Dialogue #5/ with Molly Klein: Weeds, or Who Gets to Fuck Nancy

Who Gets to Fuck Nancy?

I think this scene captures the appeal of Weeds and its place nestled in a little cluster of genres. We have a joyous vision of the California utopia with no excessive aspirations – just a day at the shopping centre with everyone happy and prosperous and friendly. Then a reminder of the dangers and costs; Mexico/Crime appears – out of another genre, a broader comedy. That killer will have charming but cliché lines rehashing the popular “Sopranos” effect – the thug voicing the ordinary sitcom and talkshow family discourse. His wife will call his mobile and say hurry up and kill Nancy because she has made a dinner that will spoil. He will divulge the secret of his happy marriage in chatter in an elevatyor: the key is he “never brings his work home.”

The show’s generic flexibility, though limited – it gestures toward and taps the resources of less realistic genres though it always retreats to romcom level diegesis – facilitates the delivery of this impeccably liberal normalization of the end of liberal democracy and this impeccably “progressive” articulation of white supremacy.

And through this show we can see how progressive liberalism adjusts itself very smoothly into Nietzschean imperialism. The transvaluation of values is superficial and leaves us with the supreme values of whiteness, beauty, success, will to power – these are the ruling virtues. But the obsolete slave morality hangs on and is evoked for sentimental reassurance.

I think there are three angles from which to approach this programs liberal “surrender on terms.” There is the programme’s relation to Feminism, there is it’s relation to Race, and there is it’s relation to Capital and the State. Of course these all meet.

I’ll start with Feminism.

In Weeds, as in the Terminator films, this adaptation of liberalism to Nietzschean libertarianism, with loving ethno-racial variety rather than bitter racial animosity, proceeds through “gynesis”, the disruption of various masculist patriarchal conventions that have been for a long time obsolete and yet linger somehow as productive foils. The disturbance is staged as a challenge to an order that will emerge strengthened by its defeat of the challenge and absorption of its critique. But in the case of Weeds this gynesis is achieved through the journeyman reworking of women’s fiction, chick lit, and women’s genres…romance, and the romcom grounded in it. It’s mere importation, low key; unambitious genre grafting. Weeds takes its premise from a classic romcom elevation of romance, Saving Grace.

In that film, the adoreable Brenda Blethyn plays a widow who finding herself destitute turns to growing ganja. In the case of Saving Grace she is middle aged, provincial, English, with that stereotyped love of gardening, and a sweet consoling reconciliation of the lost world with the age of insecurity is siphoned from that incongruity.

Weeds transforms this premise for cable tv, which demands all genres be offered in mildly racy sex romp versions. But that’s not the most significant shift.

The original title sequence of Weeds featuring the theme song “Little Boxes” and an Irvine-like suburbscape – that powdered town just add water look, with healthy white people doing healthy shopping and fitness activities – suggested the rip-off would retain the original’s commitment to this productive “incongruity” arising from the provincial housewife with a green thumb going into the naughty urban global narcotics trade. (A version/inversion of the ItaloAmerican Noo Joizy gangster in psychotherapy). But the titles were all that was left of this approach after a few episodes, and eventually they were changed.

The near Weill-Brechtian promo for one of the later seasons confirmed how much the premise had been transformed from this reconciliation of the passing liberal world of law and social democracy and the entrepreneurial exigencies of the 21st century that it initially takes from Saving Grace.

(Moll Flanders. MacHeath. Brer Rabbit. Holly Golightly. Becky Sharpe.)

So the programme: Nancy Botwin is a sexy, open-minded California housewife and mother of two beautiful but ordinary sons, a teenager and a pre-teen. Her upper middle class entrepreneur husband drops dead of a heart attack at 40-something, and she finds herself with few options for maintaining their lifestyle. She becomes a marijuana dealer, is drawn in deeper and deeper into narcotraffic…

I will admit my pleasure in this show was owing a lot to its easy interpretability – its provisions for a viewer who wants to discuss the programme. I think I even especially enjoyed the fact that it produces an odious self-congratulatory liberalism and white supremacy in this blatant way, inextricable from the wealth of “progressive” gestures and its massaging of the same audience longings that were used to seduce masses of Americans to the Obama campaign. It seems truthful on different planes: deliberately, in the ever so gently satirico-comic characterisations and portrait of a California milieu, which often strike as keenly observed, and inadvertently, in the show’s rhetoric and tactics which reveal even more about that milieu’s upper class culture-industry concerns and visions. The program is aware of a viewer who expects television to be conscious of its political and social power and above all its capacity to include or exclude, to normalize and to other. Weeds puts on display its awareness of an audience who wants the programme to act in reasonable, liberal good faith: to entertain with violence without demonizing some perpetrator community, to thrill with rough sex and beauty in jeopardy without excessively debasing women, to console and reassure without denial of real hardships and injustices, to titillate without torment and twisting. The show knows these objectives are ideals, but it ostentatiously displays its efforts toward the impossible goal of exploiting television’s reliable eyeball attracting content without reproducing the obnoxious ideology.

At the centre is a female character who is 100% male fantasy and yet tweeked and deployed in such a way that she is not intolerably offensive to women. There is an expert rhetorical cunning in the way Weeds guarantees a female audience’s allegiance to Nancy and acceptance of her backlash-fantasy aspects by supplying within the programme a nemesis who hates her with a very broadly presented, stereotypical female competitiveness. This repulsive stereotypical grasping social climbing housewife’s hatred is directed at Nancy precisely for all those male-pleasing, male-fantasy qualities that grant her privilege in the world, and this hatred, embodied in this frightful figure of the misogynist imagination, a truly abominable abusive mother, triggers female audience protectiveness of Nancy against that assault and wariness of taking up anything like a posture that could be caricatured as that envious, unsexy, ridiculous, uncool (and eventually raped and tortured) foil.

Men will probably not realize how much Nancy Botwin owes to romance novel heroines in her resourcefulness, vitality, moral flexibility, gleefully whorish heart, and the chemistry between her “lioness” and the Alpha Male. But she also repeats the pulp romance in the way she is embedded in a universe of female foils (with one notable exception, Andy’s Doctor lover) who guarantee that any resentful rivalry the female audience feels toward her is diffused and fantasy identification secured not just by the desire to take up the fantasy place of the winner who is also the object of male desire, but by the even more desperate need to put distance between one’s femininity and the hideous or abject alternative visions of it with which the audience is constantly menaced.

On this question of Weeds’ relation to feminism – and it is in many ways a monument to the achievements of the women’s movement in the US even as it reveals the upper class discomfort with what the feminist perspective reveals about our social order– what strikes is the apparent necessity the creatives felt to escalate almost beyond the boundary of the show’s verisimilitude the degradation and repudiation of the chief female foil (Elizabeth Perkins’ character Celia), making very explicit the demand the audience see Nancy in comparison, as the character Nancy’s (more naturalistically handled) entanglement in iconic feminist dilemmas increased, as did her distance from female fantasy in them (using her pregnancy to manipulate a patriarchal man who spanks her, marrying him, smothering her husband’s grandmother, etc.).

There are a number of things to say about Weeds, firstly, in the context of network and cable franchises. Its always fascinating to look back at a show and see how the first half (usually) of the initial season adjusts to what is figured out about the show by its creators. Some of this comes from the network and from the advertisors, etc. Weeds title sequence was very specific about letting the audience know its intentions. The message was mildly subversive on the surface; a protagonist who was in theory a sort of anti-hero — and this is worth a deeper examination., and that it was going to be ironic and a kind of humorous social commentary. Nancy Botwin was and is a projection of an acceptable counter cultural figure, non-conformist (in opposition to those who dwelled in the ‘little houses’), and ‘feminist’ — at least to an acceptable degree. In fact some of the adjustments of this season were fine tuning just how non-conformist Nancy was going to be.
Here its worth noting that Mary Louise Parker is an exceptionally appealing actress, and that role in other hands would have forced the creators, probably, to make much larger adjustments. I loved the show, let me say, on some primary level, and I confess it was addictive viewing. Now this also had something to do with the half hour format, which echoed the sit com/rom com formula it was going to play against throughout by introducing character developments that screamed ONE HOUR DRAMA, PRIMETIME.. The audience was given cues to accept a condenced half hour narrative (the show exists of course as on-going, an expanded narrative, about which I will say more later) but the condenced narrative was used in a highly effective manner — playing off more complex characters in a truncated sit come thirty minute form.
Jenji Kohan, the creator, head writer, and show runner, is a graduate of Beverly Hills High School whose writing credits include Sex and The City, Will and Grace, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. This was a show made on certain assumptions of white privilege and that privilege was always going to be the backdrop. And so it has been. The intelligence of the writing, the freshness of the dialogue, was clear….from the start….but the underlying issues took a bit of time to surface more clearly. I suppose its a credit to the show that while always there, the obscuring of these themes and the consistent pov of white affluent society, were less intrusive than a show like West Wing, for example. There is a degree of titillation at work in Weeds, that plays on the exoctic other. What one notices early on is where the sexual charge comes from — who has the potency. I will say, again, the show manages to at least, often, interrogate itself about just these issues. In fact that on-going self analysis is a bedrock aspect of the show. It is in a sense a version of White America in analysis. The audience plays the silent role of analyst to Nancy’s adventures in the ‘other America’. This is the basic dynamic of the narrative. Nancy is self aware, to a degree anyway, and is forced to address her own hypocricy from time to time, as a struggling single mother suddenly adrift in 21st century America without the safety-net of her successful husband.. The degree of sex-positive story lines is, I suppose, to be commended. Non judgemental, and unbigoted. And this is where the Elizabeth Perkins character enters the discussion. Perkins’ character is the fall back foil for sterotypical sexual and social dynamics in *Agrestic* California. Irivine or Rancho Cucamonga, wherever Agrestic is meant to be, the deeper horror of white suburbia, the lack of community and the cultural wasteland that such places actually are, is treated as material for ironic superiority (the pov of Beverly Hills High School…and much of liberal Hollywood). On the one hand, the writing reflected an awareness of the liberal cliches at work in Aaron Sorkin or the Herskowitz and Zwich franchises, while at the other time indulging in exactly the same thing.
The absence, however, of the cloying sentimentality of those other shows was what made Weeds so immensly enjoyable. But back to Perkins. All of the surplus discomfort the white audience feels is channeled to Celia, and she becomes the brunt of all the aggression the male characters would normally have for Nancy. Nancy is also, indeed, a male fantasy — though to what degree this was conscious on Kohan’s and Parker’s part I don’t know. The bursting of hypocricies is the primary thrust of the narrative. In an early episode…maybe the first one, I forget, a closeted gay teacher and his affair with a student is uncovered by Nancy, who adroitly turns it to her business advantage. Its a telling moment. The hypocricy of the Agrestic establishment is pointed out, the hypocricy of the closeted teacher, all the while allowing Nancy to actually sort of impart motherly wisdom — in an anti-heroine sort of way.
The narrative as it advanced to San Diego County (or south Orange County) and Mexico became a lot murkier in terms of self awareness. It struck me as somewhat contradictory set of plot lines going on — the marriage and manipulation of the drug kingpin from Mexico (also a Mexican politician…for after all, south of the border remains a banana republic in TV short hand) sat uneasily with Nancy’s professed actual feelings for the Mexican politican cum drug dealer. If Celia was the foil doppleganger for feminist sadism, then Guillermo was the racial target of this surplus sadism. The patriarchal Estaban….is allowed a certain access to the central relationships (its made clear he is a graduate of Columbia University) while Guillermo is not….and Guillermo is the repository of the show’s latent racism. He is also the icon for class superiority — for educational privilege, and Guillermo isn’t going to get to fuck Nancy, he didn’t graduate Columbia…..AND he’s a spic. Other working class characters DO get to bed Nancy, so this critique doesn’t entirely hold up, but Guillermo is condescended to, and his lack of resoursefulness lands him, finally, in jail. Nancy even goes to the jail for a *conugal*. alas one never consumated.

Now, there is a point at which I find myself resisting a too exhastive analysis of this kind. And I think the reasons are twofold. One is that I just really enjoy this show, its my fan self wanting to defend the Botwin saga. The other is that I think a narrative of this sort…expanded….which is being taken in through the lens of corporate commodity post modern culture in 2012, requires a pretty nuanced reading of the codes at work in TV culture. De-coding in a sense, means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts (or hell, vice versa maybe)…or that one has to look at this artwork…(commodity) in a processural way, that the mimetic re-telling is dialectical and not simply a tallying up of isolated story points…or even of entire season’s plot lines. It is the multi tiered reading of performance, of celebrity, and of the almost post ironic code of meanings that the white hipster viewer brings, but also, increasingly, the entire culture brings. A reader/viewer audience is always processing elaborate codes which are only partly related to the concrete artwork. Thats a given. Today, the commodity form is so pervasive that its not always easy to know at what point Nancy Botwin has escaped the confines of Weeds per se and entered in popular culture mythology much as Lucy and Desi did. Parker is already playing herself playing Nancy. The mirror goes on and on and on.
Its more than that, however. Its also that the meta-narrative, as it were, is about the imparting of a sensibility. The show juggles genre –as you pointed out — and really isnt concerned with story in quite the way Tolstoy was shall we say… (or even Thackery). Its simply defining a code of hip….which as default setting, cannot escape certain reflexive positions on race and class. What consititues narrative = code of hip-….or rather code of hip is what? Its at the bottom rungs, probably mostly consumerist signifiers and as it edges into something like Weeds, it becomes a sort of interesting positing of various coded notions of cultural subversion, and social hypocricy, and even race and gender. Its also creating the opposition between public and private. The problem is that the show still originates, both literally and symbolically, from a rich white people set of assumptions (which, to the show’s credit, they examine — because they deem them worth examining, even if not in great depth).
I think we should dig into all that a bit more. But one other thought, and that has to do with the ivention of Nancy Botwin, the character. She is both a male fantasy, and I suspect a female one, too….but perhaps its more complex than that. The show is uneasy with its own subversions. Kohan is smart enough to instinctively grasp the contradictions of Capital as they manifest themselves in our consumer culture, in the corporate conformity (which is really what Kevin Neelon’s character, Doug, represents) and yet, never really follows this logic to its end. And I think the ambivilance is manifested in Nancy. The recurring “mother” scenes…..(Nancy and one of her sons, or both, and her confessing she is a bad mother, etc). Except Nancy isnt a bad mother (well, I dont think she is….but thats likely more to do with me). But I think Kohan knows Nancy isn’t a bad mother, or at least she is raising the question. I remember thinking Terminator represented more than anything else the idea that an android was a better parent than a human. The question of the maternal is a constant in Weeds. But Nancy is both Lolita AND John Wayne, and her desire reflects this ambiguity. Nancy is always taking both the masculine position and the feminine. In terms of sexual gratification, and of desire.This gets hugely complicated…and no doubt beyond the scope of this dialogue….but maybe it needs at least some elaboration. The disavowel of reality is transferred to fantasy — the Botwin story — where erotic pleasure is contained in this suspended state of waiting ( the expanded narrative, again) and delayed gratification (Nancy and Guillermo I might hypothisize)…the social positioning of masculine/feminine are subverted to a degree, and then laid off on Celia, the respository for masculine domination fantasies. Estaban is the patriarch, the phallus, and Nancy’s ambiguity about Estaban is the source of relational dynamics for almost the rest of the series.


Great you have given a perfect name to the peculiar joint by which the show’s ambivalent feminism/antifeminism and its racial and class politics intersect:

Who gets to fuck Nancy?

Despite all her complexity (and she’s also female ideal fantasy, though not without reservation), Nancy is the white goddess as conquest, as reward, as possession to signify male status, as embodiment of the social order’s morality and substance – the white woman in imperial ideology time out of mind. And another of the show’s fascinating deployments of high liberalism (third wave feminism) in the making of a Nietzschean case is here: that the show’s central problem is there’s no one man enough to subordinate Nancy. The USA and American society/culture are still the Greatest In The World, but its ruling class is no longer worthy of it. Her husband is dead, and he was revealed, after death, to have not had the insurance. This American Male, father who knows best, has not only been eliminated, he has been debunked. The worst fears – that it was only a semblance of wealth, power, and authority – are confirmed, or at least they are to get the ball rolling. We are promised, in hints, from the beginning that we will find American masculinity again. Nancy’s peregrinations will lead her to some restoration. We are allowed to see early on a defective but not negligible version of the absent masculinity in African-Americans (the first staging of the outlaw hero and a lawman hero who check each other’s ascent), and to then be advised to hope we will find the superior white masculinity again, that it will reemerge after subordinating and absorbing Nancy. And how the show does deliver this, reluctantly, with caveats, is very telling.

(The West Wing dramatises and displays the potent dominant American Male so ostentatiously one can smell the cold sweat of anxiety it is trying to cover over, which is even displayed and dismissed in the fact of his multiple sclerosis, a bit of effeminacy and feebleness conjured to be overcome. False alarm. And this drama of acknowledging and dismissing is the occasion for the celebration of his empowerment through subordination and mastery of a powerful feminist woman.)

Nancy could be a trophy wife like Stockard Channing if only there were American males like Jed Bartlett, the liberal superhero. The absence sends Nancy (the society) adrift to shift, to live by her wits, to exhibit that fitty resourcefulness of the pre-imperial Yankee in order to mature, accumulate, and reconquer a lost empire.

It’s at bottom the same worry (an incitement to a consoling narrative) as Bonfire of the Vanities – that the wealth is a shell, a house of cards, and the male a fraud – a work which the programme’s world of tribes resembles in many ways though with the opposite (liberal, loving) affects. Who gets to fuck Nancy – the question which organizes the racial and class hierarchies and pins Nancy in her place in the patriarchal order as principally object despite her charismatic protagonist activity – comes to concentrate on a rivalry between Andy and Esteban that is, beneath plenty of emotional complexity, humour and richness of portraiture, the same Rivers of Blood dilemma troubling Andras Behring Breivik:

a feminized male of Nancy’s favoured and superior culture rivalled by the virile but criminal, culturally inferior, deviant, barbaric other. (Esteban’s tony education and status underlines his figure as a usurper of rightful white American Male domination.)

And the solution Weeds finds for this crisis of American Masculinity is the violent, psychopathic son. Shane, appropriately. The Western outlaw or loner hero, who is the pendant to the lawman hero. As Robert Ray explicated in A Certain Tendency in the Hollywood Cinema, American mass culture’s mainline offers these pendant heroes (or anti-heroes, or one of each) and finds a resolution to their rivalry and conflict that spares the audience the necessity of choosing. And in this case, of Shane, the roles merge.

Shane, who can’t fuck Nancy (though does recognize her as that which is fucked and ought be fucked), is the masculine white American male figure, with a “south of the border” savage Tarzan-Mohican-Na’Vi education that counteracts the feminizing effects of California liberal civilization, who must emerge to fill the masculinity-deficit of the superior culture, which has been weakened by mingling but is also sustained by (cultural, material) plunder, in order to defend it from the inferior, barbaric but purer and more manly Others.

On the question of the self-awareness of the programme, I think this is self-congratulatory and really all about the programme forgiving itself for what it has to do to succeed, as does Nancy. The confessions are not penitent but publicist. It’s non-judgmental California liberalism is applied above all to itself, and its exhibitionist about its little sins of hedonism which trivialize its pleasurable contemptuous or othering racism and sadistic misogyny by lumping it with perfectly liberatory pro-humanity stances of enjoyment of drugs and sex and illegal immigration.
Yeah, I think Shane (and what a perfect name) is exactly that. But two things; within this structure, Esteban ends up emasculated by the Latina election planner/coordinator….who Shane of course kills. Estaban was not the real phallus. In one sense, Shane was/is.
The second, more important topic, is that as we exhaust the neo-imperialist tropes hidden in plain sight, and all the rest, what is really going on is that we are being consumed somehow by the show…..we are subjects, our language, everything, can only be expressed somehow in relation to this *commodity* — this corporate funded mass marketed product. Yes it’s (Weeds) writing of a high order of intelligence, and it is, and yes it is wildly amusing for sure. And yes, on some level the dissection of these codes and symbols are valuable….for it speaks to just how far the subversive can go in corporate media product.
Race and class and Imperialism are still being expressed vis a vis a commodity vehicle. And that culture industry posited and described almost sixty years ago, has colonized our consciousness– to a frightening degree. This is where I return to my own Notes on Theatre. I think that while I find myself, personally, often imprisoned within the confines of these narratives, which are actually, structurally, pre-fabricated (no matter how good the writing, acting, etc) I recognize the authentic, as Benjamin desired it, the unmediated engagement with art, lives on in a different manner in theatre. The very fact that theatre cannot be commodified to this degree, speaks to its inherent resistence. As one watches Nancy Botwin, or Tony Soprano, or whoever, the engagement remains filtered through a marketing lens…and micro adjustments take place every nano-second to the narrative, to the mimetic interpretive process…where we can see the confines of the experience-. which is very different from the destablizing de-unifying experience of theatre. The off stage (unconscious) does not exist, ever, in TV or film. Hence the *space* of theatre is allegorical and Dionysian and where *character* is NOT general –not a self referential cul de sac of earlier versions of the same. The specificity of theatre, or a good deal of painting and literature, exists in a dialectic with the real — this is the Oedipul drama we glimpse (if we’re Lacanian or Freudian) — all of which is a seperate discussion. But here we have television product substituting for that specificity with a sophisticated commodity seduction — even as the commodity form is being ridiculed (knowing hipsters) and while I think the Nancy narrative does possess compelling material — and where its certainly useful to examine race and class as its expressed or obscured in this show…(and partly its importance lies in the fact that black and poor and latino people CONSUME this show, too). However, the content of Weeds also does the same psychic work that Friends does, or CSI Omaha or whatever. We all feel the interchangable aspect. Its filtered out, automatically, for most of us, but its there.
Now, the surplus *meaning*…..we can use West Wing, the surplus meaning in that show, spilling over out of the unconscious, is clearly more puerile and fatuous and self aggrandizing for the class it targets. Id have been shocked if Sorkin HADNT won a jillions awards, for after all he is court hagiographer. The self love that you describe so perfectly covering the scent of masculine panic, is akin to eating two dozen Crispy Creme donuts and suffering pancreatic shut down/insulin shock, as the super ego’s desperate search for order and predictability gets more frantic— tricked out in nostalgic notions of nobility and the aged well thumbed verities of WHITE MALE EUROPEAN values. They are the mythic virtues of a fantasy Dickens or Samuel Butler even, as well as the nudge nudge wink wink acceptance that Lord Kitchner was actually, dont you agree, a pretty rum fellow.
I mean Weeds is a good deal more accurate barometer of white privilege, simply because it actually does question these same Dickensian bromides. Sorkin and his fucking Latin phrases (caveat canen motherfucker) and his noodely sentimentalizing of warfare, militarism, and phallic infatuation — (my favorite scene was John Spencer asking the Marine guard to come into his office and twirl the rifle in silent drill, while watching in adoration and admiration) are all so much treacle passing itself off as *serious*. It is the point exactly where the ruling class reactionary and ruling class liberal meet. In masculine privileging, the upper class phallic salute to middle brow taste (but believed in as ‘high art’ taste…’serious treacle’). I am reminded of Safron Foer, Franzen, and the rest of the middle mind personalities of the NYTimes book section or the NYRBs or even McSweeny’s. For this is at bottom the white frat boy grown paunchy, ever more anxious those spics and black dudes are stealing their chicks.
Sorkin never misses an opportunity for paternal condescension.
A final thought on American mythology — the gunfighter nation scenario, of Manifest Destiny — has found the revisionist critiques of McCarthy, and Ondattje, and the pale posturing of Rick Moody — the obsessions though remain, and so of course young Shane contains them in a rivalry that found its most perfect expression in the son of Nancy’s former boytoy, the FBI agent, who is in fact murdered. That particular plot point contained its own set of contradictions, but again, with immigrant potency the real driving force. The FBI guy is snatched away by the swarthiest of the swarthiest.

Okay so…we have a programme that puts on display for us legibly the liberal imperial white supremacy that characterises “Hollywood” and its anxieties and limited remorse. The matriarchal (third wave feminist) white family at the centre is composed of the self-fashioning American exceptional individuals on the go and the make in a multicultural world of determined tribes. The relations between the white family and the discreet tribal cliques – African Americans in south central, Mexicans and Chicanos in LA, San Diego, and Mexico, Arab Americans in Michigan – exhibit the superiority of the white family without releasing anger or animosity – indeed their openness to these raced others is among the traits that make them so superior. (The superiority isn’t moral in the traditional sense, but a gauge of their liberty, self-determination and free will.) The narrative mode of production sees the white family accumulating its individuality and richness through its exploitation of the “culture” of the tribal others whom they encounter. Every step of the way the white privilege and opportunism is confessed and then forgiven. But the portrait of the relations of the white family to the others also delineates an imperial apology in the guise of allegorizing imperial relations. Under the suburban mall maternity shop, a tunnel to Mexico is the conduit for drugs, arms and trafficked girls. On the one hand this displays the global division of labour and unmasks the fetishized commodities of the suburban mall; on the other it displaces the power of the order of crime and violence onto the colonized.

Although Weeds’ vision of white misfortune is not the tooth-gnashing resentment of fascist complaint, the framework offers the same basic vision of slave revolt in the neoliberal version: “ordinary” white people struggling for survival in a world where the stability of the patriarchal order has been usurped by raced tribes and the white people have evolved into rootless deterritorialized capital which in human form is expressed as precariousness. The programme like much neoliberal propaganda seeks a way to imagine and express white domination – to secure this quicksilver empire, this digital-derivative stage of capitalism – in this new configuration where the white individuals are globalized and flexible and the inferior others, the bodily ones, retain aspects of the strengths of the outmoded way of life (social democracy, the family, the community, industry).

So this is all laid out for us, enticing us to a discussion – the show invites Deleuzian dissertations: Uprooting the White Family: traffic versus growing in Weeds. It apologies for the stereotypes as it serves them up for delectation. It explains its discomfort with its own exploitativeness (as coyote its emasculated white male want to exploit but not sadistically, just enough for his own needs, not ‘rapey’.) Nancy Botwin says “I’m a drug dealer!” early on in the same way no doubt Jenji Kohan said that to herself working on Sex and the City. Who am I to judge the depraved and violent others? It’s a typical liberal supremacism…we’re no better than the savages!

But as you say then, this is all serving as a kind of trap for our thoughts about all this, an accessory now without which we cannot really think about these things or discuss them. It burdens us with a set of figures and materials, including these discrete raced “communities” and distinctive milieux that we must somehow deploy, thus reproducing the racist mythology. The programme seems like an object we interpret but it has become a prosthesis we have to use to handle feminism, white supremacy, imperialism, capital. Somehow it inserts itself between us and historical reality so that we can only think about and discuss that reality through it. And it is more obstructive than we at first realize. Because there is plenty of art the discussion of which facilitates an understand of history and human affairs. But this does not do that. It is designed to be discussable, to be used in this fashion, and it is built in such a way as to impose an ideology on that discussion. Now it is certainly possible to extricate oneself, and to expose the ideology of this product. But it is very time consuming. A laborious and tedious task. It is much easier just to use the prosthesis and accept how it distorts the discussion, and so we surrender to it. It would be too tiring to unpack all that is encrusted in Who gets to fuck Nancy as a dramatic problem substitution for feminism and the criticism of white supremacy and class relations. It is easier just to accept the paradigm Who gets to fuck Nancy imposes, and try to say something anyway, something approximating one’s thoughts. And so the discussion is controlled and limited and enclosed in property; in this way Weeds is not only a mechanism for the exploitation of our attention labour but simultaneously a discourse regulator, like an air conditioner. One can shut it off but one doesn’t.
But I feel the strain of discussing this content as I feel the powerful seduction of it – it is irresistible, it has offered itself for this kind of consumption, but it is also painfully strenuous and frustrating once one begins. It’s very different from, say, engaging in an examination of George Eliot novels for the same kinds of themes and issues. I cant really say how Weeds is doing this and I am so glad you feel it too, the pulling, the unwieldy nature of the material that is at the same time so inviting of this kind of analysis.

This may have to do with it being constructed as one of these ideologically interactive texts, this new kind of ambiguity – a total evasiveness – that allows text to be personalized for the consumer’s preferences. Its more than a post-modern irony and more than an amoralism. It’s an shifty, cagey, unstable tone, a perpetual duck/rabbit construction. The article on Oprah we both commented on at In The Times was an example – it can’t be interpreted; it is always a and not a, always an ironic comment on its own irony. The text will recede into sarcasm to evade any attempt to seize it. It’s difficult to talk about the very legible content of Weeds that the show invites one to notice and goads one to discuss, because it is also fluctuating like this, although it is finally tethered by sentimentality to the indestructible bonds of the television family as the repository of all value.

At a certain point, I began to feel something false in all I was saying here. Not that it was wrong….I don’t think it is. Its just that you sense nothing is at stake. If Im debating and analysing Eliot I sense that historical vanishing point looming, and if its Bolano, or someone, I feel it. I would feel it with Peter Brook. Its that an engagement took place, a sacrifice of some sort, and with Jenji Kohan one feels its as disposible as a Ikea electric fan, or something. I feel stupid if I write twenty pages on an Ikea fan….though, maybe not , really. The point is that if Brook creates something on stage — I have to exert my own work. Is it just TV? Perhaps….but I think its TV as its evolved in commodity form. Obviously we have had compelling TV, from Jack Ruby to Cracker, perhaps. Where I felt something changed by this viewing — it can be debated and disputed, but the specific event carried some sort of weight. With Weeds I’m not sure that it can ever do that. Its made to be thrown away. Its amusing, and it is, and its smart, and it is, and actually I think NOT sentimental….but its disposible somehow. The narrative commodifies itself, confines itself within a certain range of awareness, and leaves it there. Now this is something I am reminded of when a show will air a special episode…”tonight a very special episode of Who gets to Fuck Nancy”, with guest star Jesus Christ. I mean no matter WHAT is tossed up there, it evaporates, its significance evaporates. Why is that? I start to feel as if I am self commodifying. Thats the confining-defining aspect to all of this.
The disposible doesnt preclude meaning. Astrology Columns can be mined for meaning — and its not, again, that anything we’ve said is wrong…or right for that matter…its that the target keeps moving because its agency in the society, in this electronic field, is somehow like critical teflon. It reproduces a viewer….and is part of this media empire, and I guess somehow the terms of what narrative does has altered. This leads back to the medium again on the one hand. And to commodity form in another. Part of Kohan’s cleverness is to intuit the transitory — the I am here now and now Im not here. You are allowed this pleasure of recognition and then it’s gone. Popular culture is clearly worthy of a close reading and as extensive an analysis as is possible, but the nature of that analysis, I think, more and more demands an understanding of exactly ‘what kind’ of disposible cultural commodity is being looked at. Perhaps most importantly — and this speaks to the role of artists as we move forward– there needs to be a continuing examination of the conatinment, psychically, that mass media performs.
The ideology is a simulcra of ideology. And vice versa.

(I agree its not really sentimental. But it resorts to sentimentality to keep the family interacting.)

I feel, finally, that discussing feminism, race, empire, capital through Weeds will result in something similar to what’s coming out now from the Assange headlines and the “debate” about it. It imposes the same kinds of terms. and there is also the same uncontrollable fluctuation of the point of view. This is the first show that made me see this – perhaps because it’s the first one I’ve watched and enjoyed in a long while. But it has a similar effect to that you get in academic discussions with certain kinds of neologisms or branded concepts…the way the use of “deterritorialization” or “floating signifier” or “Schmitt’s friend/enemy” or “homo sacer” or even “hegemony” works. These terms make certain kinds of discussion easier but one can also deploy them to impose form on discussions that contain one’s interlocutor, who can escape but only laboriously. Television programmes like this, designed to be consumed as these objects of light sociological speculations, mould and constrain discussion, and exercise pulls and pressures on thought as a result, much more powerfully and totally. One can feel the control of the one’s ideas through the control of the language and concepts (the show itself, so vivid, so much more vivid and condensed than language and history); one can feel oneself giving in and adapting one’s ideas to those which can be easily expressed with this show. It’s like academic fashions and barbie together…one becomes whatever one can express through citations of French post-structuralists delivered with Barbie, Ken and their playhouses.

We are encouraged to think “politically” about and through the show but it helps us erase consciousness of the history it usurps even as we discuss it – it helps us erase consciousness of the fact that this loving liberal entertainment flaunting its good will about the adorable Chicano and Mexican criminal killers who menace and threaten the irresistible white family is the mass media for an audience in a country whose reality is this:

And I can almost feel something yanking at my hair when I notice this, pulling me away; I can anticipate hostile, cult-like responses of “fans” to such remarks, the insistence on retreat from this border of the television world to approved, formulaic topics and concerns and the regurgitation of interpretations that are vended as accessories of the show (which is always viewed as some genuine commentary on the genuine state of “America”, in the case of the kwaltieevee cable every-genre-as-sex-romp it tends to be “pre-read” as an investigation of cultural decadence and “imperial decline”).

But I still want to discuss. More and more mass media attracts and absorbs these impulses. I really do wonder what a generation that sees Hunger Games and Avatar at nine and ten will be like if the present generation of adults does not succeed in expropriating the expropriators.

This is something, obviously, I think a good deal about. I continue to believe that culturally, the point at which a society cannot, really CANNOT distinguish difference…..if its Dostoyevsky or Franzen. I mean the engagement with aesthetics does have implications. Hunger Games is not even a narrative, really, its a signifier for a narrative. Its a short hand….and if that generation you posit, reads that the same way they read political debate or Pasolini or whatever, then there is a psychic flat-lining.
I think its not only the control exercised by TV shows, its exercised by TV itself, and the internet, and the volume of image and code and truncated narrative, fragments, and none of these thoughts are new — but the terms in which they operate have, I think, shifted in significant ways.
So you watch Hunger Games and take away this attenuated set of sign codes….refrenced to earlier ones from other shows and films and entertainment (sic). Thats it. But we know this…..and so when we see Weeds, where the narrative is much more substantive and character more complex and the subject of the narrative actually something worth discussing…..that structure set in place, now so absolutley, by the Hunger Games sales and marketing apparatus, tends to channel the discussion of Weeds in certain
directions, or as we keep saying, confine it.
In one sense we’re talking about hegemony. The confinment erases distinctions and difference. Its the collision of discourses. The discourse of the establishment corporate capitalist media empire and my discourse, critical and historical. Lacan says the discourse of the analyst hystericises the analysand. There is something going on here that resembles that.
One other thought, related, but indirectly in a sense. The pov of white privilege, the racism and apologies for authority and all the rest….not just Weeds, but the entire media output….is less the problem. I mean the bigger problem is that the pov of the *other* is not really shown…what IS shown is the domesticated diluted version of that….if even that. This is the place where the sentimentalizing is so pernicious. Nancy Botwin is a fascinating character, and I want to talk about it as well, and continue to. But the absence of the outside –or more, the colonizing of the pov of the outside, is another equally large topic.



  1. I can’t resist adding I just looked at the flash miob clip and for the first time noticed that the thug is holding a latte cup like the one Nancy always has. And it make me realize that this whole soprano’s motif of the thug speaking domestic discourse is a fanfic like fungus on the line “leave the gun. take the cannoli”

  2. John Steppling says:

    Raymond Chandler’s dialogue used to do a bit of that, too….to different effect and for other reasons. Criminals would switch between an almost artistocratic grammer, and thug speak.

  3. sorry, this was my comment at top:

    Thanks for that conversation, I really enjoyed it. And I want to add one thing, now like at the “brick dance” …this is another case of how it uses its racism, that it has forgiven itself for, as its alibi. The depravity and criminality of the American culture is attributed to the influence of the Mexican/Chicano (or African American or Arab American) other. Kohan wants Parker to do this dance for the camera, for her white audience, for money; but they are also selling the enlightened sensibility of the California liberalism and its feminism and its smart attitude toward its entertainments, so they need to blame it on someone else – on Guillermo. And they can blame it on Guillermo because they are willing to exploit racism too, and confess and forgive themselves. This show is really a marvellous achievement to the extent that it delivers all the old reactionary pleasures of crap tv once reviled – tits and ass, sex and violence, (“defy authority, destroy property, take people’s clothes off” as the TV director keeps saying in Sweet Liberty) – but magically transformed into progressive critique of itself because of a willingness to consciously exploit white supremacy under cover of the flimsiest kind of “sorry, didn’t want to, had to” shamefacedness.

  4. Yes the thugs and shakespeare comes before, some like it hot: “my lawyers. all harvard men.”

  5. The mass culture has given up on avoiding formula and stereotypes and just offers the parade of formula and stereotypes treated in a variety of ways. Ironic for “left”, cherishing for “right”, and now various combos.

    This goes with giving up on serious news, so the political discourse is Comedy Central versus FoxNews. I was wrong to place weeds in the excessively evasive camp..its really stanchly with Comedy Central politically. It mocks the California liberals but definitely shares their opposition to marijuana criminalisaton, antiabortion terrorists, rapey immigrant smugglers, the lack of child care for minimum wage workers, the immiseration that sees families living in their cars, the unscrupulous lawlessness of the military. It however finds this all containable in comedy and exploitable for comedy – this and prison rape as well. The immunity of the white family to the effects of all this is reiterated even by their immersion in it. They play at being hotel staff without childcare – they really are that, and yet they are not that. Celia and then Nancy are imprisoned. It happens and yet it’s not permanent, it’s not indelible, it’s only a joke. Nancy is shot in the head and emerges improved. The white individualism moves through this fallen world where others are stuck and damned and damaged, and rises up back to the divine plane, like our souls according to Plotinus. Hipster irony wafts it back up through the pergatorial sphere to the celestial plane of prosperity and success and perpetually restored innocence.


  6. purgatorial!

  7. having a convo with self here…but you can really see how the programme centres the absent heroic virile dominant white male comparing to Ali McGraw in The Getaway, or Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, some of Nancy’s ancestors…She nearly matches them for dash and daring but the potent confident men which allow those expressions of female assertion (because it can’t topple or dominant that male, but only complement, only serve as worthy mate) are missing and there are these odd defective substitutes, these odd problematic males in the narrative and structural space…Nancy’s (almost always) driving and ends up in a drive-by-shooting with U-turn (that milks the “incongruity” which functions early on) or Andy is her passenger or she’s being filmed from a hidden camera as she pees to be watched by Guillermo; when she’s not in the driver’s seat, she’s being assaulted by the macho Esteban (pleasurably and unpleasurably). No Warren Beatty, no Steve McQueen, no Paul Newman, Robert Redford or Clint Eastwood. Imitations in her generation of these types are all grotesque and ridiculous, (the Mexican gangster and the white dea agent chained to her bed being tased, the white lawman getting sexually excited – defective because gay – the Mexican gangster refusing to fight him – defective because homophobic).The absence of Hollywood heroes though is repaired in the generation to come, in Silas and Shane, sensitive outlaw lover and violent lawman protector.

  8. (even playing impotent, Beatty is this dominant figure; while even playing sexually inexhaustible, Justin Kirk, a sort of Beatty type, isn’t.)

  9. http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/aug/21/china-mieville-the-future-of-the-novel?CMP=twt_fd

    rather scary really; renaissance sephardic mystic rabbis thought bodies were bad and matter fallen and corrupt, so they must be so.

    Weeds is also Lurianic in the worst way, tikkun as the virtuous self improvement of the white family that, like capital accumulation, is the redemption itself, will bring about world perfection regardless of what appears on “the surface”‘ , human history.

  10. the salary is a good idea though

  11. John Steppling says:

    Well, i really find Mieville irritating and usually more wrong than right. But the question of genre is important….but not at all in the sense he mentions. First off, I would argue that the rise of film and TV has changed the practice of narrative….but probably even before that, the idea that “genre” deserved scare quotes was just middle brow academic anxiety.
    Everything is genre now. And it works backward, too. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a crime novel of sorts. And I dont find anything wrong with that. Why even bother to talk about the Booker Prize? I would think five people give a shit about the Booker prize. So, this formalist questions about modernism are worth discussing to be sure. And in the context of Weeds, I would argue some of the names mentioned…..I mean Beatty was always the metrosexual third generation dupe of James Dean. He was never even close to carrying any gravitis (though Micky One is an interesting side bar topic). Newman became tragic with The Hustler. And Redord was self parody from the jump. So…….probably in the terms discussed, McQueen is the most useful reference. Its not an accident that McQueen worked with Peckinpah, and Redford or beaty never did.
    I think Weeds is so fascinating (I guess only to you and me, however) because its intelligence means one has to actually think where to place it. There is no question about its white privilege backdrop….but its so mediated so many ways, that one gets lost — as we see as we keep spinning out comparisons and analysing its cultural DNA. I think though, and I said this at the top, that it being a half hour show was hugely important in terms of how they were able to condense (and hence side step) certain things — characters function differently in a format where the perceptive cues are three camera sit coms. Suddenly that has become laid over this hipster sensibility — riffing off a neo feminist heroine at sea in her picaresque adventures in wonderland……..and the code is there, the FOX news bad guys, the Comedy Central good guys…..which raises the question of Andy’s character. Which perhaps i will return to here. But so….wonderland, alice aka deseperatly seeking susan….aka whatever….thelma and louise……which was deeply reactionary but also dysfunctionally so………and in these picaresque adventures, Nancy is on that border of self discovery and self destruction. Thats always the fence she teeters on……and the show’s progressivness is to say, the self destruction is NOT moralistic….not pot dealing per se…..its her failure to find a good man perhaps….or more, deal with the loss of the one she had….maybe. The ghost of judah seems to be Andy….except it isnt. And i wonder where the final season takes that, because one of the uncomfortable aspects of this last season so far is that one suspects Kohan is hedging her bets a bit…..and will use nancy’s near death experience to redeem her. But we shall see.

  12. John Steppling says:

    the absent male figure then, is judah. The ghost. And andy isnt dominant, because he beatty compared to brando or newman or mcqueen. There is a seperate, sort of, topic here about *witholding* — the male hero who is happier with other men, or his horse, or in advertising, with a cheeseburger and beer. There were working class components to that……and what happened in the sixties was this male anxiety, a confusion over sensitivity and an absence of work — it was economic castration in one sense…..but however its dissected, the fall out was that *masculinity* became the terminator. Action figures pumped full of steroids. Arnold and stallone. And now, the Expendables is a franchise…..in which this cartoon hyper masculinity is enacted by a group of actors ALL OF WHOM have had multiple plastic surgeries. Its an interesting footnote on the crisis of masculinity.

  13. john steppling says:
  14. Booker prize is substantial money and it sells the books, thus it does influence what people write and what editors buy. But for a long time it signals the weakness of what it celebrates – that needs the prize to sustain its status and commercial viability. Zadie Smith’s piece


    is all priestly posturing and cover for a personal vendetta against the odious James Wood; what is striking was how it’s just a standard 8th grade english essay, the same one that has been written over and over since the 70s. Its assumed method is the modified high school humanist New Criticism; it generates its remarks by a clunky compare and contrast mechanism that guarantees nothing of interest will be said and we will have a display of the author’s competence in consumption and quality evaluation; it forces these two (emphatically) post-modern (if that label means anything at all in novels ) novels into rival modern traditions that are easily portrayed as opposites when they don’t really fit, and she comes up with sweeping statements about the novel that are not only crude in the schematism but don’t even schematise these conveniently chosen exemplars, let alone a landscape dominated by books that have long since noticed that minimalism, abstraction and absurdity don’t guarantee intelligence and are not prerequisites for concerns about form, and refused to choose between formalism, historicism and psychology. Smith seems to consider “post-modernism” names nothing but the cynical whimsy that occasioned the insult received to her own first novel’s Rushdie imitation for which this essay is the revenge.

  15. The half hour

    Yes but consider all that is cut out from a network hour is the commercials, which are nearly half the hour now.

    A network half hour could be 12-18 minutes. This is a real half hour, 28 minutes of show, like a half hour of movie or BBC or France Televisions. This is really nearly a network hour’s worth of storytelling (would an hour be 35 minutes now of show?) It’s only one little mini-act short.

    The little boxes opening wasted time too. What they switched too was shorter and set up different expectations, including of length of episode.

  16. See now one of the things that appealed to me – this may result from gender difference hgere – about the show, one of the things I found genuinely correct in its impulses, politically and morally, was for me Nancy doesn’t seem self destruictive at all. She is menaced by a destructive environment and she acts in it imperfectly due to all kinds of limitations of knowledge or courage or practise of self-denial, but I don’t see self destruction. She is self reproducing – that’s her whole meaning to me, is this drive for self-reproduction, for pleasure. To me she has that answer: “We’re living” like the guy in your play. All the destruction comes from an environment which is hostile to life. Now elements of this hostility to life are presented in a fascist tradition as the wicked or defective or enemy others. And this has its dramatic effects – reactionary- precisely because of the contrast to Nancy who is not the menace to anybody else’s flourishing the way others are the menaces to her flourishing.

    But for me her nature as irrepressible life force – a Shavian figure, a cliché in a lot of ways – striving to flourish, her botanical relentlessness, reads much stronger than a “selfdestruciveness” as answer to her destruction or her risks (which also depends on a psychologizing, an inference of interiority I do not thing this show really supports. Nancy really doesn’t produce an illusion of depth, that kind of realism. Not for me – I can’t iompute complex human interiority to any of the characters on the programme; to me they don’t invite this.)

  17. there are all kinds of things that underline Nancy as this process of reproduction – a (weed like) gaia . Motherhood, of course, the challenge of the premise itself, but also how her pregancy is used in the run of that major plot, the effortlessness of her exploitation of circumstances, the sensuality of the business itself (gives you munchiespà and how she gfoes about it, the sexuality that errupts around her even when is not involved, and the fact that she is pictured constantly drinking a latte. She is constantly plugged in to the resource, nature’s energy, deleuzianly, she is constantly hydrating and drugging, we watch her constantly renewing her physical self.

    Now around here there is dramatic dialogue where characters discuss her and evaluate her and it becomes a theme that those around her see her as a troublemaker…femme fatale. And the writers bring her – kind of arbitrarily – to punishments and comeuppance. But this all seems kind of stagey and hokey and I can’t say that it carries any kind of psychological drama – we don’t see Nancy mature or anything as a character – and the most recent stuff with her being transformed by being shot in the head seems to emphasize how little psychological realism is concerned here.

  18. John Steppling says:

    well, I think we are at the edge of exhausting the topic……….per Weeds. I think I would argue self destruction IS an element, a trope, buried in there along with all the rest. Often her solutions, which we sympathize with of course, border on reckless…..in a narcissistic sort of way. She is however rational —at the core of things, in opposition to the irrational world…first established by Agrestic. But this is the tension that runs throughout regarding maternalism.

    But see, the show reflects — and this is why its worth talking about — some of the tensions of an arbitrage financialized culture where independent entrepreneurs are going to be disadvantaged.–the consumer is in a sense being replaced by the investor/managerial class. Nancy is great at selling, and even growing…….but her problems are distribution. The system is now those at risk, or in a state of vulnerability, and those who manage their investments, and can afford taking market chances –the new model of social participation. Nancy is a hippie…..hedonist…..and the forces of puritanism and this new hyper micro managed state are there to disrupt her efforts. I mean the other branch of her ancestral DNA is Ken Kesey and randall mcMurphy. In that sense she is Shavian. I completely see that. But I think Kohan, as i said, hedges her bets more and more as the show continues. For after all, what do you do with a McMurphy today? Nurse Ratchett is there as the DEA.

    as for the booker prize….yeah, fine, it does that…….but thats what should be said about it. Which isnt what mielville is saying.

  19. John Steppling says:

    the half hour form is not really defined by counting minutes. Last show i worked on the script conformed to 22 min. Adjust upward for an hour. But the half hour form still immediately relates us to the 30 min sit coms that established that form. Interestingly there used to be a lot of thirty minute drama, too. But the sit com era sort of clubbed it out of existnece. Anyway ….if we’re speaking form, then Weeds is playing with a sit com template…and this is one of its virtues….by being both open ended in plot and by creating characters that require several episodes to be made at all clear. There is no real resolution at the end of each episode.

  20. yeah…sorry to exhaust

    but this weeds form is the cable sex romp right? dream on, red shoe diaries, sex and the city, these are all half an hour. its not breaking ground on this right?

  21. John Steppling says:

    I didnt say breaking ground……..but I think its a very different use of the form. God knows I never watched more two episodes of S&TC……….unwatchable……but I think even that was adhering to the pacing and laugh placement of sit coms much more than Weeds was. And i think weeds had a more serious secondary tone, and while its hard to compare what passes for serious with S&TC….and im sure I dont know……..it still felt very close to conventional TV. Weeds really wasnt that…..though Im not privy to what lionsgate had in mind at the start. There is something elliptical in Weeds storytelling……that you dont find in most other shows, certainly not thirty min. shows.

  22. I’ve never understood the appeal of this show and I’ve only seen a handful of episodes so I can’t comment much…

    However, the few times I tried watching it – it felt like a lifelike cartoon. The lighting, the set design, the characters – from Mary Louise Parker’s constant slightly-agape, “omigosh” mouth to Kevin Nealon’s extended face – all seemed so incredibly fake. For me, Parker has as much sex appeal as Minnie Mouse and therefore I was unable to buy into her “romps.” When I say sex appeal, I’m not saying that she needs to be a bombshell or attractive by Hollywood standards. I just can’t imagine her engaged in a sexual act, even if it’s comedic. (Look at Parker and Helen Mirren and tell me who has more sex appeal – of course Mirren, even though she’s not necessarily more attractive than Parker).

    Another thing I find disturbing is a white person trying to write “cholo” characters. It just rings so incredibly false. It’s like a white guy rapping. I’m not saying that white tv creators shouldn’t write other cultures, that’s not the point, but I’m saying that Weeds fails miserably here for me.

    I usually find these 30-minute premium cable, female-driven shows (Nurse Jackie, United States of Tara, Weeds, The Big C) surprisingly full of cliches. They have to be in order to tell the story in 28 minutes. I don’t know if it’s white men trying to write genre shows specifically to appeal to a female audience but these women rarely feel interesting. I can just hear the writers in the writing room trying to appeal to a post-feminist, post Sex and the City audience (which is somehow equally authentic to a forged gay/queer lifestyle) – sexual re-appropriation, motherhood, being a good wife, exercising, Yoga, what it means to be a woman. (that said, the same goes for the 30 minute guy sex guy shows like Hung or Californication – which makes me think it has something to do with the format instead of the content) I’m speaking very generally here, but contrast these leading ladies to the much more complex female characters of Mad Men, Lost (seasons 1 – 3), or hell even The Wire, where the women were lesbians, criminals, in bi-racial relationships, Lady Macbeth-ian, or resentful divorcees.

  23. John Steppling says:

    well, god, I loathe Mirren, and obviously dont find her sexy. Mirren is one of those prestige actresses…british…..i mean god, its perhaps the ultimate manipulative code in fact…..and at some point Id love to come back to the mechanisms in that. This may be a gay/straight divide…..because Id be pretty willing to bet the majority of straight men watching Weeds actually accept a lot of it because Parker is so good at what she does in this., and because she is in fact quite sexy…I certainly think she is.
    Now….the head writer and creator is a woman. As for mad men being more complex, I think is wrong, but its a useful topic /// and one thing Ive found so irritating about Mad Men is that it trots out its \prestige\ signifiers – some of which has to do with the nostalgia being manufactured……the style and the decor and so forth. See, I hate Lost as well. Now…..what is this telling us? I mean i think of you, Joe, as a pretty astute critic and reader of film and TV…..but I think being much younger, its possible the recycling of certain things, tropes, memes, hasnt affected you in the same way. I dont know….but its also, so Ive always maintained, an aspect of working in theatre that provides another perspective. Last night my wife was watching Six Feet Under…old episodes. Another show I hate. But i sat with her for a minute….and i realized i hate so much of the acting on that show, and in exactly the same way i hate Bryan Cranston. Its very self conscious ACTING….its announcing itself as serious and of quality. Helen Mirren is only a better trained UK version of this. Rachel Griffiths is a perfect example. Its what I have come to see as indie/prestige/naturalism…..of the shreiking ego generation. Now…….i find it hard to reconcile a distate for Weeds when listing Lost as complex and somehow better. I just refuse to accept even any small aspect of that. Like molly and I spoke about….the show is a comedy. It has antecedents…..it has ancestors and tropes worth tracing because its sensibility and even its politics are years ahead of something like Mad Men. Now……its still white privilege….but every single show we ve talked about is produced by an elite class and marketed by same elite class, and in the end….at the very end, its going to flatter that class. I watched a single episode of Californication…..and the writing, JUST the writing, was so awful, so juvenile, puerile and fake……that i didnt even finish that episode. But its also a politically loathsome show. Its a reactionary show. West Wing is arch liberal. Weeds is far left liberal…….still liberal……..but the anxiety of influence here at least touches on moll flanders and other more interesting branches of the narrative/lit tree. The Wire i refuse to get into, because Molly and I will argue for next six years AGAIN. But I think one of the important aspects of weeds is that it DID defy certain genre conventions and mixed others. Something that cant be said for mad men…..a show firmly set up as nostalgic revisionism….it is to marketing what HIll St Blues was to the police. It imbues a loathsome business practice with an inner life. And tricks it out in period drag the better to be able to bask in those mid century Alexanders or Freys……..with the cool raised fireplaces……yada yada yada.
    You have to look at Weeds and recognize everything from Jerry Lewis to Keaton, as well as burns and allen. Its riffing off all of that. Yes of course its a cartoon, but thats a bit like saying, oh, geez, jerry lewis is such a cartoon. You dont have to accept Cashiers critics about Lewis………but to watch, say, Year of 13 Moons, one has to see his influece on fassbinder…….that dance sequence was his homage . This is why I think its worth analysing this stuff and why the term like, LIKE is so useless and so problematick. I dont like it, i like it. Criticism cant be what one imagines or projects….it has to at least attempt to refer to concrete image and narrative. I had hoped this long dialogue did that with Weeds. Just because a character has a bi racial relationship…..gasp….lesbian……..does NOT mean its more complex. I mean such things, such tropes, lost any charge about fifteen years ago. PRobably thirty years ago. Guess whos coming to dinner, and shootout. So, for me, the topic of most interest is the rachel griffiths, cranston, indie film, helen mirren PRESTIGE bullshit naturalistic style of performance…..one that is pretty well entrenched now. And one that is killing off more complex performers……….and rendering others *benecio del toro* hard put to not seem as if in the wrong film. For what BDT does is not gonna work in boy fantasies like oliver stone\s latest……*though i like the author of the book actually*. You see, performative styles are complex………the london drama center of fassbender and tom hardy now eclipsing the old RADA styles…….not for the better, yet, i dont think. The lee strasberg , stella adler generation…..and i could site minor actors…lance henrikson for one………who are sort of still channelling that early strasberg style………but when you get to cranston, and griffiths, you find something VERY different….and something i hope to discuss further.

    footnote…my keyboard is all fucked up………so this accounts for slightly ecentric punctuation etc.

  24. I don’tt know why I got addicted to the show but I actually see everything you say Joe.

    I don’t think Parker is sexy either actually; she seems too arch and too girlish for my idea of sexy;; its not the actor but the role (though how bad people found her Hedda Gabler might suggest something. In three sisters she’s not going to be my Masha though she looks the part!)

    She seemed to me in a tradition of male fantasy though of a promiscuous type of women who takes sex lightly and at an emotional distance. The lack of chemistry with any of the actors playing her lover was strange..

    There’s a character I can’t quite pin down in my memory that is the real prototype…but her non-sexiness is associated, in my head, with the promise (to men) of no (emotional) demands. It’s essentially a hooker type, I think. She has a instrumental attitude toward her (very beautiful) body.

    Thus there is no sexual relation with the character with whom she has something like a romance (Andy).

    The “cholo” characters: yes I’m not of the west coast like you guys but the feeling I had throughout was that some very very bad scripting was being transcended by the one performance given by “Guillermo” (much as Omar’s grotesque minstrel ebonics is finessed in the Wire which i’m not supposed to mention but this actor), and then in the other “thugs” – the one chained to the bed who is Shane’s mentor, and the other who is the deputy of Esteban (poor man’s Armand Assante in Q&A) – are just going with the minstrel performance and it’s just a racist comedy.

    I’m not convinced that MadMen has any virtues or complexity, and the Wire appalls me almost to insanity, and Lost seemed to me to be a series of oddly framed extreme closeups of women looking alarmed slightly to the side and I couldn’t stick wioth it long enopugh to see much else. But I hear very clear you are saying about Weeds. Haven’t seen the others but these are for women and men I think – the real lineage of SATC and WEEDS is the “r rated” sex romp of early cable; they’re not just for women, they really are dominantly not “women’s genre”s…they are closer to stuff from playboy adjusted for women than they are to romance and soap. or they really are both – a combo, the fusion of penthouse letters and Cosmo features.

    Though concessions to soap and romance happen as they develop – and carrie bradshaw ends up in a romance because avoiding having her find the mate started to make it seem like she was really disturbed; no romance for Nancy , easier to accomplish because it’s not her objective.

  25. I love Helen Mirren.

    She’s very sexy – my idea of sexy.

  26. I don’t think she was one of these prestige actors actually – not until very late in her career. Not in the redgrave dench class but more seen as someone who’d take her clothes off and appear in crap like Excalibur (a movie i really love). She was wonderful on stage in Shakespeare but she was not classed with the “great artists of the stage”. It was only after the tv hit Prime Suspect, somewhat ironically, that she was elevated to the status of these other onedaythey’llbe Dames, so that it could be a case of “great artist of the stage on quality cop show”.

  27. remember she was in Caligula – a quasi porn film. She did not have that kind of reputation that Vanessa Redgrave or Glenda Jackson or Maggie Smith had at all.

  28. Weeds is liberal but its california liberal which is a specific sort of thing;: it is liberal with a foundation of wild west libertarian fantasy – the white outcase gone native and reinvigorated (Benjamin’s arcades talks about the detective hero as this idealised type derived from notions of the Indian, his discipline, and we can see this develop through the action hero – Mohicans of Paris – and how the detective becomes as sensitive to his urban environment as a the fabled indian to his landscape, the preternatural tracker figure of Lord Baltimore in butch and sundance is a late example etc) …but this California liberalism also involves the lawman sheriff fantasy, and it’s whole conception is racist in a specific western, california way. Now Weeds’ “feminist” thing, it’s problem of matriarchy, could be seen as a result of this California vision’s breakdown, instead of balancing eachother the lawman and outlaw figure hjave undermined eachother – Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown, their competition has become such a catstrophe and there is such a crisis that the Hollywood liberlas cvannot face the reality of what ensued (Schwartenneggher, enron, fascism) so prefer to picture Nancy left widowed. No Ronnie no Jerry, she’s alone to eb the terminator mom in the conspicuous absence of the governor. It’s in this sense real fantasy for the Jenji Kohans, who probably find the fact of the real politics of California distressing however easily they man,age it with their own money comforts and irony.

  29. In a lot of ways Esteban is a deportation of governor Schwartzennegger, an othering and expulsion. And this leaves Andy an exaggerated Jerry Brown, fully native and avowed but able to be pictured and to a point celebrated fopr his his very feminisation just because this aggressive fascist strongman rival is stripped of his Americanity.

  30. john steppling says:

    Re: Mirren. Reputation is not the issue. I just posted about acting…so refer to that. Who we find sexy I guess just says more about us. Im guessing straight men find Parker sexy. I doubt that many find Mirren sexy. My personal distate for her is really about her very self conscious acting. ITs the classic royal shakes co. stuff….although not RADA, I dont think, she might as well have been. She was a lot more tolerable during her brief Peter Brook, Trevor Nunn phase…..but unlike Redgrave, who I actually think is a very good actress in what she does (Weatherby for example) Mirren has always performed a sort of posed performance. NOw…as i say, people *like* things and then argue about them. I dont care. Its of no importance if people like Mirren…but it IS interesting where she falls in the performative spectrum — and not an accident she ended up more comfortable in hollywood than redgrave. —-as for Weeds……Im not sure I completly agree about the california thing. I do to a degree. But as a Californian….son of a california native as well…I speak as someone with a pretty fine antenna on the left coast. The cali thing was also…as mike davis writes about (another native) the history of labor out west was a lot different……and the migration of all those writers and definers of style….from Goodis to thompson to chandler to cain etc. All of that was steeped in the transient nature of work in the west…the lack of unions, etc….and of the mexican population and culture….which really so defined southern cal. SO weeds is marinated in a lot of that……….but I do agree about Estaban — who I think is hugely overdetermined….because he is also the ghost of Pio Pico and the missions and Father Serra….i mean all those ghosts…..and the narcotrafficante, the cool new generation of san diego educated rich tijuana children of cartel bookeepers……..its fascinating.—-
    Gov Moonbeam……..yeah, linda ronstadt…..etc etc. That faux hedonism….from Werner Erhard to Big Sur…..except as i think on it, Weeds its southern cal. Its a lot more that mexican connection — and when we , Gunfighter Nation (theatre group) were writing In the Desert, A Highway, I think all of us tweeked to these connections somehow. Its for sure something Kohan got connected to somehow………and i probably am going to reform all this even more…but andy seems like the eastern tourist in a sense……..but either way, he is a stand in, and the second generation dupe of his dead brother. But Andy is the sixties sensitive guy, and estaban the potency of the wild west……..shot back through the colonial history of mexico , and the sense of displacement white folks always still feel in so cal.

  31. john steppling says:

    and like Guillermo, estaban is sent to jail. One is east LA streets and one is Tijuana royalty, by way of columbia, but still a spic and still going to end up in jail…….the fatalism of white privilege.

  32. john steppling says:

    one other thing about Mirren. There is a subtle thing in a lot of actors…..more today than forty years ago….but that is pandering to the audience. Wanting to be liked. I know this from directing, and its , as i say, often not so obvious. Mirren wants to be liked….she flatters the audience, HER audience……..which is why getting to hollywood wasnt so hard. ITs a problem, actually, with a lot of Brooks’ actors……his largest failing in my opinion.

  33. Hey quick message here. Nice to meet you Molly, I’ll find you on Facebook. I enjoy you going back and forth with John.

    John – just to clarify: I don’t particularly “like” (that word again John) or “dislike” Helen Mirren as an actress, I just picked her randomly because I find she has sex appeal and I love her breasts. Yes, as a gay man, my taste in women will differ from yours. I find Christina Hendricks irresistible (and a good actress) but Sofia Vergara (the hot actress right now) absolutely disgusting. I find Jessica Chastain incredibly beautiful and sexy *some* of the time – but a hell of an actress. Mila Kunis and Megan Fox are a terrible performers but they’re sex on a stick. Scarlet Johansson and Rachel McAdams have turned to parodies of what American men think are hot. Anne Hathaway and Keira Knightly I find utterly grotesque.

    Anyway, I’m not going to get into Mad Men too much because I’m working on a piece about it. But I agree that the show is about packaging and selling – everything about it does just that – through nostalgia factor, set design, beautiful actors, a romanticized NYC shot in LA. But deep down, I think it is a scathing critique of consumerism and the white male in power, and Weiner is coating the pill in the sweetest of sugar with the elements you mentioned above. People refer to Mad Men as bourgrois and prestige – and it may be in its pedigree, I guess – but perhaps that’s why people “like” the show, not knowing that if you peel back the layers far enough you’ll find several interesting reasons why the US has become a country of raving consumers. But really, the show is about women. any show named Mad Men can only be about women. More later.

    Okay, maybe Lost doesn’t belong up there but I thought it succeeded in introducing characters with some complexity to a mainstream audience. Kate, Juliet, Sun the Korean. But whatever, we’ll disagree here and move on. I shouldn’t have brought it up but I enjoyed it as a fable with its purgatory-like setting. It explores the unknown and the fears/demons of its characters (tritefully? Maybe at times but now always) within the post-9/11 anxiety, before it got completely taken out of context with shows like 24.

    Yes, John, I think there’s is also an age gap (I’m half your age) between us – and I think it extends to culture and sexuality too but that’s why I continue learn from you. Thank you for the compliments – and I hope that at times you’ll find my perspective interesting. I will say that I know less about TV than I do about film, mainly because I hate watching TV. And when I do, I do it through binge-watching on DVD or Netflix, which changes the way one perceives it.

    I can’t comment on films and shows I haven’t seen (and there are many) but I think for a young writer and filmmaker, I need to find a balance between wanting to create something new and interesting and understanding the history that came before me – without living in the past.

    Anyway, I have to go. More later.

  34. Madmen — did you read what I suspect was the origin of the show, a profile of Jerry Della Femina called “Madmen” in Time or Newsweek? My feeling about the show is it’s really about the eighties, when that style of 56-62 had its revival. The period that is portrayed is voided of culture and politics, of its real difference, and superficial differences that were the obsession of the Reagan reaction are enlarged to veil this erasure; it has the office feel of the Reagan era or what that era’s reactionaries were fantasizing (wishing for those gender relations, for that whiteness); it is that era as the Reaganites fantasized it, perhaps subjected to a critique, perhaps glamorized – I rather think both (one of those personalizable, interactive sort fo shows you can adjust to the ideology you prefer). Really the milieu it’s pretending to be was teeming with politics – much progressive and lefty, and much more serious culture consumption. They went to the theatre and talked about it. They paid attention to painting and dance. They read serious novels and talked about them. Intelligently! The show is meticulous about some things in order to naturalize its revisionism – so we are to suppose certain aspects of American petty bourgeois culture of the 80s are eternal. It seems very typical of contemporary product though in this attenuation of content and drama, where the audience is allowed to compensate for the paucity of story by aggressive reading in to little signals and signs.

    I haven’t watched much ofd it admittedly. I had an odd idea while I was watching ti that some major theme around which the show was built had been abandoned – the theme of “passing.” I had thought that the original concept might have had Don Draper hiding Jewishness;: and there was another character whom I thought would be revealed as an Anatole Broyardish figure, black passing for white. As it is there are only gay characters concealing their sexuality and the melodrama plot of Draper’s stolen identity – this seems to be some kind of grout filler where these passing themes (perhaps blacklisted communists too) were gouged out.

    I know this is not accurate but it is what I thought so strongly that I suspect there is some of this kind of material buried down beneath the show in the early research materials or perhaps in Weiner’s personal connections to this industry and era.

  35. I think the female movie actors in their 20s and early 30s now are too thin and instructed to have immobile faces if not actually immobilised by botox, and this is marring their sexiness. Anne Hathaway is so beautiful but obviously starving.

    Romola Garay is very sexy isn’t she? She puts me in mind of Julie Christie or Kate Nelligan.

  36. Now thinking of Romola Garay I started to watch Emma.

    Now gentleman, go here


    to 2:40

    Speaking of acting. That child, playing Jane Fairfax as a toddler. How is that acting possible in a child that young? It’s making my head explode.

  37. Molly – regarding Mad Men, I’m not sure how far you stuck with it, but there is a secret that is revealed. Don Draper isn’t Jewish, he’s something else. Look at the name Draper and all its implications. He is hiding something. The idea of Jewishness, however, does come into play later too. So does Blackness. But mainly it’s women. And I find this part fascinating.

    And yes, the little girl in Emma is good. But I haven’t seen the whole series.

    Just a quick note on Fassbender and Hardy. Yes, they are hailed as great actors, personally I find Fassbender more engaging than Hardy. However, I don’t think they’re particularly better than any of the RADA…. but compared to the shitty crop of Hollywood leading men under 50, they’re above and beyond better than anyone out there right now. They can act, they have sex appeal, and they are “bankable.” I’ll add Christian Bale to that list and Idris Elba (although I don’t know how others view Elba as a leading man). Some might put Gosling up there – I’m still on the fence on him, but I do like what he’s done. There are definitely better actors out there.

  38. john steppling says:

    Other than Benecio Del Toro, I cant think of many good young actors. Bale and Gosling are interesing, and to me more interesting than Fassbender and Hardy- But see, the very term “they can act” probably needs to be explored. And thats rather the point of my recent posting actually. Both fassbender and hardy come out of the Drama Center in London….and they do a certain Drama Center Thing and its very physical and i like that part and ive worked with an actor from there who was terrific, actually. But both those boys know they are attractive and the problem is they dont fight it. Brando fought his beauty, and even in a way so did Newman. It would worth noting newman in The Hustler…a great film….is improved by being around Piper Laurie and george C Scott….thats a mini monograph right there I think. But i digress……..sexiness is obviously subjective. I think Knightly and hathway beautiful but creepy. I mean i have no erotic hit from them at all……..it creeps me out in fact. Hathaway actually is very cold and unresponsive seeming. Its in her dead fish eyes. But i think Hendricks is very sexy. Its just how can you not…….geesh. Vegara is awful…….and scarJo…….well, i can never get past her visible stupidity. Great breasts though. But he radiates DUMB. And its a problem. She is vain, as well………in this imagined role as somehow a meaningful actress. The actress in The Killing is SEXY….for me. I want to know her. In fact, she is also an actress today who seems to NOT be doing a lot of what I describe in that new posting. And the swedish/american, Joel Kinneman, is also pretty great. The show failed, in the end…………but its worth noting how good those two were. But by the end of the first season it seemed they were in a different show.

  39. john steppling says:

    I think Molly, that your take on Mad Men is really perceptive. Really really spot on in fact. Its a reagan fantasy of the good old fifties. The actual amazing intellectual energy of that period is missing………where is black mountain and all the rest of that radical energy? What we get is how to sell Record changers. And the boho stuff, the visits to bohemian culture seem very reductive and sort of cartoonish. Oh, we can show people talking about reefer. And sleeping with black people. The real thrust of post war american malaise is actually NOT in the show.

    Now don draper’s back story is, in some ways, really smart and well realized in a sense. Its a great set of reveals and it works. I havent watched the last few episodes so I guess I should.

  40. “but still a spic and still going to end up in jail”

    and so macho and patriarchal, going beyond the eroticised dominance of his spanking nancy, which she likes – the daugfhter, and Silas these “these are the guys her father wants her to fuck.” That’s quite sequence to be underscored that way, as a remote incestuous abuse, this debasement of the Latina underlying staged as an ironic discovery after the dramatization of her infuriating uppitiness – racial and sexual – that demeans Silas’ masculinity (and white supremacy).

    In this sequence Shane is revealed to be a cure for this emasculated white America – his “native”/savage education, which allows him to throw off the squeamishness of the white males about violence and patriarchy, is a clear applause cuing rescue moment there. And like with the – comically treated – murder of Pilar (a lot of comical violence against these tainted dominant women, the women who dominate through performed feminine subrodination, performed feminine conformity to feminine norms – Pilar and Celia), this staging of Shane’s Tarzan power appears to reorder the patriarchal gender relations and also to signal the threat to whiteness from south of the border and the solution that is really a Bush-ite scheme, a neocon topos, in this rough neighborhood the world has become “we” can’t afford the refinements of our superior civilisation..”the gloves must come off”.

  41. But there is also this pendulum of evoking the threat of the dark men and their virility and containing it with ridicule, comedy and these revelations that their purported gender dominance in their tribal milieux is a sham.

  42. draper – well this gave me Jewish actually, i thought it the hint; his business, not signalling disguise but Delancy Street.

    But what is the secret life? He stole an identity in Korea. Isn’t it really a crypto-ethnic secret, a metaphor for the ethnicities that the American 1st generation almost whites washed away to become white amzericans thanks to being veterans. Thanks I mean to the GI bill.? That’s how my dad rose…from real desperate poverty in brownsville brooklyn, through the army, the university, then Doyle Dane and Birnbach…and so on. And that business – ads and tv and fashion – was the conduits for transformations to new ideas. From Jews and Italian semi whites, these striving men who had been in WWII or Korea became the New York establishment.

    That this is transformed in the show to a substitute transformation, more individual, not really a dramatization of the historical and social reality, seems to illustrate something all these cable shows are doing now. The way these things are signalled to be trivialised and dismissed (beat culture, race and ethnicity, feminism) , but in such compelling design and shiny attractive images that the viewer who wants what’s missing can just project it. The dismliossing signalling of blackness say is a kind of prompt for an audience who wants that addressed to over-read and read in to the sparse matter offered. These things resemble the “easter eggs” for fans in franchise sequels. They just are citations and prompts for the audience to supply what they want themselves…the influence of videogame and social media on broadcast forms is not insignficant….

  43. Also the design of the show, the passionate nostalgia, strikes me – same age as showrunner I think -a a longing for theb sttyles of his salad days, his college years, the 80s when, all this was worn as vintage in a range of ways, meticulous facsimile and parody both.

    But the fifties werer worn; one thing that wasn’t work in the 80s is the A-line minidress that is so spectacular on Draper’s second wife with her french song. That would have been spectacle only for the 80s fashionista – to watch Blow Up, say, or Belle du Jour. But for us, not to dress this way. We wore the vintage of five or six years before that minidress. Those retro shoes werer too close to 80s ferragamo to be worn by young women in alphabet city. And this clinches it for me because notice how in the program this style is so underlined as spectacle rather than ambiance. The way Hendricks dresses is ambiance;: the way second wife dresses is performance, theatre within the theatre. Bsecause in the 80s, that’s how it was with these clothes. Women would dress in Hednrick’s clothes, and with men dressed and coiffed like Draper watch the slender women in those a-line minidresses with the new vcr or at the uni cinema or bleecker street or wherever.

  44. conduit for transformations to new IDENTITIES that should say

  45. One last thought…that there is a kind of widespread operation that all these spectacles are performing one way or another, they resolution as spectacle, the restoration as spectacle of a questioned oreder;, a destabilised hierarchy. People question white supremacy, american exceptionalism, capitalism and the solution is a spectacle version that is perfect and invulnerable to fact or hgistory.

    An good exemplar of the form of this operation of spectacular compensation is Avatar: the problem and concern it acknowledges is environmental catastrophe and the incapacity of current Empire to fix it/ What we get is spectacle – new media, envisoned as nature, and idealised pure tribe (Nietzschean blond beasts, but blue) to compensate. Spectacle of the film i offered in compensation fotr ht lost life and the story told repeats this and justifies tribal ruling class ownership (of the tree, the unobtainium), vilifies pirates, and proposes itself, the entertainment industry, as the solution to the environmental crisis and crisis of the legitimacy of the status quo

    In Weeds we have a simpler business, the same problem of the crisis of legitimacy is addressed but the solution is that all the evils of the society identified as causing the crisis of the legitimacy are othered. So the violent white male is cemlebrated but is violence is blamed on the dark other (he needs to be violent to defend against the dark other, but also he has only become violent because he’s been tutored by the dark other. The dark other is violence, the white male can just appropriate and instrumentalise that violence, and purify it). Imperialism is othered as well (its Mexico invading, subvertinbg, dominating and exploiting); sexism is othered. So Weeds accepts and portrays a basic liberal progressive critique of the status quo, assigns it causes folloiwing a reactionary critique tempered (failing masculkinity), others all the evils to the dark foreigner, and the demonstrates a repair that is enacted by appropriation and reconquest. Much like Avatar.

    With Madmen, this same kind of thing is going on but the past is pandora and the operations that take place both in and outsidde the texts, in parallel, in the other programs seem to happen in a kind of section or tranch angel to the programme. The audience who has avatars in avatar and weeds doesn’t have an avatar in Madmen. It’s the audience discovering the show and deriving the reinvigoration, remasculinisation, unobtainium, replensihed nature, from the show that is the parallel to the marine and the weed dealers in the other programes. But we don’t have a proxy in the show going through this; we are restored by this past that is our pandora, while within the show wde watch others making the mistake of plotting to leave pandora, of plotting modernity which – and picture it as Avatar – lost that world for us and put us in the position of seeking only this spectacle substitute and compensation. So we are the marine immersing in rejuvinating pandora, planet of spectacle and new media;, when we watvch Madmen, but we watch the past where opur Pandora was lost and the trajectory understaken that led to the defective crumbling multicutlural impuirified dying civilisatiion that is the would be invader seeing unobtainium. And in thsi way Madmen is an imperfect cure but it is othering the social evils of our reality by shifting them to a timelione that ais as if an alternative timeline to ours as we step into the return to madison avenue pandora, but we simultaenously know that that plane of othered evils is our own history and our own time. QAnd these evils are the evils as the right depicts them – rhe devline of white makle supremacy=decline of american power/empire to be lamented

    Then there’s this very odd feature though of Madmen that at the same time as you say it is not really entirely a quest for the rediscovey and reconquest of that lost order, the lost white male supremacy, the lost America of cold war fantasy. It is also othering those things – othering the things the other shows wish to naturalise and naturalising what the other shows want to other. But this not a radical stancve between the naturalising and the othering is happening not between america and its orietal southern communist dark outside but between wamerica and itrself. The set up allowes the othering to be shuffled to the needs to self congratulation…feminism, candour, ambition can be claimed or distanced, parked in the present or past depending on the way the audience is positioned to the past (as the origin of our now, as an alternative from which we”ve recovered, a learning experience, a more innocent time, a more guilty time, a time of realadventure, a time of constriction), but alwyas both claimed and othered. It’s the most flexible of all these shows perhaps for the recuperation of American exceptionalism and self-celebration and ikmperial confidence, because there need be no sacrifices (we don’t have to say “a racist country” because what is missing from the past we fantasise is implicitly present in the future that it contrasts to; we don’t have to say ruthlesslyt imperialist because we see the imperial confidence and ruthlessly consigned to a past that has been sur-passed) .

  46. sorry for all the typos. What I mean to say is that avatar and weeds (like most progframms) is doing this basic trick of surrogacy and othering. Posit our present as defective and threatened, expell all the evils of the critiqued reality onto an other, restore ourselves by appropriation of that other as a spectacle. And have this function on a level exterior to the programmes as the industry itself, its solutions for the declining rate of profit.

    While Madmen takes this basicv operation and makes it quantum. The othering is constant and never – present where we watch and past we watch are a closed circuit, thigns are moving back and forth, we have to observe to locate anything in either time, and we can choose to avow or disavow present or past as our authentic expression as convenient to our ideological preferences. So we can choose to identify as our authentic truth and values something depicted in the show (the past as font and origin, like a psychoanalytic childhood, or like roots), or choose to treat it as othered to the past as the dustbin, the dark ages before our enlightenment transformed us. And we can make this decision anew every second. We don’t have to fix the past as lost golden age or escaped barbarism or some definite combo – we can decide for each moment, each beat, how that’s arranged.

  47. john steppling says:

    “”An good exemplar of the form of this operation of spectacular compensation is Avatar: the problem and concern it acknowledges is environmental catastrophe and the incapacity of current Empire to fix it/ What we get is spectacle – new media, envisoned as nature, and idealised pure tribe (Nietzschean blond beasts, but blue) to compensate. Spectacle of the film i offered in compensation fotr ht lost life and the story told repeats this and justifies tribal ruling class ownership (of the tree, the unobtainium), vilifies pirates, and proposes itself, the entertainment industry, as the solution to the environmental crisis and crisis of the legitimacy of the status quo
    “” — i think this is really right, and an important point to remind ourselves about. Though obviously it a bit more complex. Its more complex in that there is a sort of individual Oedipual drama replayed….and also, the compensation takes a lot of forms. Avatar is so great as an exmple of that one form. I do think all nostalgia, all revisionist spectacle…..is always remembering something that never was. And that process, the mimetic audience deciphering of this, is fraught with tensions and contradictions. For its our own history, our own childhood projected out and its history as its internalized by us. Its moving in both directions in a sense. Its the need….one of my big motifs….its the need for narrative. And the actual realization that all stories are crime stories. And the spectacle has to mystify the past……..and erase it.

    So mad men has this sort of partial air brushing away of the real racial tensions of the time, the real courage and radical thought and art that happened…..not just by focusing on a fucking madison avenue firm….which is, you know, ok I guess….i suppose….if Isaac Singer were writing the scripts……….but as is, its mostly in the service of style. I love Alexander houses for example. I love draper wearing an early Rolex explorer…….the small ones…..i get it, its cool. Later he wears an Omega….which is actually a bad choice….but see, thats where one is led in this. Anyway……..the style is good, but its also not that GOOD. I mean the fetish for wingtips of that time……I remember..Florsheim long wings………..best american shoe ever made………and there were special pairs made, and it was a big dick contest….and somehow they dont get the repressed pathology and meaness of that era. The deeply sado masochistic dimension of those button downed guys with narrow ties. But back to the point…..the compensation mechanism. Its not only a corrective to the presnt. For the present is often a mystery……….and its more a reworking of a past to fill in, compensate, and explain whats wrong. Its wrong because we need more men like john wayne or jeb bartlett or ronald reagan. The fact that as you say, its our childhood in a sense……..our past…….the font, is quite right i think. And here is where the Oedipul dimension comes up……….because we cannot escape that either. The mimetic is annexed from both sides…….our lost object of desire, and as spectacle.

  48. Joanna Perry-Folino says:
  49. I just have to add this post-script – that it came to me finally that Nancy Botwin is the descendant of Barbara Streisand’s character in What’s Up Doc and For Pete’s Sake.

  50. ??? ????? ???? ????? ???????? ?????? ?? ??????????.

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