Wednesday, December 07, 2011

'Boardwalk Empire' Is Now

Popular culture has always reflected the tone of its society. Movies, especially genre oriented films like horror, science fiction and westerns are obvious examples. Lots of books have been written about how they mirror the mood of the times.

Music, too, is a reflection of us. The malt shop/doo-wop of the 50's sang simplistic songs of a post-war goody-goody suburban America. In the 60's, lead by Bob Dylan and The Beatles, we got serious, and the music more complex and adult.

Television is perhaps the most blatant mirror. It's disposable, mass produced, and unlike music, which can be murky and symbolic and poetic, television shows are more obvious statements than songs are.

In the 60's, during the height of the Cold War, we were inundated with 'spy' shows. In the 70's, during a rare liberal wave, we saw shows like 'All in the Family' and 'MASH' that not only exclaimed left-wing ideas, but portrayed right-wingers as fools and nincompoops (Archie Bunker and Frank Burns).

For the last decade or so, we have seen numerous shows depicting criminals, for example, 'The Sopranos'. But not only are these shows about criminals, they are criminals that are in cahoots with the government. Tony Soprano had politicians in his pocket.

In 'Breaking Bad', Gus, the king-pin drug dealer, has the Feds on his side. On 'Weeds', the mayor of Tijuana is a mobster. 'Boss' and 'Damages' and 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Big Love'...all these shows portray government officials as crooks and gangsters and killers.

In the 60's, we were lead to believe that 'spy' shows were fantasy and common sense told us that the adventures of our TV heroes was no reflection of the real CIA or KGB agents, who's jobs were probably more about pencil pushing than action. But in retrospect, the truth about what the CIA and KGB were up to is probably even more frightening than anything Napoleon Solo or Jim Phelps were doing.

The current theme of shows that tell us the world is run by crooks and that everything revolves around power and blackmail and money and violence seems outlandish. But I think that we'll look back and think how shows like 'Boss' were accurate in the ways of the world. Sure, they are overblown and simplistic compared to real life. But could it also explain the Wall Street crisis? And the scandals of Cain, Spitzer and Weiner? And how the President's hands are tied, no matter who he/she is? Just maybe.


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