The Clare Spark Blog

October 1, 2014

Is Madam Secretary a glorification of Hillary?

Hillary Clinton Discusses Her New Book In Washington, DC

[Updates, March16, 2015. 10-20-14: After last night’s episode, I do tend to agree more with conservative readings that the series is preparation for a Hillary Clinton run for president. For it contrasted leading from behind (diplomacy) with “force” as exemplified with the negotiator who was fired, and who was connected to the prior Secretary of State (?) who was mysteriously murdered. Nonetheless, the lead character is more intelligent than Hillary, has had more experience in government (she was in the CIA) and is more of a family person. In March, a three week “event” ends in the US signing a peace agreement with Iran, for which the Secretary of State risks her life going to Iran to head off a coup.]

I have now seen the first two episodes of Madam Secretary, which many conservatives see as a successor to The West Wing and a blatant promotion of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I think that this is too simple an interpretation, though there is no doubt that conservatives are correct to be wary, for many liberals are immune to criticism of their would-be president.

I prefer to see this series as what Marcel Duchamp would have called a “rectified readymade.” There is the very visible real Mrs. Clinton, adored by some feminists and loathed by many conservatives. What both liberal series did or are doing is correcting the errors of prior liberals, cleaning them up and imagining role models who conform to the most idealized self-images possible for social democratic feminists, “balancing” career and family, protective of ordinary people, dripping with compassion for suffering humanity, sensitive to “diversity” and deeply internationalist, and resistant to temptation for cheap glamor.

There is a market now for “strong” female characters who can do male jobs better, with more integrity than their male predecessors. So the fictional Madam Secretary, unlike the real Hillary, defies her male bosses, and does Benghazi/Yemen the way many liberals would have preferred, with smarts, honor and effectiveness.

madamsecretary

In researching this subject, I noticed that The Good Wife was mentioned as a precursor in several trade publications. I think this is an incorrect analogy; it is true that “Alicia Florrick” is a brilliant lawyer, but she is amoral; the fact that her firm (past and present) has represented Chicago’s leading drug dealer is just now emerging as a conflict and primary focus for season five.   Indeed, the series has emphasized Alicia’s opportunism, sexiness, stylish clothing, and quick-wittedness to the detriment of her moral purity. Perhaps the writers wanted to have it both ways: exposing the phony neutrality of lawyers, while promoting “strong women” like “Alicia” and “Diane” who face down men.

tea-leoni-madam-secretary-zeljko-ivanek-CBS

Not so with the rectified Hillary, who is almost Victorian in her perfection as the Mother Of Us All. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mother_of_Us_All.)

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March 24, 2014

“The Good Wife” and bad timing

Josh Charles/Will Gardner

Josh Charles/Will Gardner

SPOILER ALERT. I have been thinking of writing something about The Good Wife (a television series written by Robert and Michelle King) for some time, but not until I saw the widespread coverage of the “bombshell” last episode (March23 2014), did I feel that I had enough for a blog. To be brief, the lead female character’s lover is shot by his adolescent client, he dies, and users of social media went wild with grief and shock.

See for instance this comment from Denver: http://www.avclub.com/tvclub/good-wife-dramatics-your-honor-202545. What is notable is this critic’s recognition that lawyers (and the legal system) are not in search of truth, virtue, or honor, but are about “winning and losing.” I would add that the show depicts a bureaucratic system where “procedure” and thinking fast on your feet are everything. The amorality or immorality of the show are rarely noted by journalists.

As for the official publicity from CBS, the excuse for the upsetting dénouement is simple: Josh Charles (the actor who plays Will Gardner) wanted to leave the show after his contract was up, and “tragedy,” “bad timing” and “sudden death” mark all of our lives in this [vale of tears]. Blogs in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post took this public relations line and swallowed it without a murmur. Still I wonder 1. Contracts run out all the time, which gives the actor an excuse to renegotiate its terms. Did the producers balk? and 2. Near the beginning of the series Julianna Margulies was interviewed on CBS and stated that focus groups were split on whether “Alicia” should stay with her cheating husband (who would become the governor of Illinois in recent episodes), or leave him for the love of her life (Will Gardner) as her mother and brother had hoped.

Here comes the feminist part (and I don’t mean Delia Ephron’s broken-hearted lament in the New York Times). One reason I and other educated women like the show may be that it depicts able professional women whose sex drives do not quit during their middle age. And more, they must face the same moral dilemmas as men do, hence the irony and ambiguity of the title: what does it mean to be a good wife nowadays? And can anyone be “good” in corrupt Chicago, a corruption that is mostly hidden by the writers to keep the focus on sex, power, and the machinations of politicians to get elected? A bit of class warfare even creeps in, as the money-mad senior partners do not treat the exploited associates well, leading Alicia and “Cary” to leave the firm, creating ill will with their former employers. In future episodes, I predict that the bruises will heal as the main characters grieve for the departed Will, restoring broken attachments. That is how populism, the subtext of most popular culture, works. Meanwhile, we may gaze at beautiful, well-preserved actresses, dressed to the nines and wearing very high heels. So much for the feminist content.

goodwife4

As for ideology, the characters are Democrats and the drift of the show is liberal. Some episodes buttress immigration reform, others interracial dating, Alicia’s brother is gay (no big deal), Kalinda is bisexual, there are numerous black characters in the justice system, and the law firm of Lockhart Gardner has as one of its chief clients (a black man), the most important drug trafficker in Chicago (though they handle only his business enterprises). In other words, amorality and trendy issues for Chicago liberals dominate.

But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the media blitz on the last episode of The Good Wife is the viewer response. Fiction, especially great works or even better than average television series, may have replaced the lives we should be really experiencing. What happens to a polity when millions of Americans choose a show or movie to watch and identify with, as opposed to responding to the events, threats, and dilemmas in our own real lives? Or should we lean back and accept that life is necessarily tragic, this world is inevitably corrupt, and that we are all victims of “bad timing”? (For a second blog, this time on the series finale, see https://clarespark.com/2016/05/12/the-good-wife-series-finale/.)

goodwife2

April 26, 2013

The television season goes Dark

The-following-posterI understand that television is not considered to be other than escapist entertainment, and not a business with pretensions to artiness or literariness, but there are many critics who treat its more upscale offerings with the reverence once reserved to Balzac (for instance see the indefatigable Terri Gross in her new interview with Matthew Weiner, creator of MAD MEN: in the part I heard she was insisting that Don Draper has a “death wish”).

As the 2012-2013 season draws to a close, I must say that I can’t remember a time when popular entertainment was as ideological driven or death-obsessed. I admit to not understanding the adolescent craze for vampires or zombies, though I have my suspicions of deranged right-wing Romanticism and/or the adolescent desire to irritate parents. But I do get the populist flavor, laced with morbidity, of the “better” television series, especially those directed to a more upscale, presumably educated audience.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not nostalgic for the television fare of the 1950s and 1960s, with its frequently inane glorification of the ordinary folksy American family, rural or urban. The material introduced in response to 1960s and 1970s uproars was critical, and though usually anti-American and anti-establishment, was at least well-written, brilliantly acted, and interesting to decode for its (typically populist) politics. Nor do I fail to detect the ideology in the theater popular when I was growing up: at least it was well meaning, brilliantly written, conceived, and performed—and relatively anti-racist.

But what to make of such paranoia-inducing recent offerings as the romantic necrophiliac THE FOLLOWING (internet gossip reports it renewed!), or the ongoing goriness in CRIMINAL MINDS, or the hatred of hedge fund managers profiting off evil drug companies as displayed in the last episode of PERSON OF INTEREST, or amoral rich people as were evident in DECEPTION, now in SCANDAL (the last episode particularly horrifying), MAD MEN, REVENGE, and even the apparently harmless and well-written THE GOOD WIFE, a love triangle that manages to mostly evade the possibly unparalleled corruption of  Democratic Chicago, while “Alicia” wavers between family and sex? (I have been watching reruns of the Dick Wolf generated LAW AND ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT, and find the same targets, often Jews, who are either the perps, or who as doctors and lawyers are equally loathsome and corrupt. In one episode, “the Jewish mob” is identified as the most “vicious” of all: oh really?). Add to that the swipes at Mossad in the ever-popular NCIS, and you have the picture. Nouveaux riches and the government enforcers (cops, government regulators, other bureaucrats, CIA, etc.) whom the moneybags obviously control in their own depraved interest, are the chief subjects of the most watched television shows. The poster for THE FOLLOWING (illustrated) shows the dual character of those who serve “law and order.” “Order” for whom? is clearly implied as Bacon and Purefoy are halves of one whole, following Poe’s “William Wilson” in its doppelgänger conception, perhaps a major conceit in the imagination of television writers. And don’t be fooled by the poster for THE FOLLOWING. “Joe Collins” (James Purefoy) is clearly the protagonist, and he stepped out of character in the most recent episode to plug Green living. Why not Kevin Bacon, who barely appears in the series, and whose character is an alcoholic to boot?

Are there any shows with family values? So far, BLUE BLOODS takes the prize. Irreproachably Irish Catholic and upright, the patriarchal Reagan family holds together in contrast to the decadent cities it valiantly disciplines. Even THE MENTALIST is terror gothic in spirit, and clearly plays on fears of the French Revolution, while teasing its faithful viewers that “Patrick Jane” is actually serial killer Red John, rather than someone likely to be very high up in the government. It too is paranoia inducing. Shame on you Bruno Heller, who should know better.

And SMASH, the backstage story of a Broadway musical, will not likely be renewed, while its writing and music to these ears are downright embarrassing. What a hollow victory for hip movement culture, with its glorification of the ever-misunderstood and pathetic Marilyn Monroe.  On to off-Broadway, inter-racial understanding, and the offbeat rock musical and heterosexual and homosexual pairing off. On television, racism/miscegenation has disappeared if you sing and dance well enough. Perhaps the same thing can be said for new Broadway shows, either PC or living off the bones of its ancestors.

Meanwhile, few in show business pay attention to education reform, the illicit power of the teachers unions, and their relentless, media-supported attempts to undermine the educations of real black and brown children in urban ghettoes and elsewhere. Try to find a decent public school in NYC or Los Angeles, homes of those who write and produce the mindless (though technically advanced) shows I have listed above.

Now tell me the condition of our urban schools is not racist in the extreme. The better historians lament the world wide indifference as the Holocaust and other horrors proceeded in the 1930s and 1940s, while today the hippest among us wallow in gonzo ressentiment, apocalypse, the undead, blood and gore. Who is indifferent now? Should we blame the audience, who allegedly want this polluted fare?

Is the great American experiment going down? If popular culture is any indication, the answer is “you betcha.” Who needs a Fifth Column or other demonic forces when you have the entertainment industry?

[I have blogged about most of the tv shows mentioned here and others: see https://clarespark.com/2012/03/16/index-to-blogs-on-popular-tv-shows/.]

good wife cast pic chris noth 2 season 2

March 11, 2013

Do House hard-liners want a theocracy?

CabaretAre the culture wars heating up?

Some right-wing websites are calling for a re-energized cultural offensive, one that would dislodge the monopoly that “the Left” has attained in education, particularly in public schools, in the elite universities, and in popular culture. For these warriors (including “moderate” Bill O’Reilly), social democrats (once known as liberal anticommunists) and various Leninists are all under the same statist umbrella, and they must be stopped cold.

The rightist culture warriors will be blocked and court discouragement, for they face opposition from “RINO’s” (a.k.a. the big businessmen who joined the progressive Keynesians in 1942), as well as from the new “Jacobins” out to get them in the Democratic Party. In short, movement conservatives partake of a discourse of degeneration, and I understand their panic, for small businessmen and many medical professionals will take the brunt of Democratic initiatives such as Obama-care.

Underneath the angst is a now explicit belief that Hollywood Jews have created the hyper-sexualized culture, money-worshipping mass culture that flouts religious warnings about the dire effects of pornography, adolescent sexuality, gay marriage, and abortion on demand. Thus conservative novelist Andrew Klavan defended Seth MacFarlane’s performance at the Oscars 2013, for moral laxity should be boldly and freshly confronted. (See https://clarespark.com/2013/03/04/romney-v-the-cultural-politics-of-mean/, and https://clarespark.com/2013/02/25/potus-michelle-and-the-end-of-the-democratic-republic.)

Many of my readers are aware that a prime ingredient in contemporary antisemitism is the association of Jewry with a money-mad, materialist culture. But fewer perhaps know about the Nazi trope (shared by both Julius Streicher and Hitler) that Jews were intent on corrupting the pure flesh of Christian women, indeed were the chief white slavers/whoremasters. How should a moral Christian respond to this apparently unstoppable “Jewish” offensive that is engendering hyper-sexualization, single-mother families, illegitimacy, and devil worship? Have we not seen very effective plays, movies, and television series transmitting the notion that “decadence” (i.e. degeneration) is inimical to the (unitary) values of the Christian West? I am thinking of productions such as CABARET, CHICAGO, and perhaps THE GOOD WIFE (also set in Chicago, and suggesting that the legal profession is similarly intent on materialism and sex, in or out of marriage).

goodwife

What the rightist culture warriors neglect is the plain fact that modern medicine and public health measures have drastically lengthened life expectancy, postponing marriage more than a decade after the onset of puberty. In this technologically advanced world, the old rules are outmoded. Who exactly is resisting sex education in middle school and high school? Laura Ingraham, sitting in for Bill O’Reilly last Friday, was visibly discomfited when one of her guests suggested that sex education was necessary to teach nubile young girls the difference between sex and a relationship.

The social conservatives seem so intent on taking over the Republican Party, dislodging what they view as an “establishment”, that they may be consigning themselves to permanent irrelevance. Cultural pluralism and the secular state are broadly institutionalized.  Pace Klavan et al, the culture warriors may be too internally uptight to make popular culture artifacts that reach out to a broad public.Chicagoposter

The advice from this scholar and political independent is to focus on fiscal conservatism, to divest oneself and one’s party of embedded and explicit antisemitism, and to cherish the pluralistic society that welcomes all belief systems and all social criticism, under the rule of law. Now remind me who censored the movie version of Streetcar Named Desire and Suddenly Last Summer? (See https://clarespark.com/2009/10/02/roman-polanski-and-his-critics/, and https://clarespark.com/2010/09/27/cannibals-negro-jazz-and-servile-revolt/.)

March 4, 2013

Romney v. the cultural politics of “Mean”

WSJ cover art March 2-3

WSJ cover art March 2-3

Fox News Sunday, March 3, 2013, ran a long interview with Mitt Romney and Ann Romney. I was struck once again by how nice the Romneys were, and how “gentlemanly” were Mitt’s opinions and demeanor.

Everyone has an opinion on why Obama defeated Romney, but no one has commented, to my knowledge, on the cultural politics of “Mean.” For instance, Seth MacFarlane was ostentatiously mean during his Oscars hosting, yet he is being defended by feminists and conservatives for nailing Hollywood actresses for adding to the dread “hyper-sexualization” that those strange bedfellows (feminists and cultural warriors of the Right) laud in the song “Boobs” that outed all those actresses who had bared their breasts for the [white slavers of Jew-controlled Hollywood]. (See Andrew Klavan’s new piece http://pjmedia.com/andrewklavan/2013/03/03/conservatives-are-boobs-when-it-comes-to-pop-culture/. Then compare Klavan’s defense of MacFarlane with my own analysis: https://clarespark.com/2013/02/25/potus-michelle-and-the-end-of-the-democratic-republic/.)

Similarly, conservatives are on board with the obviously misogynistic insult to mothers when they call the paternalistic welfare state “the nanny state”.  Or take the impressively educated actor David Duchovny, interviewed on NPR last week, who explained why he could watch The Godfather over and over, for he was captivated by Marlon Brando’s transition from Mafia don to murderer, which is Duchovny’s idea of fatherhood, a point he made quite clearly.

Or take yet another example from the hip media: the much-admired series The Good Wife seems to celebrating opportunism over the moral quandaries it had previously explored in a successful Chicago law firm. “Alicia” (played by Julianna Margulies) has made the transition from self-torturing moralist to opportunist, and is demonstrably mean to the (exploited) associates in her new role as “equity partner.” Will the writers take her down in future episodes? I doubt it, because I suspect that “mean” is the new “cool,” and the chic Margulies, dressed to the nines with very high heels, is the role model du jour. Nice guys and gals finish last, and Alicia will go with the winner.

Freud and his ever dwindling followers warned about the brutalization of culture during and after the Great War. Even that outpost of balance and moderation the Wall Street Journal ran a story about female executives persecuting their female underlings, illustrating their piece with a gigantic spike heeled black shoe, the very symbol of sadism and masochism. See the first page of Section C, March 2-3, 2013: “The Tyranny of the Queen Bee: Women who reached positions of power were supposed to be mentors to those who followed—but something is amiss in the professional sisterhood.”

queenbee2

“Mean Streets,” the continued coolness of that train wreck Lindsay Lohan, the viewer interest in The Following, all point to a culture where cruelty is celebrated, and niceness is wimpy and old hat, something our grandparents wear, like sensible shoes. (Note that the dimunitive female mentee above is wearing flat shoes.)

Louboutin "Fetish Ballerine"

Louboutin “Fetish Ballerine”

Underneath all this sadism is the lesson the professoriate failed to spot in analyzing classic American literature. For instance, Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Man of the Crowd” gives the game away. This symbol of the urban mob is revealed as Pierrot, as the Wandering Jew, as the murderer Cain with hairy hands. As the story line of The Following plays out, expect to see the charismatic serial killer (James Purefoy) and his hunter (Kevin Bacon) meld into one fearsome intertwined specter. Both will be heartless and mean, the very embodiment of the barbarism that Freud detected in 1915, for we are not civilized yet.

The too civilized, too nice Mitt Romney, looking at his wife with adoring eyes, never had a chance.

Romneys

March 16, 2012

Index to blogs on popular tv shows

Dick Wolf and Judith Light

I haven’t commented on all the crime shows. It is enough to say that we are to believe that good cops will eventually triumph over bad cops, and that most criminals are tracked down and punished. I.e., the State is looking out for you and me, with all the tools that modern science (including profiling) can muster. Law and Order: Criminal Intent (not analyzed here) adds a flourish: the Vincent D’Onofrio character is often dissatisfied with normal procedures, co-opts Freud, and seemingly obeys a higher (more compassionate) law.

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/15/the-christianization-of-ziva-david-ncis/

https://clarespark.com/2009/10/02/roman-polanski-and-his-critics/

https://clarespark.com/2010/05/20/criminal-minds-and-the-pathology-of-rural-america/

https://clarespark.com/2010/10/24/mad-men-and-the-jewish-problem/

https://clarespark.com/2010/12/12/hbo%e2%80%99s-in-treatment-and-boardwalk-empire/

https://clarespark.com/2011/04/27/james-m-cains-gorgon-gals-2/

https://clarespark.com/2011/05/20/the-mentalist-melville-blake-and-israel/

https://clarespark.com/2011/07/07/network-and-its-offspring/

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/04/blue-bloods-freud-trauma-911/

https://clarespark.com/2012/02/09/glee-goes-la-raza/

https://clarespark.com/2012/05/18/smash-season-finales-and-the-demonic/

https://clarespark.com/2012/06/26/aaron-sorkins-scottish-blood/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/03/andy-griffiths-greatest-performance/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/09/hbo-does-gellhorn-in-red/

https://clarespark.com/2012/09/23/homeland-and-the-idea-of-the-fifth-column/

https://clarespark.com/2012/07/29/girls-or-the-new-lost-generation/

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/14/is-there-a-culture-of-violence/

https://clarespark.com/2013/01/26/decoding-call-me-ishmael-and-the-following/ (Read this first)

https://clarespark.com/2013/02/25/potus-michelle-and-the-end-of-the-democratic-republic/

https://clarespark.com/2013/04/26/the-television-season-goes-dark/

https://clarespark.com/2013/05/27/smash-the-perfect-liberal-backstage-musical/

https://clarespark.com/2013/06/20/james-gandolfini-as-tony-soprano/

https://clarespark.com/2013/09/22/the-newsroom-season-two/

https://clarespark.com/2014/03/24/the-good-wife-and-bad-timing/

https://clarespark.com/2014/06/25/penny-dreadfuls-sinister-significance/

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