Thursday, 06 August 2009

Leverage and the Liberal Pornographic Unlike their counterparts on The Definite-Indefinite Article-Team, the Robin Hoods on John Rogers and Chris Downey's Leverage aren't joyful militarists whose idea of helping people invariably involves vans and walls. Because, unlike Leverage, that other show was a guy's show. It was male-driven. It was written by guys. It was directed by guys. It was acted by guys. It's about what guys do. We talked the way guys talked. We were the boss. We were the God. We smoked when we wanted. We shot guns when we wanted. It was the last truly masculine show. In the 1980s, heroism only came from the barrel of guns aimed by incompetent men at similarly scattershot adversaries—because for all the gunplay, no one was ever shot. When these world-historically poor shots grew tired of wasting ammunition, they would chase each other in vans until one of them found a wall in need of Kool-Aid, then someone would punch someone, everyone would laugh, and the day would somehow have been saved. The Definite-Indefinite Article-Team was a male fantasy about a world in which simpleminded evil could be thwarted by brute force, the implication being that had the government allowed these clowns—who, the audience was to believe, were once ex-Special Forces—free rein in Vietnam, America would have won the war. How you win a war with soldiers who can barely hit the broad side of a barn with a van is beside the point: the 1980s needed manly men to manly deeds, and when they did, nothing made much sense, but everything worked out. [Insert here a clunky summary of the arching plot. Describe how it's a show in which a former insurance investigator hires the talented specialists he formerly investigated to help those that corporations have rendered helpless. Maybe mention that the official website describes it as a show that features "elaborate scams designed to exact revenge against those who use power and wealth to victimize people." Then move on because exposition is necessary, but good God damn, is it ever boring.] With Leverage, the issue isn't whether nothing makes sense and everything works out, but whether the audience can make sense of how everything worked out. According to John Rogers: Testing indicates—and I'm not kidding—that about 30% of our audience never understands the con at all. Despite the fact that almost one-third of viewers have no clue what's happening or why, Americans have voted with their eyes and elected Leverage the most popular show on basic cable. Which means that Americans love something they don't understand, fully aware that they're not understanding it. Unlike Twin Peaks, where the ignorance was as collective as its ratings were impressive, Leverage is a caper show, so the visceral narrative enjoyment should come from watching the plot hatch. Let me literalize that: Ideally, the audience should watch a hen have sex with a mutant rooster, then see the egg appear and, knowing what's in the egg, watch with gleeful anticipation as the fox steals into the hen...
My nightly vice (is inherent, and made of Pynchon). It took three pages, but then he made it, and it was good (enough for government work): He walked her down the hill to where she was parked. Weeknights out here weren't too different from weekends, so this part of town was already all ahoot with funseekers, drinkers and surfers screaming in the alleys, dopers out on food errands, flatland guys in for a night of hustling stewardesses, flatland ladies with all-too-grounded day jobs hoping to be mistaken for stewardesses. Uphill and invisible, traffic out on the boulevard to and from the freeway uttered tuneful exhaust phrases which went echoing out to sea, where the crews of oil tankers sliding along, hearing them, could have figured it for wildlife taking care of nighttime business on an exotic coast. (4) Of course, I have suggestions about how to make this more Pynchonian—paragraph break before "[u]phill and invisibile"; eliminate the comma after "out to seas"; remove the indefinite article before and pluralize "exotic coast"—but for the most part, this is pure unforced transport, unlike Against the Day, which felt like Pynchon doing his damnedest Pynchon after having forgotten that he was, in fact, himself and could don the pig-suit and write: Under a cold umbrella of naked light bulbs are gathered a crowd of Army personnel, American sailors, NAAFI girls, and German frauleins. Fraternizing, every last one of them, shamefully, amid noise which becomes, as Muffage and Spontoon reach the edge of the gathering, a song, at whose center, with a good snootful, each arm circling a smiling and disheveled young tootsie, ruddy face under these lights gone an apopletic mauve, and leading the glee, is the same General Wivern they last saw in Pointsman's office back at Twelfth House. From a tank car whose contents, ethanol, 75% solution, are announced in stark white stenciling along the side, spigots protrude here and there, under which an incredible number of mess cups, china mugs, coffeepots, wastebaskets, and other containers are being advanced and withdrawn. Ukuleles, kazoos, harmonicas, and any number of makeshift metal noisemakers accompany the song, which is an innocent salute to Postwar, a hope that the end of shortages, the end of Austerity, is near[.] (593) If I can find the time, tomorrow I'll explain the power of that "[u]phill and invisible" and describe the telescopic glory of the prose of those who fiddle with the dials, zooming in and out in an anti-willy-nilly, but who don't, as I do, sound like bad imitations of the Beats when they do it.

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