Once, at a dinner party, Simone de Beauvoir found herself seated next to a Jesuit priest in full regalia. His orthodoxy notwithstanding, the Jesuit had perused The Second Sex with considerable interest, professed an open mind about feminism, and greeted De Beauvoir in the spirit of honest discourse. “I look forward to sharing ideas with you this evening, Mdm. De Beauvoir,” he said. She turned to the Jesuit, scrutinized his vestments, and blankly replied, “What could I possibly have to talk about with you?” She then turned away, justified in the knowledge that, when existential principles confront absolutist dogma, dialectics become useless, and it is preferable to spare both parties the embarrassment of a futile, passive-aggressive exchange.
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Following the season finalé of HBO’s True Detective, I can’t help but reflect on how this second season — set in southern and central California rather than the Louisiana bayous — used and treated its Latino/Latina characters.
In an episode halfway through the season (“Other Lives”), after a big shoot-out that marked a turning point in the labyrinthine murder mystery, Detective Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell) looks around an overcrowded housing complex filled with undocumented Latino immigrants and their children — kids digging in patches of dirt, women patting tortilla dough outside — and mutters to himself “Jesus Christ” with a look of disgust and disbelief as he walks away.
American political life has reached an unenviable crossroads: we want government to be effective, but government has been ineffectual for so long that we can only fear what the shock of activity might bring. A line in G.K. Chesterton’s political treatise What’s Wrong with the World? aptly sums up this state of things: “We all agree that a lazy aristocracy is a bad thing, but we would not want an active aristocracy.”
Americans likewise face the interlaced problems of heartless inaction and imprudent action: we complain about partisan gridlock but forget the terrors wrought by eager consensus, from The Defense of Marriage Act, to the Patriot Act and the ceaseless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If solid bipartisanship can wreak irreparable harm, we might prefer despairing paralysis.
The fourth episode of Unplanned America, titled “Inhibition and Exhibition”, is easily the first season’s most entertaining, as the boys hit the West Coast in an attempt to see what happens in situations where people cast off their inhibitions.
Their first stop is Los Angeles, California: they’ve been given access to a porno film shoot produced by Vivid Entertainment, one of the biggest names in the adult film industry. The shoot is, as we quickly come to find out, an XXX-rated parody of Austin Powers. Any viewers unfamiliar with the porno parody genre learn all they need to as the film’s director, David Stanley, explains the, well, ins and outs of the script’s plot.
Unplanned America’s premise is reality TV distilled to its most basic elements. Three Australian friends set out on a cross-country US road trip with nothing but a camera and a desire to explore America’s cultural underbelly. From the get-go, the show has everything that one wants from mindless entertainment: foreign takes on local culture, sensationalism, and a visual style that, despite our rational faculties, still makes us think we’re watching objective reporting.
Yet Unplanned America offers something else as well. The show bills itself as a “gonzo television documentary”, drawing on the memory of gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who thought the best kind of reporting was the kind that found the reporter right in the action, partaking of the local flavor. While the show has definite appeal for the casual TV viewer unfamiliar with Thompson or his “buy the ticket, take the ride” philosophy, the subcultures it focuses on are definitely chosen with a literary audience in mind.