Sunday, April 4, 2010

Keats, Cable, and Confusion

"The cosmology of HBO, FX and AMC is fierce and unrelentingly grim. It is a cosmology for a different America in a different television age than the '50s, '60s and '70s, when things seemed so much simpler. It speaks to our doubts and our debits, to our anxieties and apprehensions. It tells us that we are not necessarily good and that neither is our world. It tells us that not everything can be made right in the end. It is a journey into the American heart of darkness. And it's not television. It's life."The above is from Neal Gabler's thoughtful piece in the Los Angeles Times 4/4/10 (see link below).

It's as though cable TV show creators are struggling to achieve Negative Capability by embracing the messiness of life and its open-endedness. Except that instead of transcending doubt, uncertainty, and tolerating the anxiety of not knowing, they are ultimately asserting the pointlessness of doing so. But perhaps the culture needs to embrace entropy and nihilism, to descend into that heart of darkness, to fall upon the thorns of life and bleed, before there can be balance and integration. As the Romantic poets posited, the ideal is accessed through the real. And sometimes, reality bites.

And speaking of biting, it seems to me that the resurgence of the vampire genre (starting with Interview with the Vampire and Near Dark, and more recently True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and the Twilight saga) represents our deep desire to effect this integration. Humans and vampires coexisting and falling in love. Light and dark. Persona and shadow. Or, as Jimi Hendrix put it at Monterey (I just watched the D. A. Pennebaker doc tonight), sacrificing something that you really love:

Musicians like Jimi showed us that the times were not so simple in the '60s. Check out the woman's face after Jimi's sacrifice. She doesn't know what to make of it. He's fucking his guitar that he loves and burning it. "Is this love or confusion?" She's innocence. And he's The Jimi Hendrix Experience. William Blake embraced both, and as his wife once told a visitor, "Mr. Blake is always in Paradise." We all just want to get ourselves back to the garden.*

Title Page from The Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, 1794

Cable vs. broadcast: TV's different mindsets -

*See my post on the Coen Bros.' A Serious Man

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