Saturday, August 20, 2016


Early Lewis and Morse

Recently I confessed that I watch cop shows, but am not fond of “Blue Bloods” which is mostly an excuse to see Tom Selleck wearing Ralph Lauren — curiously, not Tom Ford.  Most of my favs are BBC Oxford-located series (Morse, Lewis, et al — not so much the BBC Manchester shows), which I love for the scenery and the pretence of being intellectual.  I’ve also have watched all the CSI programs I can access, which is why I can understand articles about the genome.  

There’s enough cross-over among actors and shared context in the West to make “Longmire” and “Saving Grace” sort of like loose repertory, which is something I really appreciate, esp since it delivers us from the Manhattan and Hollywood hegemonies.  In my undergrad years at NU, repertory was as much an ideal and goal as Method acting.  In fact, much of the pleasure of cop shows is watching the careers of actors who recur again and again, not just in the good guys who manage to stay alive, but also the bad guys who only get a few episodes before they are either shot dead or put away for good.  I love all the incidental scrawny old women and aproned shop-keepers.  Each of these shows develops a kind of philosophy and special knowledge.  “Longmire” directly deals with rez issues and “Saving Grace” picks up bits around the edges of rural life.


By now I’ve become aware that the writers for TV series are serving the ends that once used to be the work of churches.  The stories are like sermons that explore moral consequences and suggest theories for reform.  It’s not just the cop shows — though they’re more likely to look at serious life-and-death issues.  Doc shows can do the same.  But there are differences between what is produced by one pulpit occupier with a particular denominational education, and the conclusions reached by a set of worldly people arguing out plot points around a table.  The latter are far more likely to have lived through some knotty situations and to have spent time speculating on what they meant.

Script writers, esp. for television and cable shows, do address that limiting Dunning-Kruger effect, the one about not only having a limited knowledge and understanding of the world, but also not knowing that their world is so limited, so circumscribed, so blinded by lack of experience.  Really not KNOWING.  It’s a major problem with techies who are constantly designing platforms for writers who deliberately challenge the limits of public experience.  The techies invent labels (boxes) and tags and impose them to function automatically but could NEVER think of the real and multiple categories that writers use.  

Luckily, they understand enough to leave some free space — partly because of indignation on the part of writers— but those tags added-by-author tags are category-busters.  Techies like categories.  Or the writers want to add fifty possible tags for Google.  But techies need limits.  They deal in IO.  In or Out.  They love questionnaires with four questions, a range of answers with five possibilities.  They put in a space for comments, but I’m betting they don’t read them because they don’t make sense to them.

I’m finding that it’s very hard to describe Dunning-Kruger to people with a limited experience of the world — it’s like trying to write an essay on the keyboard of an ATM.  AND, as the researchers said plainly, the people who believe in the Dunning-Kruger effect and know far more about the world than the people around them, will label the limited people IGNORANT, in other words punish them for not knowing that they don’t know.  

Around here, ignorance is considered willful.  It’s like refusing to accept knowledge and is related to the missionary’s conviction that THEY know what is to be known, without any interest in what their potential converts already know and which may be the reason they resist proselytizing.  People say to me, "Don't tell me stuff.  I worry enough already."

“Showrunners” introduced a new job concept that is particularly relevant in election season.  These are the people who make the product work.  We suspect Hilary is using high-powered (possibly covert) show runners and we don’t like her for it — but Trump’s showrunners can’t get a grip on him and we love the spectacle of it.  Television news is now going in and out of reality.  Elections are the long-running cliff-hangers.

The cop shows pick up on it.  “Awake” has a split but interacting story that even has double shrinks, one for each of two realities.  One is practical and one is sympathetic, but the protagonist won’t accept either one of them.  His own experience is double; he has a Mini-Me.  

“The Tunnel”  (BBC bicoastal) begins with a double corpse: top half of one victim and bottom of another — half on the English “side” and half on the French side, even though the space itself is in the English Channel under water, not land — and two teams of detectives, one Brit and one French, a pair who are the usual blundering but intuitive male with an unusually strict and nonglamorous woman.  They break stereotypes and introduce us to new concepts, for more existentialist than we are used to.  Still, neither has achieved the strangeness of politics, which are just as baffling on the Euro-side. 
The Wire

So far, few have reached the educational and moral significance of “The Wire” or “Oz.”  Those were worlds we didn’t know, but should have.  What others are out there?  We’ll probably never know.  The tangle of funding, recognizing quality, popular taste that is puerile and vulgar, critical feedback that is either wrong or missing, and constantly shifting means of access from huge flat-screens to pocket handhelds, make everything a game of hide-and-seek.  It’s possible to mount a production with almost no money but how do you distribute it without money?  It’s possible to marathon-watch a series all day long, for as many hours as you have the tush for, but then what do you do with that experience?

How do you keep the shaped and edited experience of second hand lives separated from what really happens to you, esp. if your job is repetitious, your home is okay but not special, your friends are boring?  Your family is — well, probably strewn across the continent.  My brain-damaged brother’s reality was "Seinfeld."  My aging mother’s was her memory.  Mine?  I don’t know until I’ve had my first morning coffee.  Until then, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.  But there are landscapes, indigenous people and sometimes lovers.  I don’t mean sex.  There is a lot beyond that.

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