Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Deadwood Is Us

One of my favorite television shows of the last couple of years is HBO's "Deadwood." People either love it or hate it. Someone recently asked me to try explaining what the hell it's all about and why all the bad language. Below is my attempt:

Deadwood may be more of a guy thing--sort of Sex and the City for guys. It exposes the frustration and anger that perhaps guys, in particular, feel at trying to create a civilized community out of the cooperation of individuals who almost never see how their own, narrow self interest MUST mesh with the collective self interest of the community, in ORDER for their self interests to be met; how sometimes acting against one's own self interest in the short term furthers it in the long term, even when that's really, really hard to see.

Especially living on 'the frontier' of the old, American west, which isn't so different from living on the 'frontiers' of globalism and new technologies, today, but is definitely a more pure distillation of the dynamics of civilization-building. It's a brutal dynamic, made more brutal when being played out by people of varying--but mostly low--education levels, moral scruples, personal hygene (a lot of 'ick' in Deadwood), alcoholism, etc., etc.

On the soundtrack cd of the show, the first track is spoken, from a character who has been told that there is no sherrif in Deadwood "No law at all in Deadwood, is that true?" The wider meaning is, of course, clear. And the language of the show--all those f@#cks and c@#cksuckers--reflect the lawlessness as well as the raw, rhythmic and latent cohesive force of language at its most fertile. The words are crude, and mostly divisive, but they take ON meaning when everyone uses them. They hint at the beginnings of the building of a common, moral code out of the muck of anarchy. When Swagen calls someone a "c@#cksucker," he's laying out moral and civic parameters, which are either re-enforced or modied when another character uses the word about someone.

Critics of Deadwood who complain that the show is not "realistic" or historically inaccurate are missing the point, in my opinioin. The show is all about civilization arising from the muck; civilization arising from language.

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