Friday, February 28, 2014

What's It All About, Alfie?

I gave it a rest, took a step back to get a better vantage point. It didn’t help.  I know this much.  Writing is therapeutic. I suffer without the illusion of putting the world in order.

We saw a one-man performance of three Samuel Beckett works. Barry McGovern was superb; words poured out of him at the speed of our mind’s gibberish, stinging and tickling, at once. I can’t go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Nobody I know captures the absurdity of existence as well as Beckett. Mortality hangs overhead yet we go on with a torrent of  words let loose as if from a broken spigot, hunting, grasping for some measure of meaning or control of it all, as though….

If I were the last one standing to greet the visiting aliens they might wonder why they went to all that trouble.  I haven’t the vaguest idea how anything works in this clutter of things. Not this computer I’m typing on or the bulb in my lamp or the TV, telephone, car, even how my clothes came to be. The only technology I might explain is an ice cube tray……but then again I don’t know what makes a refrigerator refrigerate.

It gets worse. We don’t know what we’re doing here except to multiply the species and enjoy our allotted time. Maybe register our wonderment and leave our mark.

So I witness the passing parade as if some clues might appear to my inner Sherlock in this era of connectivity. Two T.V. shows, House of Cards and Downton Abbey, have found their audience and I find myself looking for a common denominator. In a word it is, Control. One mirrors the slime of Washington D.C. ratcheted up a notch perhaps…or maybe not. The other transports us to those years when the last gasp can be heard of the British manor house, with its order and civility in which everyone knew his place.

Machiavellian ambition, however treacherous, seemed easier to take with a British accent. Peggy enjoyed Ian Richardson’s nefarious climb up the ladder but has trouble watching it Americanized in the hands of Kevin Spacey. Like it or not we find ourselves identifying with Francis Urquardt, now Underwood, in his calculated rise to the top of the heap. Adrift as we are in this sea of flotsam I suspect we can’t resist clinging on to anyone who pulls the puppet strings. He navigates deftly through the maze. Never mind his deceit, disregard for human life or indifference to values. He is the ultimate pragmatist. Obama, he's not. He leverages like LBJ, charms like FDR, plots like Dick Cheney. Politics is chess and he’s four moves ahead on the board. If he has sinned (and he has) and dies (as he must) trying to grab the reins, he has died for us, the congregation of the lost. A sacrificial offering who gave us a few dozen hours of a fabled climb up the beanstalk.

As opposed to this downtown alley we can always escape into Downton Abbey where the rituals and traditions, however anachronistic, are rigidly maintained. After all, one can’t expect the lord of the manor to put on his own pajamas. The place reeks of order and we love this tidy world. Of course melodrama is made of sterner stuff and there is no shortage of scandal and misdeeds to put to rights. The nobility of upstairs is matched by the hierarchy of downstairs. The butlers know when to become invisible. The titled class observes what is bred in the bone except for minor transgressions which can be remedied. The operative word is still, Control. We can’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.

Beckett’s characters are closer to the authentic self. But who wants to think about that? Better to live through our small screen plotters and players of a bygone time with a few hours of imagined control over this fractured and mysterious life.     

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