Jul. 9th, 2016

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All caught up on The Americans.

(Spoiling most of the 52 episodes to date, thematically and detail-wise.)

The marriage focus fits an immigration reading well, but the sort I was thinking about even better. For the immigration one, it's a good method of direct comparison of the two Ways: an arranged, for-the-benefit-of-others partnership that it's taboo to openly question vs. that of Stan and his wife, where the sense that it's supposed to be for their own happiness leaves both endlessly confused about whether they are happy or have been or would only start to be with someone else - and what that word even means. The show connects American marriage with the "more more more" of capitalism, but uses similar phrasing elsewhere to describe how the other Way has no end to what it asks of those following it, who end up possessing nothing but fairly detailed knowledge of what they're expected to do next.

Is it a coincidence, or anyway a mere consequence of script parsimony, that all the people who end up dying are presented as having no children because they're handling sex wrong? Well, there's the one instance of a couple with children who they haven't taught to handle sex right, and that's what ends up getting them killed. Furthest from that pattern I can think of is the old woman, who divorced and remarried the same person, which is I guess a traditional no-no? Or is it just that, to the traditional Way, a sufficiently old person has the same amount of value as someone bungling their fertility? (It's true that a lot of the snipping and tucking the show does involves hiding those elements of Second World culture incompatible with the most broadly recognizable of the Third's). Though it's notable that she turns out to be their Big Mistake.

The rundown of the others as I recall it:

Rapist defector
Other Man who can't let go
Pederast-esque martyr
Asexual- or homosexual-seeming aspiring doctor
Homosexual soldier
Teenage boy seeing adult woman
Adult woman seeing teenage boy
Several martyr-level nationalistic/religious Afghani men
Two racist males
Divorced and childless female spy
Divorced and childless male spy
Married but philandering woman
Promiscuous single man
Homeless rapist

In a post-pill, pre-gay-adoption world these are all strategies that can make your death precede your ever reproducing, either from a failure to get egg and sperm together or because you're risking your life promoting distinctions among people that are NOT based on reproductive success.

There's also that spy who dies in the pilot, who turns out to have an unauthorized girlfriend and illegitimate child - the KGB reacts to this by killing the woman but giving the child to its Russian grandparents.

For those characters who live we hear a lot about their children and/or parents.

The aeronautics worker is spared simply for having children; the sparing of the Pastor and Alice is intertwined with their being about to have a child. The two surviving handlers are promoters of fertility, I guess? Single people not clearly on a path to have kids are shown to be endangered: Hans with his rookie mistakes, the reckless teenage girl, Oleg. The "good son" bit is interesting, since family-mindedness is not great when it removes you from a sexual relationship but can't be directly attacked, as it's the ideology likeliest to get you reproducing later on.

I think the remark about America and the Soviet Union having the two highest divorce rates suggests the two countries represent extremes not found elsewhere. The Cold War will be won or lost in the 3rd World, Russell tells us, presumably meaning there's no "natural" pure example of family/collective-oriented culture. The show's argument is presumably that the two can, and maybe historically do or will, meet in the middle, with the spy leads gradually grasping the positive side to individualism, the FBI people grudgingly learning that their nemeses are not just confident and persistent but still human.

It's not quite liberal vs. conservative, but I don't think it's exactly backwater vs. cosmopolitan either. It's the selfish genes behind traditionalism that the show's interested in, but I'm not entirely sure it knows that, or anyway not beyond the Mendelian level. Not the platonic immigrant experience but the one so common it supplants any sense of what that might be: from changeless subsistence-culture towns to large modern wealthy cities.

I didn't pay enough attention to the details of the diseases prior to the last one, which represents loneliness and how it eventually "dries one out" and empties one's insides. A "western" problem, but caused by "eastern" expectations and strictures (e.g. the sense that one has no right to remarry).

Through Tim they even give what amounts to an existential defense of religion: if it helps you treat others well then it's a good thing, because only that matters. Which gets at the synthesis hinted at, I think, where valuing individual desires and feelings as themselves absolute is needed TO truly value (and understand) the collective good, while understanding that those individual needs are only fulfilled THROUGH our becoming part of something larger (sexual pair, family, political movement).

Makes it an unusually optimistic show.


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