Trapped/Parenthood

​We’ve entered into an interesting binge-watching dialectic. We are watching the full run of Parenthood, leavened by Trapped. Here’s what that means. Parenthood is an almost insufferable display of American bourgeois domestic ideology. The series ran from 2010 to 2015, following an extended US family living in Berkeley, encountering many of the problems that middle-stratum boozhie households encountered in reality – but with the proviso that every ancillary problem is solved at the end of an hour-long episode, and every major problem is resolved by the end of the season. That’s the sacred problem-solving unit of American television, but in this show it has a special charge. The scripts are never seriously edgy, no matter how severe the problem, but they are maturely, parentally sympathetic. This makes me think that the showrunners wanted not only to dissolve anxiety by the end of the episode, they also wanted to instruct American parents about the benefits of sympathy, therapy, tolerance, and patience. In other words, they were trying to teach their audience how to behave well, and by doing so they were representing a sort of utopian image of bourgeois tolerance. If I were going to instruct a Martian about American utopian ideals, this would be the show for it. The sun always shines (in Berkeley? Really?). The characters all are able to teach each other something, even if they are slightly fucked-up themselves. The fact that they are not associated with a religion, yet they are proliferative, made me think “Catholic values” (got no problem with it, just saying), but that they are named “The Bravermans” (not Catholic I daresay), puts a cool spin on things – except that both Catholic and Jewish edges are dulled. Someone should study the way these magnetic tv series act as moral teachers in America. Buffy the Vampire Slayer basically raised a generation of latchkey Goth teenagers. Parenthood seems to be trying to do the same thing for parents. Buffy made teenagers with no one to trust feel they could trust themselves and their friends. Parenthood makes families – so unedgy that kids can watch it with their parents -- believe that family solidarity can be a force to withstand the corrosive acid winds of social change. (Btw, “change” is not necessarily a positive word. Change can bring destructive winds.) I think of it as an extended chick flick, because it reinforces the sentiments that women in America have been persuaded to value. And, gotta say, it’s refreshing to see a family represented in a positive light. Parenthood is the kind of show that generates Modern Family as a scornful riposte. (I’m not happy with that, either.) But as folks who know me know, I have allergies to both sentimentality and scorn. So on the weekends I’ve insisted that we watch something dark – now we’re watching the Icelandic series, Trapped. I’ve taught Nordic Noir. I devoted half a semester to the Danish series The Killing. Love it completely. I studied the sagas in grad school, in Norse, and feel in love with them. No sentimentality. Crude har-har jokes. And mainly a lot of silence. Saga-characters never say anything that isn’t declarative. And how often do folks get to say those things? So they kill each other, burn their houses down with families inside them, all after discussing options at the Althing (the ancient Icelandic parliament). Nordic noir feasts on silence – the things reticent people don’t say to each other, because...why the fuck bother? What difference does it make against half a year of darkness, the inexorability of death, and Bergman movies? Trapped so far appears to be the consummation of all that Gothic shading. A remote Icelandic town (village in most other countries), isolated by foul winter weather and an avalanche (a fucked-up avalanche at that), with a brutal, body-dismembering killer and a human-trafficking gang at large (the avalanche cut the electricity and communication grid off, too). It’s a good thriller with spectacular natural scenery. But it’s mainly about the difficulty of maintaining social bonds under the pressure of global crime, global politics, and old-school fucked up human frailty. An open-minded perspective, I say to myself, has to tolerate sunny bourgeois family ideology and “it’s a miracle if any of us survive” Gothic anxiety. I think they are related. Neither one comes natural to me. But I feel they are, as Truffaut puts it in Close Encounters, “events sociological.”

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