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What if This Were Enough?: Essays by Heather Havrilesky

What if This Were Enough?: Essays by Heather Havrilesky

Author:Heather Havrilesky [Havrilesky, Heather]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Literary Collections, Essays, Self-Help, Personal Growth, General, Social Science, Popular Culture
ISBN: 9780385542890
Google: fbhFDwAAQBAJ
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2018-10-01T21:00:00+00:00


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The operating system that guides Billions reflects the culmination of years of cultural programming that either savors the gray area of any moral puzzle or else sidesteps the issue of morality altogether. But TV comedies are in many ways even more depraved than dramas. Where Woody Allen may have taken us down the path of the lazy and entitled, he tended to treat his characters’ indiscretions as the outgrowth of any sophisticated adult male’s natural desires, thereby sidestepping moral dilemmas the second they arose. (“Of course we’d all like to sleep with teenagers instead of our wives,” he suggested with a wink, as if this admission made him adorably raffish and not a criminal.) Seinfeld’s morality went deeper, acknowledging that being an intelligent, entitled New Yorker doesn’t exempt you from being judged as repugnant. The show demonstrated over and over again that selfish, lazy people can do actual, concrete harm, even if they don’t necessarily lose sleep over the consequences of their actions. (Remember when George’s fiancé died from licking the cheap envelopes he bought for their wedding invitations?)

Most of our “golden age” comedies, from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Veep to the works of Judd Apatow, follow in this Seinfeldian tradition. The characters are self-serving and pathetic and unscrupulous; that’s what makes them funny. In dramedies like Weeds, Transparent, Fleabag, and Big Little Lies, selfish, myopic, pathetic behaviors are treated as the most entertaining aspects of privileged people. Indeed television has been marinating in blatant, unpunished selfishness for long enough now, in our scripted programming but also in our nightly news, that it’s as though we’re slipping back into Woody Allen territory. The shores of our morality recede, but the tide of forgiveness rises to meet it. In such a world, of course you’d sleep with your best friend’s ex-boyfriend. Stealing from your family, selling drugs, cheating on your husband—these things “just happen,” requiring little explanation or apology. We all make mistakes.

American exceptionalism, which always included some talk of bravery and honor but also privileged winners over losers and haves over have-nots, may have finally curdled into this craven survivalist brutality. TV reflects our culture’s fundamentalist roots leavened by an almost surreal disentanglement from our long-held standards of behavior. It’s not just a void of ethics that we’re witnessing, though; it’s the celebration of that void. Many of our most popular narratives sidestep unwieldy talk of values, a seemingly outmoded term, in favor of a recurring struggle to dominate, or else to avoid domination. Brutality, mercilessness, lack of concern for principles—these are painted as prerequisites. In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux remarked on the U.S. president, “Trump saw through so much. For all his awfulness, I can’t but help admire his shamelessness, in an odd way. Or maybe not admire, but be fascinated by it and maybe envy it. In a shame culture he seems to have figured out that if you refuse to be shamed, it gives you enormous power.



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