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Random Thoughts–TV Shows–and British Romanticism

September 2, 2014

Slide1I flipped through the pages of a magazine the other day. I know, how strange. Where did you find a magazine? What’s a magazine?

Well, it’s sort of like the internet but on paper and there’s a whole lot less of it. The packaging constraints associated with the “page” limit the pics and words that appear. But the interesting thing is that I may have had to expend more cognitive energy concentrating on the parts that I could see and less time dreaming with my clicker finger on the parts that I could not, clicking from one fickle mental chimera to another.

12 easy dinner items that taste amazing and take less than five minutes to prepare? Shoot. Why not images of the “biggest piece of candy in the world”? Apparently, it’s chocolate so big you can frigate on down the ocean in it. Now there’s a Goodship Lollipop I can get on board with.

Lord Alfred North Whitehead was probably a real bastard. I don’t know. Who knows? I didn’t know the man, but with a name like that you can just imagine.


Anyways, and with all possible assholery aside, some people have earned their reputations in history. Look into it. Some people seem to have actually deserved the attention. Maybe this guy does too. Gertrude Stein thought so and she did not impress easily. According to her reckoning, unvarnished genius could be found in herself, Picasso, Lord Whitehead, and maybe Hemingway…but only in that not-all-the-way sense typically reserved for flavor surveys of experimental foods, as in–would you say that you greatly enjoyed your serving of

soft curd beer sausage sorbet with hints of bacon and jicama?

Whitehead is the critic teachers were quoting when they told you that everything in Western culture is rooted in the past. I thought of that the other day in terms of TV shows. It’s kinda true.

Take any TV show and you can trace the basis of its appeal back to one of the main British Romantic writers. Why choose them? Because they’re so great? No greater than most canonical writers. Still, you’ve got to admit, the far-reaching impact of their views on what makes art good is much greater than most people’s memory of who they were.

Most people have no idea who John Keats is. But a whole lot of people see the world in just the way Keats taught us to in his odes and sonnets. Many of us believe that art is mainly powerless to alter events as huge as the French Revolution, let’s say, but somehow, we still believe in its magical powers. We believe art can make life worth living even in the face of our doomed condition as a species. Anyone who sees the world in this paradoxical way is looking through the lusciously ruby-tinted glasses of the greatest voluptuary that ever was, John Keats.

john-keatsTake it from John Keats, if you’re a political nihilist and getting nowhere, try wrapping your art in the enigma of hedonism. You’ll come off as a connoisseur of the beautiful. Others will admire you for your mettle. Clearly, you have harnessed an enviable quality. You continue to desire the beautiful amidst conditions that strike many others as consonant with the rapture. What’s the weather report? A touch of rain with possible hail and fire and brimstone. The apocalypse is a type of weather after all. I think Lord Whitehead thought that once. It was surely raining at the time.

While we’re on the subject of raining hellfire, take HBO’s The Leftovers, for example.


What classical British Romanticist does this show remind you of? A world defined by matters of heaven and hell. Polarities of innocence and viciousness. Visions and prophetic dreams. Graphically rich and vivid. Highly allegorical.


William Blake, of course.

How about Showtime’s Penny Dreadful?

ew-penny-dreadfulLasciviousness, deviance, reincarnation, the occult, demons, garish action, gaudy spectacle. Okay, here’s another one. Lord Byron. Mary Shelly too, but I can’t decide how seriously this show takes itself and if that makes it more or less Byronic.

Okay. How about Jersey Shore? Easy, peasy, Dopey, Sneezy. What gives it away is the world structured according to self-disclosure, a self-documentarian spirit of autobiography, a constant search for pleasure by the sea side in nature, an emphasis on the voice and ways of the most common types, the roughest sorts of people. Wordsworth. That’s Wordsworth all day.

If you can think of the show in terms of its bare essentials then you can look up the branches of its Romantic family tree to see whence it springs.

Oh, and for those of you still wondering about the show crafted in the mold of Keats. The Grecian Urn on TV is to be found in Animal Planet’s Too Cute. Tune in and see. But beware: it’s stock full of sensuality that verges on kitsch, the whole precious tangle of it so razor edged it’ll cute you to death.


One Comment
  1. Michael Andreoni permalink

    Tony Soprano as Richard III? “Godfather? Why, I’d rather be a cobbler”.

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