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Tony Grist

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Al Swearengen [Dec. 8th, 2004|09:52 am]
Tony Grist
It was the final episode of Deadwood last night. Al Swearengen killed two people. One of these was a mercy killing. Aw, the old brute is softening.

And Trixie, the whore who loves Al in spite of eveything- and whom he loves in spite of everything, flashed him a brief smile after several episodes of frostiness. So Al gets a well-deserved happy ending. I'm so glad.

Art is essentially amoral. No that's not right. Art is thoroughly moral; it's just that it works to something other than the Judaeo-Christian system of values. In art we don't particularly love the good and the merciful. Such characters are usually insipid, unconflicted, dull. No, what we go for is energy.

Al, with his spaniel eyes and gorgeous turn of phrase, is full of energy. His energy makes him King of Deadwood. Others aspire, but they shrivel in the sun of his outrageous personality. He hardly needs to kill them; he has already obliterated them with the glory of his superior virtue.

That's "virtue" in the ancient Roman sense. In the sense that one might use it of a class "A" sonofabitch like Julius Caesar.

But is art actually so different from life? How deep is our morality really? Is it anything more than an alibi for timidity and social conformity? Plonk us down in a darkened room in front of the TV screen and the secret's out. We forget all about the blessedness of the meek and revel and roll- like pigs in shit (like the pigs to whom Al feeds the bodies of his victims)- in the wit and wisdom of Al Swearengen.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-08 12:45 pm (UTC)
We forget all about the blessedness of the meek and revel and roll- like pigs in shit (like the pigs to whom Al feeds the bodies of his victims)- in the wit and wisdom of Al Swearengen.


My goodness gracious! :)

--Having never seen Deadwood, I can only address the interesting thought "how deep is our morality really?"

My brother and I had an unsettling conversation at Thanksgiving.

I lambasted the system that allows young boys to be brainwashed so that they lose all their former sense of kindliness and can be effective killing machines.

My brother, who was a drill instructor during Vietnam who prepared troops for combat, answered me:

"It is hypocritical to sit here in comfort in the United States and say you would prefer that we not have armies.

"Without armies, you wouldn't be safe and comfortable.

"War is hell. But it's a reality for us."

I snapped back, "So we're talking about Jack Nicholson? 'You can't handle the truth!'"

My daughter and nephew burst out laughing, and all during the day, whenever I'd be talking with my sister or my brother, one of them would touch me gently on the shoulder and say, "You can't handle the truth!"

Which meant the argument stopped with impasse.

My brother said, "I wasn't in Vietnam, but I talked with many people who came back. None of them were grim killing machines. They said that, in the final analysis, they just didn't want to let down their buddies down the line. They were very bonded to each other.

"They thought about their families and their children, and they believed they were protecting them."

--I think we are very deeply moral. But I think our moral stances can change, be rearranged, be justified and rationalized.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-08 01:42 pm (UTC)
Deadwood is really rather marvellous. I love westerns- and this has pumped new life into the genre.

There's a survey that's just been published in which 85% of serving soldiers are reported as saying that bullying is endemic in the British army.

But of course. Military training is all about brutalizing people.

When my son completed his basic training he showed us a souvenir video. It featured, among much else, a sequence in which my son bayoneted a dangling sandbag while yelling "die, motherfucker, die!"

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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-08 01:56 pm (UTC)
Have you read Lonesome Dove? By Larry McMurtrey? It's a wonderful western. Won the Pulitzer.

--

When my son completed his basic training he showed us a souvenir video. It featured, among much else, a sequence in which my son bayoneted a dangling sandbag while yelling "die, motherfucker, die!"


I can't think of a thing to say. I'm transfixed by the image. How heartbreaking.

Is there no other way to protect ourselves than to do this to our children?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-08 02:04 pm (UTC)
I haven't read Lonesome Dove. Didn't they make it into a TV movie with Robert Duvall?

Part of the problem is that the children sort of want to have this done to them. I've always thought the cliche about smug old men sending innocent young men to the slaughter was a crass over-simplification. Young men love the idea of war. We're caught in an endless cycle of machismo.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2004-12-08 02:16 pm (UTC)
Yes, the tv movie series was based on the book, which is fun to read and drenches you in the dying Old West with unforgettable characters.

I've always thought the cliche about smug old men sending innocent young men to the slaughter was a crass over-simplification. Young men love the idea of war. We're caught in an endless cycle of machismo.

It's the way we are made, sad to say.
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[User Picture]From: arielstarshadow
2004-12-08 03:05 pm (UTC)
I think I would have responded that there was a time when we didn't have 24/7 training for our "armies" and that the armies still did just fine on the battlefield. There was a time when it was not deemed necessary to dehumanize a man so that he could become an efficient killing machine. I honestly think that many of those who are in the military really don't realize just how much who they are now is different from who they were - that's how effective the training is when it comes to changing the inner psyche.

I don't think your complaints about the system necessarily implied that you didn't want armies at all; you were merely commenting on a part of the system that you found repugnant.
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From: morrison_maiden
2004-12-08 01:59 pm (UTC)
My father used to watch that show. It seemed kind of interesting, though I haven't seen very much of it. The time period definitely caught my fancy.

In art we don't particularly love the good and the merciful. Such characters are usually insipid, unconflicted, dull. No, what we go for is energy.

I agree with this. Often, in books and film, the "good guy" isn't all that fascinating. I think a lot of people are glued to what the more complex characters are like. Because people in real life are complex, not all good or all bad...Except for maybe Charlie Manson or Jeffrey Dahmer ;)
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-08 02:11 pm (UTC)
The period detail is very well done. The dialogue mixes Victorian formality with modern street slang. Al's favourite word is "cocksucker".

Al is nicely complex. He's a thieving, murdering bastard, but also capable of real tenderness.
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[User Picture]From: besideserato
2004-12-08 02:03 pm (UTC)
Very Futurist, darling. Me likie.
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[User Picture]From: arielstarshadow
2004-12-08 03:07 pm (UTC)
I don't think reveling in darker people and the dark deeds they commit means that somehow, we are not deeply moral. I think the enjoyment of such things, for the vast majority of us, is simply the enjoyment of the taboo. The enjoyment of the really good quip someone gets off that we wish we had thought of when we were in a similar situation last week. The enjoyment of seeing someone get their come-uppance when they deserve it, even though in the real world, it often doesn't happen that way.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-08 08:55 pm (UTC)
The film director Luis Bunuel wrote that it took him until he was 60 to realize that his dark imaginings were innocent- that it was one thing to imagine a crime and quite another to commit it.
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[User Picture]From: balirus
2004-12-08 08:39 pm (UTC)
I do so love Deadwood, it's like a dirt sandwich that's too delicious to put down. Al glitters in his villainy, but you're right that it's his internal fire that's really the source of his power.

What a piece of work that show is. HBO's website for the show is a nice resource, including some great lines from the show, as well as a running body count.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2004-12-08 09:00 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've visited the website- and tried not to pay too much attention to the spoilers (you guys are many months ahead of us.) Now I'm looking forward to series 2.

I was surprised to find how many of the characters are based (however distantly and inaccurately) on real people. I was sure Seth Bullock had to be an invention- but no, turns out he was for real.
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