Aug. 7th, 2016

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Penny Dreadful.

Was goddamn terrible but with an asterisk. It had a real vision, but buried it under doings it didn't give a damn about, and unfortunately this uncaringness could be felt. It is the opposite of campy - it hates what it knows to be wrong and does the wrong thing anyway. Oddly, this practice too is part of its real vision.

Apparently everyone hated the finale because it killed a favorite character. While that death was in fact handled stupidly everything interesting about the character had been destroyed long before. The finale's actually the best episode of the last season by a wide margin, though in most respects not actually good.

Dorian Gray is hedonism without passion, a collector rather than feeler of art. He does not age because he is dead. He is what we are when we purchase safety at the price of commitment.

Doctor Jekyll is the drive to make a positive change for the wrong reason: to show to others that we are good enough to. His change is that of all those who succeed in this way. He joins the status quo and stops trying to make the real changes.

Dracula is addiction. Self-destructive pleasures that remove our having to think make us animals, which is appealing because we both enjoy and stop second guessing ourselves. Our opportunities, friends and health disappear, but to the extent we're claimed we don't notice. Vampires are addicts of this sort.

Frankenstein is the rescuing impulse and the condescension involved therein. His monster is the rage of the have-not. His monster's bride is the rage of the victim.

Good witches are women who support one another in the shadow of patriarchy. Bad witches are women who embrace their sexualized secondariness as a means of power, using it against all other women - seen as rivals - and to dominate men and/or lash out at them in revenge.

Werewolves are men who get too mad because of what they've lost, such that they indiscriminately attack. They're distinct from have-nots since they've had, victims since they did not suffer from those of higher status. Guilt at the damage done by their rages enrages them more.

The ancient Egyptian pre-goddess is female sexuality, which has not been destroyed but isn't allowed an outlet without being miscategorized as a self-destructive addiction. The only choice it has in the 1890s is to go mad from keeping it in or to let it out wildly and self-hatingly.

The explorer is white colonial patriarchy just past its peak, where it begins to become horrified at how its blithe taking spree has damaged those closest to it as well as everyone else.

I can't remember what the voodoo king was. The colonized, I assume?

So for a raging white man to kill a good girl gone bad to prevent general malaise ... is not meant to be taken at face value. Better solutions don't exist. That he's called the Hound of God should alarm us.

The show ends with the have-not, who has suppressed his rage, his desire to take like the takers, his desire to destroy and to be destroyed, and his desire to hold onto semblances of what has already been lost, lamenting that nothing more could be done for a freely choosing desiring female subject.

Startlingly, the show zeroes in not just on what modern media typically does when depicting the Victorian period - industrialization and its discontents, patriarchy and its outcasts - but on its Post-Romantic status. These people know romanticism and the Romantics well, but as something either abandoned with childhood or belonging to some other age or land or dimension they can never quite access. Toward what sort of Romanticism are they nostalgic and at times gnostic? The one where life is a progression within and toward a desireable world, one never fully known or explored but filled with light, so that more new things are seen with every step. The show suggests that this is what life is when racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, imperialism etc. are not there, and especially the various forms of self-hatred and self-sabotage these create.

And since the period the show depicts IS the evil, good cannot win on it. The faux-good that does win isn't even directly undermined. The white males learn lessons but can't quite connect them into any larger understanding or purpose, past noninfliction of the specific evils they'd seen the effects of in the wake of having perpetrated them.

The show's contempt for violence makes it not just splatter it everywhere, but in repetitive and boring ways. Profound distaste for the phenomenon prevents mimesis and its synecdochic function robs it of detail. The show really does find monster movies cheap and dreadful. This is a big problem. To succeed at genre, even in a revisionist way, you need to like the genre. To respond to it on some level. Tendentiousness might be bad enough, but this show's is both concealed to the point of being forgotten and all there truly is connecting anything. Except for just a touch of the truly romantic, which often makes it in only through direct quotation of Romantics - from Blake to Wagner. It's the worst tv show I'll ever forgive.

The Lupone witch episode is its exact equivalent of the John Caroll Lynch Walking Dead one - direct statement of the whole series' theme disguised as a one-shot. And since the form of indirection chosen is so infelicitous, it's the one episode that's actually good AS an episode. It's a waste of life to watch any of the others, but there are scenes strewn throughout the first season, a couple in the second, and couple more in the final episode that are also good. I wonder if they could be cut together in a way worth watching.

Oddly, what it most ends up resembling is Lost. How Lindelof's actual vision, which was pretty much that of The Leftovers, hid itself, deferred itself, at last lost itself. But here not just time is wasted but the talents of Green, Kinnear, Lupone, and Beale.

The newborn monster in the market, the Tristan scene, the seance, the talk in the tunnel about poetry and God, moments in Frankenstein's childhood flashback episode and in Green's, one or two in the psych ward, a few of Lily's scenes, the witch. Those are left over. The rest is the worst kind of television possible - mediocrity bored with itself.
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Speaking of terms of art, is there a special one for deliberate projection in the political sphere? That "I know you are but what am I" thing that Fox News always does? Trump's doing it now by painting Clinton as unhinged - and of course was doing it before when calling her crooked. I suppose the point is to suggest either equivalent guilt (they're all the same anyway) or that suggesting such things is just what political campaigns do regardless of the facts. And for true believers it creates the same "how dare they" feeling that I have, the sense that Big Lie-level projection is occurring, perhaps aided by how we all remember the unfairness of the I'm Rubber technique from childhood.

So it performs different work on the 3 groups:

1. Supporters: fury that the other side had, to their minds, used the very tactic you're using.

2. Undecided: confusion about who's guilty of what, leading to condemning both parties or neither.

3. Opponents' supporters: fury that you're using this tactic.

Doesn't tend to turn a negative story into a positive, but it can wipe the slate clean again. It can only really work when your base is disaffected from mainstream, fact-based media, your opponent's sufficiently high-info that you have no shot at them, and the undecided don't delve much into details. I.e. only for the present conservative movement, but for them it can work over and over and over. And is a big part of how big lies have gradually become self-sabotagingly huge ones.

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