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Made-for-TV versus Movies

I only have a minute but let me see how much I can sketch to make one point.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who can scan TV channels very rapidly to decide if there’s anything I want to see without fear that I’m not giving what’s passed in the blur a fair chance. Could I miss something important? Certainly. But it’s a theoretical possibility I lose no sleep over. For one thing, I don’t “owe” any of it a fair chance. For another, one the rare occasions I stand in front of a TV to see if I want to sit down, I’m looking for very specific things, things that have myriad external as well as internal clues. If it’s Saturday or Sunday, I may find broadcast golf. If it’s June, I already know the basketball championships schedule and which channel is carrying it. If I think I could tolerate a little baseball outside of October (where I’ll glue myself to every pitch) and have no idea which channel might be carrying what, even the commercials will be full of clues as to the nature of the programming being interrupted: beer? Wait a second or come back in a few seconds.
commerce in the guise of entertainment

No. Let’s say I want to watch a movie. What I absolutely don’t want to watch is a made-for-TV movie. The made-for-the-theater movie is likely to make me sick before long: the made-for-TV substitute is nearly guaranteed to have that effect. Yet I spend very little time actually being sick. Can you do it? Do you know how you do it? Are you conscious of what you look for in the blur of cascading channels? I’ll isolate one thing I do. That one thing segues to a series.
I scan the demographics.
If races, genders, and ethnicities are present in a proportion that looks like the Melting Pot has worked I know it’s made for TV and that I’ll be sick if I linger. Communications as dishonesty, as self-hypnosis suggesting that we’re something a politician says we should be rather than what we are.

Misrepresenting the present to sanitize the past

2006 03 28 I spanned this point rather more succinctly in a recent email to bk:
Now TV even more than movies depicts prescribed but unachieved realities as though they were achieved: ads, sit coms … My best friends are black, female, Jewish. But then reality itself does change, and the prescriptions influence the change even though they fail to control it. Some people really do have female friends.
The context of the letter was my finally getting around to catching up on Buffy the Vampire Slayer via DVD (Season One, Disk Two): bk had said I might get a kick out of it. (I did; but then a lot of time passed before I got to disk two.) The episode that triggered my email involved a school field trip where students come into contact with hyenas and several start displaying pack predator behavior. The fiction contrasted in my mind to my own experience of pack predator behavior in high school and my memory of its portrayal in pop art of the time. Here’s the whole email:
2nd episode the school goes to the zoo, some kids break the rules and visit the hyenas fresh from Africa, they turn into pack predators at the school, that Xander joins them. Put people together, some will turn into pack predators, pack bullies, etc. and of course school is one of many institutions putting people together. I recognize all that except for one thing: in Buffy the pack seems to be made up of males and females more of less “equally.”
Now TV even more than movies depicts prescribed but unachieved realities as though they were achieved: ads, sit coms … My best friends are black, female, Jewish. But then reality itself does change, and the prescriptions influence the change even though they fail to control it. Some people really do have female friends. The pack integrates.
In Rebel Without a Cause the pack predators are male though they have female hangers on, a regular female audience. The girls watch, and put out. But the girls are not the pack predators. My group was pack predator in high school but without the girls, they got added latter: as the group dissolved, “causing” the group to dissolve.
Anyway, the world you lived in in the 70s, 80s was very different than mine of the 50s, 60s. What’s your take on how much of Buffy’s gender integration is real?
Am I saying that I demand “realism” from movies? Oh, no. What in hell could “realism” possibly mean anyway? (Wouldn’t there first have to be a rationally-based consensus on reality?)
Whoops, staying on that track will tack me away from, not toward, my goal. Let me come in from a different angle. I’ll narrate a pair of related scenes by a single artist where I admire the scenes, the artifacts as wholes, and their artist — near to worship. They relate to “ethnicity” and to “truth.” They are as far from “dishonesty” as it is possible for human communications to get.
The first example I would have sworn was already mentioned somewhere at I know I want to analyze the scene for macroinformation at Macroinformation as well. But I’m not finding it: I must have written about it in a letter or in my ideas diary.
The movie is The Seven Samurai (Shichinin No Samurai), Akira Kurosawa, director and auteur.

Seven Samurai
thanx cinecultist

A peasant village is attacked annually at harvest time by mounted bandits. The bandits leave them just enough food to have another harvest to attack the following year. The suffering farmers manage to enlist the sympathy of a ronin samurai. He raises an army for them of seven more or less peers to himself. The seven will direct as well as participate in the defense of the village.
During the peasants’ training the audience comes to know a few of the individual peasants. One may be comic, another pathetic. One of them, Rikichi, bears an undiagnosed sorrow.
It’s decided that a night reconnaissance of the bandit stronghold might give the samurai an idea of what they are up against and also an opportunity to shave the odds. Rikichi thinks he might be able to help the expedition locate the fortress. He does. The team estimates a head count through chinks in the logs. They set fire to the timber lodge. They’ll attack the first few out the door, then flee.
The fire gains hold slowly. The camera visits the sleepers within as only a bit of smoke curls among them. One woman isn’t sleeping. She raises her head and smells the smoke. She looks about and sees incipient flames all around. She smiles and settles back into silent relaxation.
Eventually choking bandits are plunging half naked through the door. Three samurai dispatch three or four, then retreat rapidly to their horses. The bandits make no pursuit. They’re busy with the fire. The skirmishers are safe. The raid was a success. They are away and will soon be well away, Rikichi is doing well enough on foot. But suddenly Rikichi’s butt has plunged to the forest floor. His mouth is open in horror, amazement. The silent watcher from within emerges from the lodge, eerily smiling a perverse enjoyment of the chaos. She turns and reenters the flames.
“My wife,” says Rikichi.
2003 04 05 I’ve looked them up: Yoshio Tsuchiya and Yukiko Shimazaki.
Now this movie is high up on any knowledgeable short list of greatest movies. Any idea of the one best movie ever is ridiculous; ten or a dozen best is not: or is at least less ridiculous. I insist that that movie should remain on any such list were the number cut to half a dozen. There are many superb, many supreme, things about it, not least of which are the performances by Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. For me, the sequence of the woman silent amid the smoke, smiling amid the chaos, silently returning to the embrace of the flames (with its shattering juncture of backwards “explanation” in Rikichi’s reaction is one of the supreme indelible images of cinema. There’s Griffith’s image of the dead tomboy in Intolerance. There’s Griffith having Lillian Gish cower in the closet right under her father boot in Broken Blossoms. There’s Chaplin smiling at the flower girl whose sight he’s restored incognito. There are the bandits feeling Bogart’s boots in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. There’s Jane Fonda’s ass in Cat Ballou: the dressing of Lee Marvin as hero in the same film. … But there’s nothing greater than the smile of the woman in the flames, celebrating her liberation from her captors.
No, that was not written for TV. It was not written to sell beer, or cars, or to encourage a racist public to deceive itself about its racism., about the quality of its democracy.
Ethnicity in The Seven Samurai? Why the role of the peasant woman: nearly a thing at home in the village with a husband revealed to us only years later who loved her; totally a thing cooking and cleaning for her rapists. (What if the wife saw her husband among the setters of the flames? Saw that she could go back home, maybe be safe? She might still have preferred to purge her defilement with death. Certainly a Japanese wife might.) (Though the Japanese are not the only courageous people in history to allow death as a player in their lives.)
(2004 05 22: I come back to this theme in my new section on Troy. Again I emphasize how much I relate to Rikichi’s identified but unnamed wife: regard her as my superior. I am captive among bandits: daily raped and exploited. I smell smoke. I (schmuck!) try to warn my captors. Fortunately, I am not in control. Nature makes sure that my captors heed none of my signals! She had the good sense to die mum.) (Jesus spoke in parables so we wouldn’t get it: would fail to grasp salvation.)

Like the first dip on Coney Island’s Cyclone, I never get used to it. Probably seen the movie seventeen times over four and one half decades. Know it’s coming, know it’s meaning … wipes me out all over again. Like Lear’s final speech. I can imagine Richard Burbage being all broken up all over again (without breaking up his lines) had the original performance run for five thousand repetitions.
I bring Lear up advisedly. Because the other Kurosawa scene I want to relate to the above scene from Seven Samurai is from Kurosawa’s filmic translation of King Lear: Ran.
Seven Samurai won dozens of international film awards. Ran was up for an Oscar. I forget what the exact Hollywood result was, but whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. Ran is as great a movie as Seven Samurai. And it has a scene in it that relates very closely to the woman who chose a flaming death over possible escape.
Toshiro Mifune’s astonishing successor for Bogart, Brando … male-hood, Tatsuya Nakadai plays the war lord with three sons (to Lear’s three daughters: this is Japan, after all). The warlord has razed the countryside in his decades of Order through conquest. He’s fiercely resolute, undefeated in battle; then sensibly “compassionate” in peace. He puts a rival to the sword but lets the dead rival’s daughter marry his son.
The warlord means to retire in his senility, dividing his power among his three males heirs. His youngest tells him he’s a fool to break up the power and wants none of it. Sure enough the two eldest sons act like Goneril and Regan. (God, what prescience Shakespeare had! names like a venereal disease and an American president!)
The wife of the one son encourages her spouse to take all for himself. The worse things go, the more advice she has for him. (What Hollywood should have done upon seeing the actress’s scene with the knife was instantly make a special award for the greatest filmed performance by an actress ever!) Things go kablooie, and when things can’t possibly get any worse, not a moment before, the wife, the daughter of the butchered rival, the junior warlord’s booster and counselor, openly mocks her men. The warlord’s loyal general takes her head off in an amazing single sweep of the katana, but the queen doesn’t seem to mind a bit. Her revenge is perfect and she needs to live no longer.

The Seven Samurai has appeared on TV. More than many times, I don’t doubt. Yes, even on American TV. But it will be at 2 AM. On a channel with a signal so weak and fuzzy you don’t need to hear a pledge drive to know it’s PBS. Still, even if it flashed by me in a remote driven cascade from a channel with cabled signal and had I no previous knowledge of the film, I believe that any of the images would have arrested me, made me pause, back up … What was that? Something real just flitted by.

With regard to ethnicity, notice that the point is the same. The life of the warlord’s wife, for all her silks and servants, was no more hers than was the life of the captured peasant wife.

Well. That’s already more time here than I meant to spend. I’ll return to make contrasting points about made-for-TV. I’ve got to go make some new points about macroinformation.
Hey! That reminds me: What are you doing here? You should be reading my new introduction at Macroinformation!

Made-for-TV? That’s what our population has become.
2000 12 25 I sure wish I could write my pieces and revise them perfectly before mounting them for the first time. This site would be nearly empty if I actually worked that way. Sometimes I get half of what I mean down, sometimes 10%. Other times I believe I achieve 90%, 99% on rare occasions.
When I can find time to continue this piece I have to make sure I made the point that what’s insufferable to me about fare “made-for-TV” is that the society depicted has no history. A demographically “correct” mix of people get along just dandy, caring for each other, sharing their toys: just as though there had never been a lynching, as though no corporation had ever gunned down their discontent workers.
In other words, TV shows us our wished-for world as though it were true. Either that, or it shows us cops, politicians, soldiers … 007 with a License to Kill … just barely holding back … the yellow hordes, the red reality.

2004 11 23: I really hate how inadequate this piece is: and I’ve had it up for four years now. I must do more distinguishing types of fictions. Who’s it for? What’s the market? What’s the purpose? Is it a depressant? or a stimulant? Is it a dye that reveals? or a dye that conceals?
What we put on TV is so typically history as we wish, our picture as we wish. In our actual history, we lynched, we back stabbed, we stole … On TV we were moral, just, circumspect. Our discretion was noble, not cowardice. [2013 03 22 Oh, God, and now Spielberg’s Lincoln has come out, won awards, gotten slobbered over … Chezuz, read DiLorenzo!]
I’m just seeing Reese Witherspoon for the first time: Sweet Home, Alabama. (Tiffany’s shows her all their diamonds at once?!? I don’t think so: even if her fiancé rented the whole place for his private party. You don’t ask a high rent place to behave low rent even if you’re paying the rent.) She’s appealing: whether she’s puking or looking neat as a pin. Now this is Hollywood: made for theaters, not just TV. Still, it’s Hollywood looking for (and apparently finding) the TV audience. Candice Bergan is the MAYOR of NYC. NY has its problems, but they’re NICE problems. Nothing really bad happened in anyone’s memory. And the white trash? the red necks in Alabama? Why they’re so cute. Nothing bad ever happened there either. The blacks just happen to be servants, low grade state employees. No one ever lynched or enslaved, or cheated or lied to, anybody.
A crisp blond and a dynamite brunette both walk in on the arm of a millionaire black Queen. No one runs for their castration knife. No one’s hand trembles, afraid to reach for their castration knife. No, that’s “TV” (in pk parlance).
I have to admit that I like Candice Bergan as the heavy. But then it’s neigh on to impossible not to like Candice Bergan no matter what she’s doing.
Similarly, if Reese Witherspoon wants a divorce, who can’t go along? And if she wants to stay married, she’s the blond.
Though I would like to see a sequel in which she goes back to NY to design dresses three weeks later. This time I hope she fails.

David Chase, on his TV The Sopranos:
So much of it is a glorification of authority and an attempt to convince the American people that life isn’t tragic, that everything works out and all those cops and all those firemen and all those judges and all those doctors, they really care.

TV Scrapbook
Joseph Campbell
PBS is fund raising again. Last night a Joseph Campbell tape was trucked out together with syrupy female voices and put-you-to-sleep music. The director of the Joseph Campbell Foundation joined the confab. Syrup asked him what was the one thing he would take away from tonight’s tape. Oh, that’s good: instead of many things, just one thing: can’t ask too much in boobland. He replied that Campbell used myth to hope he could get us to relate better to one another and particularly to difference. Seek out someone different and see if you can engage with them: relate: however briefly. Oh, don’t jump on a plane and fly across the world. Try it right in your own city, neighborhood, at work. Talk to someone you don’t know.
Shades of Ivan Illich. of Alan Watts, Gregory Bateson.
That’s right, says syrup. And you can do it just with your TV: watch PBS.
Take off your blinders: and put on our blinders.
We hear people bitch about the internet: so Onanistic, everybody alone with a machine. That’s true enough, though if it weren’t for my machine I wouldn’t relate to ANYBODY.
My Illichian attempt to foster direct relationships (via FLEX) was defeated.
I used to recommend literature (its own Onanism) as a way to know more people, have more experiences, encounter difference … doesn’t work well if you read only one kind of thing: all party line.
The foundation director forgot to warn us to behave ourselves when we go and chat up the alien. Typically humans have sought to kill Others.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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