Monday, January 29, 2007


Pure brewy satisfaction - We threw out our filter-drip coffee maker. Goodbye, you efficient little appliance, you. Who’s a big Braun? You’re gone. Now we’ve got some space on our depressingly tiny countertop. And the dusty spot in the cupboard where the bodum used to sit is now empty.

Everyone knows the following truths to be self-evident: 1. bodums take up less space than filter-drip machines; 2. they have the most pleasing design of any item ever invented since inventions were first invented; 3. booyah! They sit on the stovetop and don’t bother anybody. And let’s not forget the whole awesome-coffee-production factor.

Our kitchen, frankly, was not built for small appliances. It was built in an era when kitchens were tiny, people were smaller, and microwave ovens were undreamt of. Our ceilings are tall, our bedroom is spacious, the courtyard is pure tenement-porn, but goddamn is our kitchen small. I put a ten pound bag of potatoes in there one day and couldn’t get in the room until we’d eaten half of them. Zing!

Punish and Heal - American television drama is almost exclusively about punishment by law and redemption by medicine. The CSIs, the Laws & Orders, the Cold Cases and Criminal Minds are obsessed with the problem of evil and the delivery of justice. I’d go so far as to say that the beat cops, lab geeks, coroners, detectives and prosecutors make up a giant justice delivery system, poised like a great hypodermic above the forces of evil – criminals, defense lawyers, internal affairs investigators, and all citizens who are not victimized pubescent girls. If the moral universe of these shows is of a piece, then make no mistake – everyone is suspect by virtue of their moral weakness. Except for the victimized children, still wrapped in a golden fog of innocence. And of course, the cops themselves, who struggle against whatever evil impulses they may have, winning out by dint of their inherent goodness. How do we know they’re inherently good? Duh – they joined law enforcement.

Tooling down the freeways alongside the good, the weak and the violated are the avatars of evil, the deranged freaks who exist solely to prey on other human beings. Drug dealers, serial killers, psychopaths – if you believe these shows, then these types are so common that they practically have their own suburbs. Television unleashes its fiercest weapon on these evildoers: the troubled genius who suffered some great loss at the hands of a fiend and is now on a mission to rid the earth of all the über-scum out there. Or some variation on that theme.

Can you imagine a contemporary drama about a guy getting out of jail and trying to live a decent life? It sounds like a setup for a noir film. It is the setup for a noir film. But these crime dramas, although they may imitate the grittiness of noir at times, are not noirs, where pro- and antagonist are barely distinguishable. The heroes of CSI or Criminal Minds inhabit a different moral universe than the criminals – and the summit of morality is the law. There’s no distinction between what is good and what is ruled to be good. Therefore to be outside the law is to be irredeemable. Although sometimes a hero will break one law in order to satisfy justice, which is the aim of the law. Which is a way of saying that the test of goodness is punishment of evil. In other words, don't tell David Caruso that you just run a tatoo parlor, because he'll say something confusing and then show up a week later to kick your ass.

In hospital shows, evil rarely resides in a character. Instead, evil is personified in the form of sickness, an invader of the body that the afflicted person may have encouraged (lung cancer from smoking, for example) but does not deserve. Instead of punishing the person, the doctors seek to punish the sickness, and in the process redeem the body of the patient. This is unstrained mercy. Just as it is unthinkable for the law-hero to forgive a criminal, it is unthinkable for the medicine-hero to refuse a patient. Much of the drama in medical franchises stems from the doctor dealing with personal quirks or the pull of other priorities that threaten to eclipse the imperative of the patient on the bed, his body besieged. Never mind that if you go into a real hospital in the States, you’re likely to come out sick and broke.

Oh yes, and BLAH BLAH-DEE-BLAH. Next up: entertaining blog entries.


ozma said...

Be careful with the Bodum. I burned myself pretty badly when the water splashed out as I pushed the plunger down. It turns out my coffee was ground too fine--There's probably a deeper explanation that involves particle physics. However, the up side was that I realized burns are great excuses! Two words: Silver sulfadiazine. Sounds so authentic.

The only problem is that I burn myself so often for real that these excuses are starting to look a little lame. So I pass them on to you and yours. Your local drugstore will sell you the most authentic bandages imaginable.

Your cop show thing. Thanks for explaining that to me. I put it more simply to myself. As in: Prosecutors always good; guilt always unambiguous. Which is why I can't watch those shows without going nuts (except for The Wire--where guilt is also unambiguous but more interesting). For the doctor shows what's inane is: Doctors always figure out what is wrong with you eventually. And it's so important to them to do so.

palinode said...

Ozma - you'll be happy to know that we always grind our beans coarse(ly) - not only is there no splashback, there's less grounds-at-cup-bottom agony. But I will invest in silver sulfadiazine.

The Wire is a great show. It's about actual people.

Anonymous said...

Griffin's ( from CSI Las Vegas) Aristotelic words of wisdom are priceless. Mind you Texas Walker Ranger is probably my ultimate american cop/cowboy hero. Yiiihaaaaw.

palinode said...

Walker Texas Ranger, of course, being created by a Canadian.

Anonymous said...

I stand corrected yet again.I have discussed American cultural imperialism with others. Turns out I am wrong about Griffin, he is called Grissom.

My Head Is Too Big said...

I don't know from Blah dee Blah, but that was pretty funny. Well written as usual. You forgot The Shield. Michael Chiklis(sp?) as the sociopathic cop. Hated the series but the concept was refreshing. On a side note, if you like top drawer B&W films, check out La Strada with a young Anthony Quinn. It was filmed in greek, then dubbed over in another langauge I didn't recognize with english. Travelling minstrel/strongman just trying to get by. S'good!

My Head Is Too Big said...

Oh yeah and Grissom could kick Horatio's ass any day of the week. Stupid David Caruso. I won't even get into Gary Sinise.

My Head Is Too Big said...

with english subtitles on top I meant to say. where's my damn coffee this morning?