Bob Schwartz

Category: Television

TV: The Americans Series Finale

For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.
Oscar Wilde

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create…
T. S. Eliot

We always deceive ourselves twice about the people we love — first to their advantage, then to their disadvantage.
Albert Camus

Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.
Albert Camus

In the end, everyone significant in the extraordinary TV series The Americans is dead or exiled, separated from those they love, from their homes and from themselves.

But that presupposes that they really do love those others, that they really do have homes and that they really do know who they are. Do they? Can they?

In the series finale, a father sends a final message to a son he will never see again: be yourself.

It was no secret from the start of The Americans that it was about big questions disguised as a compelling story. Whether it is in a novel or a movie or a TV series, those creative ambitions are often squandered by the end. Life inevitably ends in death, but the planned death of a TV series is just as tricky. Those who have stuck around for the narrative ride want something—not necessarily the cliché of closure, but something like meaning.

The Americans, like other superior contemporary TV drama series, is built to persist in the consciousness of its viewers the way a great novel might. We are not Soviet spies pretending to be a suburban family in Reagan-era America. We are not FBI counterintelligence agents. But nothing—no extraordinary circumstances—insulates them or us from the shared human uncertainties that drive the choices we make and the consequences of those choices. Choices that can leave us, despite our best intentions and best interests, in exile. Which is why Oscar Wilde, T. S. Eliot and Albert Camus are able to serve so well as reviewers of The Americans.

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Trump Effect: Ids Gone Wild

 

Let’s let Freud describe the id, one of the three elements of his structural model of the psyche:

It is the dark, inaccessible part of our personality, what little we know of it we have learned from our study of the dreamwork and of course the construction of neurotic symptoms, and most of that is of a negative character and can be described only as a contrast to the ego. We approach the id with analogies: we call it a chaos, a cauldron full of seething excitations. …It is filled with energy reaching it from the instincts, but it has no organization, produces no collective will, but only a striving to bring about the satisfaction of the instinctual needs subject to the observance of the pleasure principle.
Sigmund Freud, New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis

Along with the id, this “cauldron full of seething excitations”, the super-ego criticizes and moralizes, and the ego organizes these two into a healthy functioning identity. We are born, according to this model, all id.

We don’t say everything we think, we don’t do everything we think of doing. At least relatively  healthy, balanced people don’t, if they wish to occasionally get along with other people they might care about, or if they want to occasionally contribute to a working society.

Some people don’t seem to follow this. Children, especially young children, seem to require at least a little bit of outside guidance to help them get this. Some adults seem also to be frequently or solely driven by their gut, their instincts, their “seething excitations”.

That would describe our current president. And all those others who have been barely holding their own demons inside who now have high-level permission to let it all out. All of it.

Note: The latest racist and anti-Semitic tweet from Roseanne Barr, which just resulted in the cancellation of her hit TV show, was the impetus for this post. It was only the latest in a long series of outrageous tweets from Barr, a big fan of Trump. And only one of many expressions of uncontrolled indecency we are daily experiencing, but should never get used to.

Crazy Like a Fox and Friends: After the Laughter It Is Not At All Funny

Discomfort and despair has led to dark laughter as we listen to Trump’s half-hour unraveling/meltdown in his call-in monologue on Fox and Friends yesterday. Of course it is not actually funny.

Except for willfully oblivious Republicans, Trump’s instability is obvious to everyone. There is wide agreement not only that the thirty minutes of nearly uninterrupted chatter was often nonsensical and non-sequitur, but that if the Fox and Friends hosts—who were clearly aghast—had not intervened (“you have a million things to do, Mr. President”), Trump might have gone on blathering for hours.

Why Republicans ignore, excuse and put up with just about anything Trump dishes out, including rants that beg for a psychological evaluation, is best told by an old and wise joke:

Guy walks into a psychiatrist’s office. “Doc,” he says, “my brother thinks he’s a chicken.” Doctor says, “Bring him in and I’m sure I can help him.” Guy says, “I would Doc, but we need the eggs.”

Fake News and Enlightenment

An apple is also a banana.

Maybe all things Trump are good for us.

As with all indignities and suffering, we may want our difficulties to have meaning, meaning that is constructive and helpful. That can be hard and even impossible. Considering some current events as a blessing smacks of shaky rationalization.

In the Trump context, we know what fake news means. It means that reports from reliable sources are not to be believed, no matter how well investigated and substantiated. This can be maddening to intelligent and discerning people. It led to the current CNN campaign, showing that you can call an apple anything you want, including a banana, but it is still an apple. The apple is not fake news.

The Buddhist tradition doesn’t say it is not an apple. Of course it is. But beyond that, what we know is the thought of an apple, as is anything and everything the thought of anything and everything.

To put it another way, the apple is real news. And fake news. A conversation about how the apple is a banana sounds like a conversation you might find in a collection of Zen koans.

All is real news and fake news. Having the concept of fake news in our face can be a reminder of that. Even Trump is real news and fake news. Of course he is president and all that comes with it, some of it actually or potentially dire. But he and all that comes with it, including the dire, are thoughts. That doesn’t make the situation less real, but it may help moves us towards an enlightened perspective on things. Including all things Trump.

The Buddha on 66

The Buddha on 66

The Buddha said to Todd and Buzz
The route is wide and useful
Now a bit neglected
All things die
Even highways
Lend me your Vette
Then walk down the road
To the Blue Swallow Motel
Sleep if you must
But be sure
To wake up

Note: The route is Route 66 in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Once the great American highway, it has been somewhat passed over by the Interstate, but not surpassed. Some motels and other businesses catering to travelers are gone. The Blue Swallow Motel remains, and is not mere nostalgia. It is a place that allows the past to be present, not because the past is better but because it is different. Todd and Buzz are also past, heroes of a 1960s TV show Route 66, in which they drove around the country in their Corvette, having dramatic adventures. The Buddha is the Buddha, never in Tucumcari, never drove a Corvette, though the route is the way.

Twilight Zone America: Characters in Search of an Exit

The strange and uninformed version of history that Sean Spicer recounted today is just one more episode in what increasingly seems like Twilight Zone America. The Washington Post:

Spicer brought up Hitler unprompted during Tuesday’s White House briefing while emphasizing how seriously the United States takes Assad’s use of chemical weapons.

“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a, you know, someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer said. “So you have to if you’re Russia, ask yourself: Is this a country that you, and a regime, that you want to align yourself with? You have previously signed onto international agreements, rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country.”

Later in the briefing, a reporter read Spicer’s comments back to him and gave him the opportunity to clarify. Spicer’s answer only added more confusion.

“I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said, mispronouncing Assad’s name. “I mean, there was clearly, I understand your point, thank you. Thank you, I appreciate that. There was not in the, he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that. What I am saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent, into the middle of towns, it was brought — so the use of it. And I appreciate the clarification there. That was not the intent.”

Twilight Zone America. Consider the episode Five Characters in Search of an Exit (see image above), in which an Army major finds himself in a room with an odd assortment of four other people. Rod Serling explains at the opening:

“Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, and an Army Major—a collection of question marks. Five improbable entities stuck together into a pit of darkness. No logic, no reason, no explanation; just a prolonged nightmare in which fear, loneliness, and the unexplainable walk hand in hand through the shadows. In a moment, we’ll start collecting clues as to the whys, the whats, and the wheres. We will not end the nightmare, we’ll only explain it—because this is the Twilight Zone.”

And closes with this:

“Just a barrel, a dark depository where are kept the counterfeit, make-believe pieces of plaster and cloth, wrought in a distorted image of human life. But this added, hopeful note: perhaps they are unloved only for the moment. In the arms of children, there can be nothing but love. A clown, a tramp, a bagpipe player, a ballet dancer, and a Major. Tonight’s cast of players on the odd stage—known as—the Twilight Zone.”

Clown, hobo, ballet dancer, bagpiper, Army major. And Sean Spicer. Yep, that’s Twilight Zone America.

I x P = D! The Will Robinson Governmental Danger Formula

danger-will-robinson

Danger, Will Robinson!
Robot B9, Lost in Space

Here is a simple formula to determine the level of danger posed by the actions of a government leader.

The theory is that the danger (D) posed is directly proportional to the idiocy of the leader (I) and the power of the leader (P):

I x P = D!

Thus, as the idiocy or the power increases, so does the danger.

You may find this formula handy.

Note: The exclamation point (!) does not denote an element of the formula. Rather, it indicates that the mere word “danger” does not convey how intensely dangerous the state of affairs might get, under the least optimal circumstances.

 

The Beverly Hillbillies Go To Washington

clampetts-in-washington

I was thinking about a very rich family with more money than sense, and about their beautiful daughter and a son who thinks he is a lot smarter than he is. They eventually go to Washington.

The Clampetts of The Beverly Hillbillies.

In 1970, for the first three episodes of the hit show’s ninth and last season, the Clampetts (Jed, Granny, Elly May, Jethro) go to Washington, initially to solve the pollution problem.

It is a very long, complicated, politically incorrect and stupid story. At one point, Jed buys the White House from a fake Native American so that the Clampetts can move in. He later buys the Capitol. And that’s not even the stupidest part (taken to the Psych ward, Jethro tries to figure out where the countries of Paranoia and Schizophrenia are).

Following are descriptions of the episodes (from TV.com) and links to the videos. The descriptions are fun. As for watching the videos, you will not laugh once, you will occasionally cringe, but you may come away thinking that the Clampetts buying and moving into the White House is not the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard.

The Pollution Solution (9/15/70)

Drysdale is trying to get his money back, while Jed is trying to prevent him from doing so. And Jethro is trying to come up with a way to beat the smog problem. Drysdale sends Jane over to get the money, posing as a guard. When Jed doesn’t give it to him, Drysdale tells him what he’s got is a drop in the bucket, and only the President could really do anything. Jed returns the money and says he plans to give all his money to the President. To help out, Jethro comes up with the electric car, after inventing the smog-causing steam car, and says he can drive them to D.C. in it. Drysdale arranges a comic to pose as the President over the phone to keep them from giving their money away, telling him Jed thinks he is worth 95 million. Rich Little, posing as Nixon, tells them to do what the man in the white coat says. When a milkman at the mansion reads a note Granny left and tells Jethro the message says they’re going to Washington, the Clampetts get on a plane, and Drysdale is too late to stop them. They tell the stewardess about their plans when they meet Mr. President, which sound outrageous, and when Jed asks her how high they are flying, she tells them a lot higher than the plane.

The Clampetts in Washington (9/22/70)

The Clampetts head to Washington D.C. to give their money to the President, and Honest John and Flo follow. Honest John convinces the Clampetts that he knows the President and that they can give him money, which he will in return give to the President. Flo poses as Sitting Hawk, the last of the District Of Colombia Native Americans. She sells Jed the White House for one million. After that, the Clampetts go to the White House to move in, but are stopped by the guard. They use some of their new District Of Colombia words to the guard. He sends for a car to take the Clampetts away. They get in the car, expecting to go visit the President, when in reality they were taken away in a police car.

Jed Buys the Capitol (9/29/70)

The Clampetts are confused after being taken to a place called a Psych ward and being called “Paranoiacs and Schizophrenics.” They ask Honest John what it is about. He tells them it is a mistake and promises they can see the President, just as soon as some trouble is settled. He returns to Flo and tells her he is going to take the Clampetts for another two million. She wants to go to Guatemala, but he gets her to pose. They sell Jed the Capitol, and much more of the property. Meanwhile, Jethro is trying to figure out where the countries of Paranoia or Schizophrenia are. Jed and Granny return to say they’ve bought more land. Honest John sells them more and more property, and at the end, he has ten million in property sold. But Elly is looking for a kitten and walks in on Honest John and Flo. The Clampetts all see this and think he is still the salt of the earth for taking in a 150 year old Native American woman. He admits she is his wife, and they are crooks. They misunderstand and still praise him, and he tears up the checks worth ten million. The Clampetts think they have over-praised him yet again.

Obama: The Superstar of the Troubled Democratic Show Is Leaving

obama-slow-jam-the-news

Did you ever watch a TV show that was only just okay, but you kept watching week after week because you really liked the star—someone so special that he made even the worst episodes watchable and enjoyable?

Then that superstar left the show. Contract differences. Elections. Whatever. And then the show was over. Canceled.

Barack Obama has left the Democratic show. In the month since the election, we have gotten a preview of what it will be like without him. The Democrats thought, as producers do, that they were really the show, and not some guy that they had helped turn into the superstar he became.

Producers quickly learn that you can’t force people to watch your show. You can’t expect people to watch your show just because you tell them how great and important it is, and how terrible the other networks and shows are. While it’s an advantage to have a superstar, it’s better still to write good scripts, employ creative directors, and cast good people in interesting roles. Better to give people what they want and what they need. As viewers or as citizens and voters.

Star Trek Koan

kirk-mccoy-scott

Captain Kirk faced a crisis on the Enterprise. He summoned his ship’s doctor and his ship’s engineer. Bones says, “Damn it Jim, I’m a doctor, not an engineer.” Scotty says, “I’m an engineer, Captain, not a doctor.” Who is right?