Thursday, February 10, 2005

Desperate Down Under 

You might, or might not, be interested (or disturbed) to find out that the hit series "Desperate Housewives" is proving to be as big a hit in Australia as it was in the US.

The show is merely the latest and the most popular manifestation of the premise that underneath the veneer of an ordinary and respectable middle class (suburban) life lies a hotbed of violence, psychosis, depravity and perversion. This formula has been very successfully explored in popular culture since at least the 1950s (arguably starting with
"Peyton Place"), and more recently finding popular outlets in just about every Stephen King novel and in David Lynch's "Twin Peaks."

But there is a deeper side to it, too, since so many of the concepts that drive popular culture are just the dumbed-down versions of serious intellectual output produced by our intelligencia. The idea that bourgeois life is oppressive and hypocritical has been the staple of the New Left counter-culture critique of the status quo as well as the motherlode of the post-war feminism (it was
Betty Friedan who famously described the suburbia as "comfortable concentration camps" for their female victims), and for at least a century prior, one of the articles of faith for bohemian and radical critics of the social order, fed in part by the work of Freud and Engels (one could go even further back in time; after all, city, middle class, bourgeois life has had its critics since the golden age of Athens).

So as you kick back and watch "Desperate Housewives", remember it's not just an escapist entertainment but also the latest manifestation of a prominent intellectual tradition. You're not wasting your time, you're actually participating in subversion of the dominant paradigm. At least that's a pretty good excuse.

Just another thought: It's actually very difficult for shows like "Desperate Housewives" to sustain their momentum. Let's face it - the life in suburbia for most part is not prime-time exciting - but the writers and producers somehow have to maintain viewers' interest. This creates the pressure to try to top and outdo previous plot twists, and eventually leads to disasters such as the second series of "Twin Peaks", which ended up a confusing mess. You can only paint a small community so much darker and more twisted before it trips over the threshold of ridiculousness.

Meanwhile, fellow blogger
Ninme comments about the above observations:

" 'Honey? Are you watching TV before finishing your homework!'

" 'No, mom, I'm participating in subversion of the dominant paradigm!'

" 'What? Who told you that?'

" 'Arthur Chrenkoff, mom.'

" 'Oh, he writes for the Wall Street Journal! Keep participating, honey.'

" 'Sweet!'

"Darnit, where were you when I was a kid."
Update: Check out Andrew Bolt's perspective: "Unhappy, unfulfilled, unappreciated, unloved: these are the Desperate Houswives. And who's to blame? Men, of course."


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