Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fabius Maximus on 'Castle'

The big entertainment event of the evening is The Tony Awards, but I took a look at the nominees and decided that there were too few nominees that were on topic for this blog that I passed.  Besides, musicals and plays work well for tourists and culture vultures, but they just aren't the mass entertainment that they used to be, especially in the days when musicals went from the stage to the screen.  Now, they're more likely to go the other way, as at least three of the nominees, Aladdin, Bridges of Madison County, and Bullets over Broadway, were films first and musicals second, while a quick pass through shows only two, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Les Miserables, that went from stage to screen.  I'm not counting the various revivals of Shakespeare; besides, they're not musicals.

For my Sunday entertainment-themed entry, I'm linking instead to Fabius Maximus, who posted a series on the show Castle.

 (1) Spoilers for “Castle”: explaining the finale & season 7. It’s a metaphor for America.
 (2) What we do here. Why it’s unpopular. And our new theme.
 (3) What the TV show “Castle” teaches us about America, and ourselves, — About our myths
 Intermission: Watching the weekly adventures of our fun stylish security police — Looking at NCIS: LA
 (4) The TV show “Castle” challenges us to see our changing values. Most fans decline, horrified.
 (5) “Castle” shows us marriage in America, a fault line between our past & future
 (6) “Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America
 (7) Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America
 (8) “Castle” shows that many of us don’t defend New America because we don’t like it
 (9) The bitter fruits of our alienation from America
(10) How you can start the campaign to reform America

In keeping with this month's comment theme, I'm quoting the conversations Fabius and I had in comments on some of these entries.  Follow over the jump for them.

First, the comment thread for What we do here. Why it’s unpopular. And our new theme.
Me: When I was a more active fan of Japanese media, especially manga and anime, I used them as windows into Japanese fantasy life, but also realized they were fun-house mirrors of Japanese reality. I learned a lot about how the Japanese saw themselves, and what they thought of other people. I also discovered that, beneath their conformist exteriors, there is a lot of weirdness, both by American and Japanese standards. Of course, what I watched and read reflected what would sell best in the export market, and might just reflect what American viewers and readers wanted but couldn’t get in our own entertainment. The revolution was imported.

I also realized that the same could be said about our popular culture. What fears and desires are we showing to the world in our TV programs and movies? I guess I get to find out now.

FM: Neon,

Thanks for the comment. I never thought of manga and anime as windows into Japan’s culture! I wonder if myths and arts provide mirrors to a people, but can only be used by people with deep knowledge of that society.
Fabius Maximus picked up on that thought later in response to my comment on “Castle” shows us a dark vision of Romance in America
Me: Curses! You have me watching “Castle” now!

The first episodes I watched were the repeats on TNT and they made me wonder why you were writing about the show. What’s there to see in a light-hearted detective drama with more than a dash of romantic comedy? You could go back and watch “Moonlighting” or “Remington Steele” from the 1980s for that, and catch some big-name action stars in their breakthrough roles, too. Still, that wasn’t considered serious fare then, and I wouldn’t consider those early episodes of “Castle” serious fare now. That didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy them. It helped that the first episode I watched was the one about a murder at a science fiction convention directed by Jonathon Frakes of Star Trek:The Next Generation. He knew exactly how to handle the material; after all, he lived it.

Just the same, I asked why you were looking at this show, and not something ostensibly more serious, like “Scandal,” “Homeland,” or “The Blacklist.” Those shows deal with the theme of how America handles power and responsibility, which I think would be more central to the mission of your blog. I’ve mentioned all three on my blog when covering entertainment.

Politics, science fiction, and fantasy at the Golden Globes

Politics and fantasy at the Emmy Awards: Dramas

Then I watched an episode from this season. Lo and behold, “Castle” had become a serious show about security theater, just like all the rest of the ones I mentioned. I stopped asking myself, because I was watching a show I think is worthy of your attention and mine.

Of course, looking at IMDB shows that Lisa Edelstein’s character Rachel McCord only shows up in three episodes, so I suspect the setting returns to New York from Washington DC. The show might return to something less serious, too. Oh, well. At least you got me to pay attention.

Keep up the good work.

FM: Neon,

Thank you for your comments!

However, I’ll defend the value of looking at mass entertainment — as much or more enlightening than “serious” shows. As generations of literature and comparative literature professors have done, and been mocked for doing.

The hit shows are popular for a reason. They resonate in some way with people, with their dreams and fears. As such we can use these shows as mirrors to America, magnifying aspects of our society for easier viewing.

Comic books, anime, manga, romantic comedies, action adventures — all give a window into aspects of America we would rather not see.

Me: Oh, I quite agree with you about the value of looking at mass entertainment. After all, the three shows I named are also very popular mass entertainment; they just happen to be ones that get nominated for awards. I was just wondering why you picked “Castle” in particular. Then I went back and read the comments to the earlier entries. Your wife got you hooked on the show. Say no more. My wife has done the same with me.

FM:  Neon,

Got it; thanks for explaining!
Fabius and I went off on a tangent about Kunstler.  That deserves an entry of its own.*  Instead, I'll skip ahead to our exchange in Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America.
Me: I do think you’re onto something by examining America through its entertainment, particularly television. After more decades of being involved with various entertainment fandoms, ranging from drum and bugle corps to anime to reality TV, I’ve come to the following conclusion, “Americans will take all manner of social, economic and political abuse, but will rise up with righteous fury when you disturb their Entertainment.” We take being entertained very seriously, possibly because our entertainment may be the part of our lives over which we have the most power of choice. It may also be because our entertainment is so compelling.

Crime and (In)justice are very popular topics in film, too. Here’s what I wrote about the Oscar nominees and winners this past March.

“More than half the Best Picture nominees involved crime. Two more involved injustice. Only the two science fiction films, “Gravity” and “Her,” involved neither. Furthermore, all of the nominees for both Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role involved crime or injustice, too. The only acting nominee in films not about either crime or injustice was Sandra Bullock in “Gravity.”

As far as who won, it looks like crime paid. “12 Years a Slave” won for Best Picture and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, “Dallas Buyers Club” boasted Best Actor, both in leading and supporting roles, and “Blue Jasmine” got Cate Blanchett a Best Actress Oscar. Only “Gravity” won one of the top six awards, Best Director.”

Crime and injustice among the Oscar nominees

FM: Neon,

For context, this is a focused and goal-driven search to understand why we allow the Republic to decay and fall — undertaken after previous attempts and diagnosis and prescription had weak results.

The next few posts will wind this up. The results are not pretty.
Well, phooey.  I was hoping he'd do more about entertainment; it was a topic I could share with him.

Next, “Castle” shows that many of us don’t defend New America because we don’t like it.
Me: So, are you proposing that we find a way to get America to like itself again? That’s what Reagan did. It worked for a while, but we’re now paying the cost. Do you have a suggestion that would work better for our current situation? I have a feeling you’ve posted it already. Time to dig through the archives.

FM: neon,

“So, are you proposing that we find a way to get America to like itself again”

The opposite. The exact opposite. Get involved and make an America we like.

Me: “Get involved and make an America we like.”

Much better. I’m trying to do that as a board member of an organization called the Coffee Party. Ever heard of us?

Coffee Party USA

FM: Neon,

Best of luck!
Thanks, FM.  You have no idea how much The Coffee Party is going to need it--but that's a topic for another entry.  Stay tuned.

*I've posted that entry: Fabius Maximus and I discuss Kunstler.

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