Thursday, June 6, 2013

We're All Nihilists Now

In the '60s, a politician, or an economist opined, "We're all Keynesians now," to announce the death of common sense in the domain of economics. (And a fun game of a few years later was to troll people with claims that "Obama is a Keynesian" in hopes that someone would confuse Keynesian and Kenyan.)

After watching the 4th season of Arrested Development, I'm willing to hazard that we're all Nihilists now.

In the first three seasons of the show, you got the impression that there were these two relatively nice people I could identify with who had been embedded in a nest of vipers. Fun vipers, but vipers none the less. Michael was the protagonist and I always longed for him to bid adieu to the rest of the family and take George Michael with him. They were characters I could identify with because their moral compasses were not as thoroughly demagnetized as the rest. Sure, the other characters were a lot of fun, but they were evil.

Not the evil of Hannibal Lector, but the evil of Jeeter Lester that is feckless, ineffectual and funny.

The first impression I got from the 4th season was that Michael and George Michael wanted to get in on the fun. And this was reflected in the exorcism of the last shreds of integrity from their characters.

Even the cat-like Maeby who had been amoral and cunning (a perfect fit for Hollywood, right?) was transformed into just another wastrel. Her relative success was a breath of fresh air to the story.

The result is a show I enjoyed, but not one that I felt I could identify with.

I believe the problem was that it is truly nihilist now. The show depicts Gob as a "Christian magician" as a dual of his more successful rival a "Gay magician." Almost as if both homosexuality and Christianity are mere affinity groups with no more significance than being marketing niches. There was a time when a person's appetites gave him significance and meaning. And before that a person's religion. This is un-watered nihilism.

And not the assertive nihilism of the Germans in the Big Lebowski, but a much more flaccid sneer at everything.

Don't get the idea I think Arrested Development wasn't funny. Or that I didn't like it. I have not laughed harder than I did at a couple points in the series. And I've troubled you with not one but two blog posts about it.

I'm just a little troubled.

When my kids were little, we got a copy of Bill Bennet's "Book of Virtues." Which was an anthology of little moralistic essays and stories ranked from easy to hard. The hardest of the essays was written by C. S. Lewis and it was entitled, "Men Without Chests." In it, Lewis suggests that a society needs men who can stand when others run, men who take up the hemlock like Socrates and drink it to make a point bigger than themselves, men who engage something transcendent.

Lewis reminds us of the notion of "proper affections" which is a simple matter of loving that which is good, and hating that which is evil. But what is the good that I may love it? Is it an arbitrary preference to be decided by tribal leaders or dictated to the sheeple by someone with the will to power?

I'm not offering any answers to these questions, but I will observe that if your answers to them are lame, then your ability to devise believable villains will be equally lame. As will your ability to stand against tyranny.

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