. He works closely with the FBI and local police. He goes wherever he wants, barges through crime scene tapes, gets in people’s faces and stares into their eyes. Though Roth is guilty of many excesses (what actors call ‘carpet chewing’), these excesses work to keep the viewer fascinated. After a couple dozen episodes his mannerisms can get wearying. But Roth and the cast were having so much fun making the show that no director stepped in and said, “Tim, ease up on the ball scratching, eh? ‘Nuff sliding off couches in the conference rooms of posh developers eh?”

There’s method to Cal Lightman’s madness. He wants to push people out of their comfort zones. He wants them to get angry, to flip out and reveal the TRUTH, that they’re murderous scheming bastards. His mannerisms are a technique to break down the Persona.

Actress Kelli Williams (The Practice) plays Dr. Gillian Foster, Lightman’s business partner and possible love interest. Do they? Or don’t they? Will they or won’t they? Kelli Williams is a fine actress who looks like one of CNN’s high-end newscasters: model-perfect, every hair in place, always simmering with understated sexuality. She has a wonderfully kind face and is the perfect foil for Tim Roth. Chemistry makes for a good production and this is a cast that’s loaded with chemistry.

“Lie To Me” uses standard police procedural plots, but skews them just enough so that the detective (Dr. Lightman and his staff) work these cases using a different set of tools. Their skills may be exaggerated, but that’s TV, innit? Footnote: the “innit” I just used is an emulation of Roth’s cockney accent. That’s his back story. He is a one-time thug and petty criminal who lifted himself out of that scene to become the world’s foremost body-language theorist and human lie detector.

Dr. Lightman and his staff are called The Lightman Group. They catch serial murderers, thwart abusive psychiatrists, forestall assassinations, bombings and biological attacks. The stories are pretty good. The work of Brendan Hines as Eli Loker and Monica Raymund as Ria Torres keeps the ensemble small and tight. Cal Lightman has a teenaged daughter, Emily, played by Hayley McFarland. Emily’s presence helps to humanize the abrasive Dr. Lightman. Emily gives as good as she gets. To Emily the almighty Dr. Lightman is just her dad. She can mock him, annoy him and tease him. with hints at sexual liaisons. As the father of a teenaged daughter, Cal Lightman is hovering, hyper-protective and infuriatingly paranoid. Little Em knows how to drive her dad nuts.

The three seasons of “Lie To Me” satisfy like a good burger. They are sturdy and hold up well over time. Tim Roth shows that you don’t have to be good looking to be a leading man. You don’t have to be a Kung Fu master, you just need a healthy dose of confidence and aggression. You must be ready to wade into a brawl even if you’re really intending to sneak away from it at the first opportunity. When push comes to shove, Cal Lightman displays abundant courage. ‘E just ain’t stewpid, oi?

I enjoyed “Lie To Me”. I give it four and a half muskrats.

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


Want to be sure not to miss any of Art’s Visual Media Reviews? You can catch them the last Friday of every month or subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


Treme: David Simon’s Masterwork about New Orleans

Art's Visual Media Review

In early October, 2005 my partner and I were driving our new 38 foot motorhome from Ft. Lauderdale to Petaluma,CA.  It was going to be a four thousand mile drive on I-10, the southernmost of our nation’s interstate highway system.  As we drew into the outskirts of Pensacola we noted the ravaged condition of the trees, fences, billboard signs and the Interstate itself.  The campgrounds were jam packed.  We only found a site because someone had suffered a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital twenty minutes before we pulled into the Pensacola KOA. 

            We were in the zone of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath and the next four hundred miles would be like driving through a poorly kept secret.  Along the highway were big plywood signs done in red magic marker: FEMA, they said, and sometimes an arrow pointed the way down a dirt road.  These signs were emblematic of the slipshod management of a terrible disaster.  Imagine, plywood planks with red magic marker: this way to the internment camp of white trailers.

            Ahead of us lay New Orleans.  We saw the city only a few weeks after it was submerged and torn all to hell.  When we began watching the TV series Treme (trem-may), we had a visceral sense of connection to the experiences of the characters.

wendell

            TREME is producer/director David Simon’s series about post-Katrina New Orleans.  Simon is the creator of crime masterworks like HOMICIDE and THE WIRE.  TREME is something different.  It is a filmic mural that depicts conditions in a ravaged community.  Suspense is not what draws the viewer into the show.  It’s the characters that keep us watching.

           One of the major characters of the series is New Orleans itself. There is a depth of culture in this city that is unmatched by any other American city.  Treme is one of the neighborhoods in this town, an area where musicians live and form their community.  They play at one another’s gigs.  They do funerals, following  wheeled black carriages in stately slow-march.  They play at nightclubs where the patrons and musicians alike are having so much fun that it seems almost unreal, as if there can’t possibly be so much joy in this troubled world.  But there it is: real music, dancing, carrying-on and everyone is having a freaking great time. 

            There’s nothing strident about Simon’s portrait of New Orleans.  It’s a town trying to bounce back, but the bounce is a little flat.  People want to rebuild their homes but the promised insurance checks and subsidies keep getting lost in bureaucracy.  A man has spent  three years rebuilding his home with his own money and his own skills. Suddenly a city inspector appears and cuts off his water and power. “The City” wants to see the original deed on the property.  It’s a document whose origins go back two hundred years.  It’s lost in history, lost in the flood.  Can he PROVE that his family has occupied this parcel of land since 1824?

Photo by Art Rosch

Photo by Art Rosch

            He forgot a payoff to someone.  He’s lost track of the fifties and hundreds he’s hemorrhaged to fees and penalties.

            New Orleans has become a scene where politicians and developers gather like ghouls to create a theme park where there was once a city.  If they have things their way, it will be resurrected as NewOrleansLand or Cajun-O-Rama.  The citizens of New Orleans are fighting back.  They know their city will never be the same.  But the disaster has made them aware of themselves as an extended family.  There is something special about being a New Orleans native.  There’s a terminology, a language, a history and a lot of blood that goes into the making of a citizen of New Orleans. 

            TREME is strangely relaxing to watch.  Real-life characters like musicians  Carla Thomas, Kermit Ruffins and Allen Toussaint thread through the plot playing themselves, providing a sound track of amazing skill and vivacity.  TREME is loaded with top of the line music.

            “Let the good times roll”, or “Laissez le bon temps roulez” is the unofficial motto of Mardi Gras.  The good times may roll but a new motto is emerging from the frustrated natives of New Orleans.  

          I will paraphrase the words of Sofia, the sixteen year old daughter of  civil rights lawyer Toni Bernette, played by the fantastic Melissa Leo.  Every day Sofia retreats to her bedroom, closes the door, aims the laptop camera at her face and uploads to YouTube a monologue of rage and bitterness.

          “Fuck you, man, fuck you!” she says.  “If you’re not going to help us, at least don’t hinder us.  Just get the fuck out of our way!” THAT is the new motto of New Orleans.


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


Want to be sure not to miss any of Art’s Visual Media Reviews segments? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


So You Think You Can Dance: Breaking New Ground

Art's Visual Media Review

“What’s wrong with kids today?”

            This lament has been uttered by every generation  since Adam and Eve discovered they were pregnant a second time.

            So….what IS wrong with kids these days?

           They feel as if they have no future.  The last few extant generations simply don’t.  Futures come in handy when you feel as though the world will be unrecognizable before you’ve grown up.  As a child of The Mushroom Cloud I know what that feels like, that amputation of the future. It made me really angry.  My friends and I were more likely to commit petty crimes and indulge in drugs.  Without a future, why bother?  Why work hard in school?  Why cultivate disciplines, interests, social connections?  The oceans are rising and will drown your block or your whole neighborhood.  The coolest animals will be extinct.  No elephants, no polar bears.  What kind of future is that?

Can't Dance

            Then I discovered a TV show called “So You Think You Can Dance”.  You can knock me over with what these kids are doing!  Their bodies must be INCREDIBLY strong and flexible.  These kids are doing the impossible!  Has the human race mutated?  Do we have extra joints, super-human muscle memory? Who ARE these people?

            They’re just kids.  Their secret is that they found a passion, something that interested them so much that they said “fuck it” to the absence of the future and decided to live for this thing called Dance.  It was better than being a thug.  Thugs are mean, WAY mean and being mean doesn’t feel very good.  Not as good as practicing B-moves, Krumping, flapping, sapping, tapping, robot-twitching, water-waving, learning your body’s capabilities and stretching them further, further, further!

            This is IT!  Sometimes it’s called ART.  Don’t be embarrassed by the word ART.  It’s cool to do ART.  It’s okay.  Even if it’s gay it doesn’t matter.  Nobody cares about gay any more.  You can be gay, you can change from man to woman or woman to man, nobody cares!  If you want to know where it is, where the cutting edge in creativity can be found these days you can see it on “So You Think You Can Dance”.  The judges aren’t scary.  They aren’t there to cut you down.  They want to show you The Future.  Word up, Bro.  There IS a future.  Nobody can stop it.  It takes some work.  Everything good takes work. Making a future is hard work.  It’s not like it used to be, when the Future was going to happen no matter what.  Now it takes a little faith and a lot of work, but it’s there: you… DO…Have…A…Future.  Do you want it to kick you in the nuts or do you want to dance with it?

            When has anyone given a shit about choreoraphy?  Are you kidding?  Corey-who?  Shazam!  Choreographers are the composers of Dance.  They arrange the time-space-music continuum in which Dance exists.  On the TV show they are not only given credit, they are like stars!  Now I know the work of Tice Diorio, Mia Michaels, Sonya Tayeh, “Nappytab”, Stacey Tookey and Travis Wall.  Choreographers come from the elder population of dancers.  They still dance but they are the keepers of the flame, the mentors of the seventeen through twenty two year old dancers who are living the dreams.

            I’m not sure there is any more difficult art form than what is now appearing as Dance.  It’s not enough to specialize.  You can’t be a ballroom dancer, a hip-hopper or a Broadway hoofer.  One of the messages of So You Think You Can Dance is that you must be trained in ALL the dance styles.  Choreographers wont’ hire you if you don’t know all the styles of dance. Choreographers are the Gate Keepers, the bosses, the ones who hire dancers.  Get tight with the choreographers who work at SYTYCD and you will be employed for years to come. In time, you will become a choreographer.

            The most amazing thing about the dance numbers on this show is their purity.  We’re not seeing arrangements for pop superstars.  We’re not seeing choreography for Taylor Swift or Michael Jackson (RIP).  These dance routines are created for the television audience.  For US!  Sometimes magic happens on that stage.  Those of you who watch the show know what I mean.  In more than a decade this show has lifted the art of Dance so that each season is more amazing than the last.  The mutations continue.  Evolution is visible year to year.  Dancers get more flexible, their muscle memories become more detailed, malleable, imprintable.  This happens in front of our eyes.  Sure, it’s a TV contest show aimed at a teenage demographic.  That’s how things work.  Consider the difference between the egregious karaoke of American Idol and the drama and high art of So You Think You Can Dance.  Big difference, yeah?

            Big big difference.

       

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


 

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Friday Night Lights: Bingeworthy TV

By Arthur Rosch

 

 Art's Visual Media Review

 

            FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS isn’t about Texas high school football.

            It’s about Texas high school football.

            I admit to writing this stupid/cutesy opening and I don’t even have a good reason for it. I suppose it expresses my surprise. I expected a sports drama. I anticipated a series about a scrappy low-ranked team overcoming its difficulties and moving on to the semi-finals and then the finals and then…..you know the story.It’s been done to death. Underdog Triumphs Despite Impossible Odds.

            Peter Berg’s masterwork about Americans at their best and their worst is way beyond football scoreboards. The game dramas we’re given, the playoffs and championships, are almost footnotes. Do they win or lose the nationals? Yay! Boohoo! Oh well…the story moves on.

            In case you haven’t heard, Texans have a local football culture like no other. Its passions fill in the great empty spaces of the land. It entertains, it distracts, it involves, it sucks people into its politics, it’s a tornado and it leaves nothing untouched.

            It’s serious. The aristocracy of star players have perks beyond belief. They are scouted by major college teams and the NFL looms in the background for a few talented athletes. The perks have to be within the bounds, so to speak. There’s no buying and selling of games and players (or, at least, there’d better not be). This adherence to the strictures of amateurism doesn’t preclude assigning a virtual harem to the stars, the quarterback, the tight end, the wide receiver and so forth. These guys stride the halls of school like gods.

            FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS isn’t about Texas high school football because it’s really about character, relationships and community.

            The true star of this drama is a relationship. The marriage of Eric and Tami Taylor is the spine of this narrative’s skeleton. It’s the beating heart at the center of the town of Dillon, Texas. Without the marriage of Eric and Tami, there is no story. Actors Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton play their parts with such natural grace that their marriage should receive an Emmy. It is one of the great marriages in television history.

            Eric is the new Head Coach of the Dillon Panthers. Tammy is the high school counselor. Their marriage is subject to pressures that would crush most commitments. If Eric and Tammy can survive this alchemist’s crucible, they will be peerless. They will be jewels.

            If they can’t, they’ll be another sad divorce that leaves behind a shattered family. Their daughter Julie is at that age just before she starts to rebel and roll her eyes. We need to wait until Season Three for the foot-stomping, eye rolling and the whole alphabet of gestures of teenage contempt for adult restrictions. Meanwhile, she’s a nice cute kid with a training bra.

            Eric and Tammy have tough jobs. If you think coaching high school football is small time stuff, think again. This is Texas. Eric needs all the qualities of a drill sergeant, a general, a shrink, a priest and a politician. He has to raise his voice and deliver a fifteen minute harangue to a team of wall-sized athletes until they are reduced to terrified little lumps of jelly, quivering on the locker room floor. Or he can put his arm around a confused, demoralized quarterback, pull the boy’s head onto his shoulder and choose the right words to unleash a deluge of tears. He must puncture the macho armor of these arrogant teen prima donnas and make them, FORCE them, to live in the real world where they are not God’s gift to women and football. Creating better athletes is secondary to creating better people.

            All across the country, the name of Eric Taylor is being discussed. He’s a young, new coach, he’s just emerging and he’s the man to watch. He may be next year’s High School Coach Of The Year. He’s at the beginning of a career that may some day take him to the Super Bowl.

            Eric is, by nature, a man of few words. At home, he’s a firm but gentle presence who doesn’t make a lot of noise. He’s busy. He’s working, watching playback of games, evaluating his own calls and his players’ moves. He works ALL the time. He lives football. His wife understands this, she has grasped it from the very beginning of their marriage and rather than pout and grow disillusioned, she creates her own life. She uses her own strengths and interests to engage the world. She’s a high school guidance counselor. This makes her the equivalent of a prison warden and The Great White Hunter on an African Safari. She is stimulated by challenge. She is one of those goddess mothers full of lush strength, red-maned, sexy and very tough.

            What makes a marriage between two such powerful people function so well?

            Honesty keeps the marriage strong. Tami and Eric are always honest with one another. Even when they lie, they’re honest about lying. Neither is afraid to admit being wrong about an issue. They support one another with unbreakable consistency. If they have a fight, they cut through the bullshit, find the central issue, and look for compromise. They don’t resort to yelling and name calling.

            There are times when an irresistible opportunity appears before Eric or Tami. The problem is, accepting the opportunity would require changes in the marriage or the family lifestyle.   One of them, Eric or Tami, is going to have to make a sacrifice. Who is willing to see a lifetime dream fade away? Who is wise enough to see that opportunity does NOT come only once in a lifetime?

            The town of Dillon, Texas is neither large nor small. It’s like a town with a hundred thousand people that has been absorbed into the suburban sprawl of Houston or Dallas. It has an identity. Much of that identity is drawn from the supremacy of the Dillon Panthers.

            The power brokers, the mayor, the oil moguls and the owner of the Cadillac dealership are Panther alumni and sit on the board of the Booster’s Association.They know which strings to pull, how to schedule games to the advantage of the team, how to acquire players from other teams who might be Panther-killers if they’re not brought into the fold. They’re the guys who play dirty, behind the curtain. A little pressure, maybe some mild blackmail; it gets the job done and the team is none the wiser.

            It’s amazing how much of the human condition can be collected into a single file cabinet with the same labeled situations. There are aimless kids on drugs, there are abandoned old people, cheating husbands, bankrupt businessmen, pregnant cheerleaders, corrupt officials, natural disasters, infatuated teenagers going suicidal over a romantic setback….all these potholes in the road of life are much the same, no matter where you go.

            The things that can’t be pigeonholed, that can’t be stuck in a file, are the lineaments of character. Which one of these people can overcome the temptation to shirk? Which one can step up and make an effort to change?

            I ask, because I think Friday Night Lights is a narrative about that power in human beings, that ability to see their own trouble and solve the problem, and then move forward. There will be another problem, and another. No matter. By the time Season Three begins, even the people we learned to hate have become different, better. They are tougher, yet softer. They have something that we all wish we had: a supportive community.

            I was amazed, over and over again, at the way the people of Dillon turn to one another. Coach Taylor’s door is always open. If the phone rings at three in the morning, he will answer it. “I’ll be right there,” he says, sliding out of bed and looking for his pants. If some sopping wet weeping teenager having a crisis knocks on someone’s door, there will be a soft place to fall. A motherly hand is extended: “Why come on in, sugar, you look awful, and you’re just SOPPING wet! What can I do for you?”

            In my dreams I live in a place like that. Dillon is special because Southern Hospitality is not only real but it includes everyone and it understands that shame is the enemy of communication. As a community, Dillon expands its definition of humanity and grows like an amoeba to absorb shame so that being ashamed is not shameful. Lying about the cause of the shame, THAT’S shameful, so it’s better to unburden the heart, to come clean and let someone help you, someone with a wiser mind like Eric or Tami Taylor, or a hundred other people. What’s sad is that this town is a television fiction but it gives me hope. If someone can imagine such a place, someone can create it in the real world.

 

A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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Game Of Thrones: IS It Toxic?

Art's Visual Media Review

My wife and I watched this series, all five available seasons (at the time), in one big gory splurge.  Maybe that was our mistake.  It is addictive viewing, it has memorable characters and every episode ends with a cliff-hanger.

I’ll be candid and admit that we have been in an emotional slump.  My wife and I have had a difficult year.  That being said, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to expose ourselves to such villainy and gore.  I can imagine that viewing this series one episode at a time might be less harrowing.  But who does that?  Are you kidding?  In this age of Streaming?

Nah!  Binge viewing is the thing we do.  Doesn’t everybody grab a series and watch every episode, one after another?  Don’t deny it.  TV isn’t a guilty pleasure any more. TV is survival, an alternate reality in which to hide from our terrifying world.

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Game of Thrones is High Fantasy.  It has the medieval world-set, the armor, weapons, horses, castles, all that stuff that goes into High Fantasy.  It has dragons, magical creatures and a looming menace that evokes our own present-day world with its apocalyptic terrors.  As we watched we found that our depression began taking on a more vicious edge.  Our dreams were disturbed.  My wife muttered curses in the night and I went on a sleepwalking excursion, standing at the window completely unaware that my junk was exposed beneath the wrinkled edge of my t-shirt.  I think I was waiting for some demon to creep into our home to steal our souls.

As a writer I must always ask a question of the story I’m writing: Is this story worth being told?  If I apply that yardstick to Game of Thrones, I’m not sure it passes muster.  Without the genius of Peter Dinklage playing “the imp” I wouldn’t have gotten sucked into the plot.  Acting is an interesting process to watch.  Great actors take good roles and define them for all history.  Dinklage will hereafter always be known for his Tyrion Lannister role.  Before Tyrion he was a famous dwarf and an actor.  Now he is far more famous and completely identified with his character.  No one cares that he has short legs.  He has earned RESPECT. He carried Game of Thrones on his talent.  The series is unimaginable without the work of Peter Dinklage. 

There were so many beheadings, throat slittings, impalings, knives to the gut, arrows through the throat, squished eyeballs, spear thrusts through-and-through that it became like a creeping poison, leaking from the TV screen and crawling along the margins of the room, heading straight for our vulnerable psyches.  We have no one to blame but ourselves.  No one forced us to watch this wretched excess of medieval mayhem.  We watched.  We were sick with flu, flattened with fibro, fucked up with gastric distress, hamstrung with hernia….and we watched ten thousand extras get squashed by rocks and broiled with flaming oil.  Oh, what a violent series!  Add a healthy dollop of perfect naked titties and asses, muscular adolescent boys all frolicking with one another and whaddayaknow?  It’s really all sex and violence, tits and ass.  I can imagine the producer shouting on the set:  “Did we book enough tits today?”   He points to a Production Assistant. “We’re running out of tits!  You, boy! Go find some tits, get out there on Sunset and round up a few dozen nice tits.  Get some handsome boys while you’re at it. We need some asses, too….make sure they’re eighteen and have them sign their releases.”

Game Of Thrones.  It was a relief when Season Five ended.  We’d had enough.  It was like eating a whole bag of miniature Reeses Pieces.  It made us sick.

It was delicious when we started.  Then it got a little cloying but we couldn’t stop.  Then we wanted to puke and still we couldn’t stop.  It was crazy!  Get us to some Hallmark Entertainment, or….some Disney.  No, wait.  When you look deeply enough into Disney you find shit that’s even more creepy than Game Of Thrones

Now, the temptation to watch Season Six looms ever more seductively.  


A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv


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