November 20, 2012
I don’t have much time for television in my current job, but parishes or no parishes, I haven’t been able to give up House, MD. The show ended last year but I’ve been watching it on Netflix—I march at my own pace, as readers here know—and last week I reached the final episode.
Dr. House, as viewers can attest, is a difficult man to like. A drug addict, a cynic, a master-manipulator, he shows glib disregard for the feelings, beliefs, and even human rights of others. He has a penchant for insulting patients and destroying relationships with anyone who dares to get close to him. A difficult man to like, yes—but I like a challenge.
The genius of the show comes from the character’s complexity, the fact that House needs relationships even as he unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) burns the ones he has. His colleagues (and viewers) see through his frequent, and slightly too insistent, assertions that curing patients for him is only a matter of solving puzzles. And a great deal of his off-putting-ness comes from the fact that he says things that are true, or uncomfortably close to the truth, but socially unacceptable. Read the rest of this entry »
August 15, 2010
I’ve blogged about the French-born anthropologist Rene Girard before (here’s my summary of key Girardian ideas); what I find particularly insightful in his work is the emphasis he places on how our desires develop through mimesis. In other words, we learn what to desire often just by imitating others. A few Girardian moments this summer reminded me of the validity of this point.
The first came at the first birthday party of my niece, the adorable Chloe, who I’ve mentioned before. Chloe has idiosyncratic tastes; she’s as often interested in gnawing on someone’s shoe or a newspaper as she is in playing with her toys. The one thing you can do to make her more interested in the toys, however, is to start playing with them yourself. Once Chloe notices someone else playing with a toy, she crawls resolutely across the floor and takes it from them! Mimetic desire starts early.
I thought of Girard again in northeast India when the fifth graders in the remote mountain village where I taught started flashing gang signs whenever I took their picture. Of course, when I asked them what they were doing and why, they had no real idea—they were just imitating something they had seen on TV.
I should back up a bit here and say that even though the village where I worked has no telephone connections, paved roads, refrigeration, radio reception, or indoor plumbing, nearly every house has satellite TV. An enduring image of the journey will be that of The Dish sticking out from under the thatched roofs of bamboo huts.
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July 17, 2010
Over the past few months I’ve been working my way through a collection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories published in The Strand Magazine. The collection contains facsimile copies of the original Strand pages, including original illustrations (in which we see Holmes in his characteristic deerstalker hat, never mentioned in Conan Doyle’s text).
As I’ve been reading the stories, I’ve noticed more parallels between Holmes and my favorite TV character, Dr. Gregory House, than between the Holmes of Conan Doyle and that of the recent action flick staring Robert Downey, Jr. Both Holmes and House use substantial deductive powers to solve mysteries, criminal and medical. Both suffer from addictions, to cocaine in Holmes’ case and Vicodin in House’s, addictions witnessed with dismay by their respective sidekicks, Dr. Watson and Dr. Wilson. And both bachelors have somewhat off-putting and eccentric personal habits.
In fact, the Sherlock Holmes short stories from The Strand bear a striking resemblance to a television series. Read the rest of this entry »
July 2, 2010
I don’t watch much TV, but I’m beginning to suspect I have an addiction to House, M.D. This might be appropriate, given that the show’s main character, Dr. Gregory House, is himself recovering from an addiction to painkillers.
House might seem like an unlikely, dare I say even unhealthy, addiction to develop. As a Jesuit friend observed to me, explaining why he couldn’t stand the show, “He’s just so mean.” And, I admit, Dr. House is not a very nice guy.
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January 12, 2010
I am a bit of a Brideshead Revisited junkie. Evelyn Waugh’s novel is among the best of the 20th century, and the 1981 BBC miniseries, staring a very young Jeremy Irons, along with Anthony Andrews, Sir Lawrence Olivier, and the delightfully passive-aggressive Sir John Gielgud, is arguably the greatest TV miniseries of all time. Both the novel and the miniseries are elegant, wry, and subtle.
You can imagine, then, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued when I watched the 2008 film “adaptation” of Brideshead, which had all the art and nuance of Melrose Place. Make that outtakes from Melrose Place. The characters were flat and banal, and the plot drooped. The cinematography was elegant enough—a good period piece—and the acting passable, but Waugh’s masterpiece had been left behind.
Now this is not the lament of a literary purist—I am a junkie, not a purist—for whom even the slightest alteration smacks of treason. Read the rest of this entry »
October 3, 2009
"When everything is done apart, we forget our connection to each other and the world." Ken Burns at the 2009 Boston College Commencement
In a few other posts I’ve taken up the theme of theology as practiced by artists, filmmakers (both cinema and television) and fiction writers. Once again, television audiences this past week were witness to a bit of theologizing. This time Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker who changed the way documentaries are made with his Civil War, offers his take on God and nature in The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.
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August 4, 2009
In the opening pages of the Epilogue to his monumental theological trilogy, Hans Urs von Balthasar considers modern man as an anima technica vacua. He notes the contemporary desire for the Church to try to meet modern man “where he is,” cites several reports about the excessive television watching of American and European children, and then wonders:
So severe is this situation that most teachers of religion ask, with equal justice, just who these ruins are whom we should try to “meet” (against their will!) “where they are”. A missionary toiling in the savannas of Africa or on the atolls of the Pacific has it relatively easy: he encounters a perhaps primitive anima naturaliter christiana. What might come across to the native as pure theological Chinese he can easily translate into the simplest of languages. But where is the famous “point of contact” with the anima technica vacua? I for one certainly do not know. Some table-rapping. A séance or two, some dabbling in Zen meditation, a smattering of liberation theology: enough (10-11). Read the rest of this entry »