News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: In Memoriam: Deadwood

Sunday, September 03, 2006

In Memoriam: Deadwood

And I didn't even know it was over, though seeing Bullock let Hearst leave town alive raised my suspicions. ...

There are so many myths about the old West, that's why this series on HBO was important in many ways. It's probably more realistic than other show about the west has ever been; on the other hand, its very surreality is instructive in showing how much our understanding of our own myths reflects more of who we want to be than what those in the past understood themselves to be.

Consider the following analysis of the American myth from JGA Pocock, writing in The Machiavellian Moment:

A romanticization of popular energies, akin to the romanticism which Wood detects in Madisonian liberalism, makes its appearance in frontier rhetoric; but, following the paradigms laid down by Machiavelli, virtue in this sense must be as dynamic as popular virtù. A dynamism of virtue was being invoked to counter and contain the dynamism of commerce, and must partake of the latter's passionate and fantastic qualities. The primitive and half-comic heroes of frontier legend, however, were insufficiently political to embody virtue in its republican form--Davy Crockett was not imaginable as the congressman he was in real life--and the myth found its personification in Andrew Jackson. Frontier warrior turned patriot statesman, successful adversary of the second attempt to charter the United States Bank, the Jackson of legend has a good claim to be considered the last of the Machiavellian Romans and the warlike, expanding, agrarian democracy he symbolized a Fourth Rome, perpetutaing republican virtus as the Third Rome of Moscow perpetuated sacred empire. -- p. 535
Scott McLamee does a pretty decent--albeit predictable--autopsy; I might take a hand at it once I get over my grief...

McLemee writes:
The final image of the series really did sum it up perfectly. It shows a man [Al Swearingen] on his knees, scrubbing a pool of blood off the wooden floor.

Another character, Johnny, has just asked for some reassuring words about the event that led to the giant stain. Johnny leaves, and the man with the brush gets back to work. “Wants me to tell him something pretty,” he says.

It’s not a rebuke, exactly — just a reminder that, as someone once put it, every document of civilization is also a document of barbarism.

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