YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

April 17, 2016

House of Cards and cynical Democrats

Claire and Frank go to Moscow, season 3 House of Cards, Netflix

Claire and Frank go to Moscow, season 3 House of Cards, Netflix

I have just binge-watched House of Cards seasons three and four, set during the presidency of upwardly mobile, cynical and manipulative poor white trash Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey co-starring with Robin Wright as his teammate Claire—- a former “Dallas debutante” with a preternatural understanding of how “the system” really works. Both Spacey and Wright are actually from humble backgrounds, and perhaps retain much of their repressed rage/nihilism).

I also saw the much-preferred UK original on PBS, so long ago that I remember most of it only vaguely, but who could forget the shocking murder of the young journalist? (At least my polled Facebook friends liked that version, nearly all finding the US adaptation boring at best; I disagree, all long series are uneven, but the writing is often compelling).

Ian Richardson as PBS villain (1990)

Ian Richardson as PBS villain (1990)

So I am in the uncomfortable position of questioning my own taste for television series, which turn out to be relatively highbrow compared to the “lowbrow” network offerings. (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/is-i-house-of-cards-i-really-a-hit/284035/)

What frightens me most about House of Cards (I have now seen all versions, entirely), is my own naiveté as a historian and reader of texts. I have often called attention to our limited access to relevant documents as we attempt to interpret and present the past and present, but I didn’t factor in silent, underhanded deeds and interactions that confront the reader/viewer with unmitigated evil. There is enough nastiness in my own life history to temper my disbelief that such behavior could exist. Frankly, I don’t know how the writers got so much of our political situation down with conviction, for in spite of my “realism” about what to expect from other people, I could never imagine such degrees of immorality, even from “Big Government.”

What is most surprising is that the actors and writers are associated with the Democratic Party (presented as rife with corruption, including mayhem), or perhaps they lean left, like many artists confronting the philistine bourgeoisie/modernity in either political party. There is a punkish, oppositional sensibility at play in the writing and acting, though one wonders if life offers more than an Artaudian scream or Brechtian ruthlessness.

Although the plot line is said to be “implausible” I find the series, like Billions (a Showtime offering that has completed its first season), to have ripped the mask off our elites, with enough ambiguity to satisfy any educated, fearless student of human nature.

No wonder I am attracted to the writing of Herman Melville, who ventured on the dark side more than most of his nineteenth century “optimistic” contemporaries, with attention to his life and art only made possible after the horrors of World War Two. And no wonder that the trashing of his masterpiece Pierre, or the Ambiguities (1852) had to be denounced in 1947 by FDR-allied psychologist Henry A. Murray, whose lies I have reluctantly exposed on this website.  (https://clarespark.com/2011/06/12/call-me-isabel-a-reflection-on-lying/).

Call me Isabel.

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February 27, 2012

Chardon High School, “negativity” and depth psychology

I woke up to the news of the shooting of several students at Chardon High School, Ohio. As I write this, pundits are already attempting to add to the paucity of concrete detail regarding this student shooter with reassurances and/or warnings to parents. All we know as I write this at 12:20 PST, is that the shooter is a male, that he had made his preoccupation with death and vengeance known on Facebook last December, and that he shot his ex-girl friend’s new boy friend, Daniel Parmertor, now killed. Four other students are wounded. There may be more deaths. [Added 2-28: two more students have died, and the shooter was a student at a special school for “at risk” students; also described as “outcast.”]

Ever since I started reading about the history of American culture, I have heard endless repetitions on the theme that we are a violent people, owing to our history. And yet, polls seem to show that “negativity” in political ads is often rejected by a populace that is notoriously bloodthirsty and amoral. (Ask Cormac McCarthy about this.)

In prior blogs I have ruminated about the strong lobby against psychiatry and other mental health services, although we know a great deal more about child development than, say, our forebears at the beginning of the modern period in about the 16th century and 17th centuries, when witch burnings and other forms of torture were common in popular and high culture alike.

I have also argued that the particular form of co-optation of 1960s protest movements produced a willed refusal to look at what was common in human nature. Multiculturalism asserted that only members of a race or gender were able to opine about groups in which they did not belong, owing to the group “character” of the oppressed group du jour. Multiculturalists, along with their Stalinoid enemies, also made great generalizations about our national character. Amerikka was held to be essentially imperialistic, money-mad, racist, patriarchal, ecocidal, genocidal, and so on. Graduate students in  history were more likely to get a job if they adhered to this catechism, especially if they could prove their competence in “whiteness studies.”

It happened that the psycho-historian Peter Loewenberg (illustrated) was a professor in my department at UCLA, but his focus on power relations in numerous types of  “families” was considered to be a specialty beyond the ken of ordinary graduate students like myself, who were told by the numerous social historians that it was better to identify with the grass roots or mobs and their laudable resistance to upper-class atrocities, than to follow the path cleared by Freud, and before him the acute insights into individual and group psychology offered by every great writer in the history of the West, starting with Greek tragedy, and going on through Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Schiller, and many others. (And I have not mentioned the revelations of the great visual artists, and before them, archaic religions, all of which interested Freud and his better followers.)

It is not likely that even our best private schools, aimed at training leaders, delve into the affective lives of their students, other than to preach against “hate” and to promote “tolerance” of those who are “different.” What would Freud have said? What did our Founding Fathers think? Where did the notion of childhood innocence come from? I will leave that last question unanswered for now. (Don’t blame the Jews. The better educated among us have no illusions about benevolent human nature, agreeable to shaping by social engineers educated by Rousseau.)

Clearly, there is a dark side to human nature, and it is common to every one of us. But the anti-psychiatry and anti-capitalist culture in which we swim does not consider our material bodies appropriate objects of study. Yet we are seething with rage, jealousy, and longings for revenge—emotions that are part of our human equipment from birth. In the medieval past, these common qualities were attributes of the Devil, and in this life, we were in his snares and subject to his constant lying. Madness was attributed to demonic possession, and many the death-dealing remedies that were offered to purge us of his maleficent urges.

Many pious Americans still believe in the Devil, and believe that “secularists” (include in that category psychologists, feminists and Jews) are in his serpentine grasp. But because teaching children how to manage their “negative” emotions is considered to be a violation of parental rights, schools back away from challenging the medievalists among us. Meanwhile, kids are flooded with terrifying images of monsters, vampires, zombies, and other projections of their forbidden anger—anger at being bullied, lied to, overestimated, underestimated, pushed, neglected, abandoned to the mass media (including comic books)– but make your own list of treacherous adult conduct.

Similarly, “narcissism” is now considered to be a personality disorder and also the chief feature of laissez-faire (a.k.a. free market) capitalism, according to many progressive intellectuals. Yet little girls are taught from early childhood to emulate the glitterati, turning themselves into decorative objects for the sexual delectation of strangers, men, and even family members.

It is now “cool” to identify with the demonic and with criminals. It is one way to defy authoritarian parents and authoritarian ideas, one desperate way to feel a modicum of power.  We are committing mass suicide in our resistance to taking a detailed family history, including how every institution we inhabit deals with the dark side of human nature.

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