The HBO Weltanschauung – or – Why we love The Sopranos
: There’s a reason the return of The Sopranos is getting so much hype and praise. There’s a reason that HBO’s original dramas and comedies get so many awards. There’s a reason we as a nation are taking to these shows with enthusiasm, embracing them like oracles of the age. The reason:
HBO’s Weltanschauung — its world view — is the most honest you can find on TV. And it’s not a pretty view.
Analyze the lineup:
: The Sopranos is all about corruption, how a family, a business, a relationship can be corrupted by greed, power, sex, selfishness, evil.
: Six Feet Under is about family — a family who might as well be dead, like the dead they care for
: Sex and the City says we’re all terribly lonely — and as if that’s not bad enough, we’re all terribly horny, too.
: Curb Your Enthusiasm tells the story of an everyman — and says that every man can be an ass.
: Oz shows a world drained of any redeeming virtue; it invents hell.
: The Wire finds too many similarities between the means and motives of criminals and cops.
: Arli$$ says sports is show biz and show biz is bull.
: Project Greenlight took real show biz executives and exposed them for the obnoxious boors we always suspected they were.
: Taxicab Confessions brings grim, sad reality to reality TV.
: Mind of the Married Man makes Berman’s view of marriage look like Mormon propaganda.
No, it’s not pretty, not at all. Yet we love it — because it speaks to us, it speaks for us, it reflects our view of life, it reflects a view you won’t find elsewhere on TV or in movies. It’s honest.
Compare this to the story in the Wall Street Journal on Friday about how ABC/Disney is trying desperately to appeal to middle America by rounding off every edge from every show. ABC is trying to pander to us. This is not creativity. This is corporate committee think, and committees always kill creativity. This has no voice, no vision. This is essentially insulting to every single one of us in the audience — it says that we can’t feel for ourselves, that we can’t appreciate the message of art, that we want to be pandered to, that we’re all just so much cultural tapioca, media mush. Says the Journal:
It’s the opposite of the strategy earning industry praise and envy for HBO, where writers and producers create shows such as “The Sopranos” without much corporate interference. Also, in managing by consensus, ABC runs the risk of turning out middle-of-the-road shows rife with compromises. Many breakout hits — “Seinfeld,” “Hill Street Blues” and ABC’s own “NYPD Blue” — don’t test well or flout the conventions.
You see, H.L. Mencken was dead wrong. He said: “No one in this world… has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” But plenty of network executives have done just that.
HBO, on the other hand, is giving us, the great masses of plain people, the audience, credit for our considerable taste and intelligence by giving us quality shows (that are even worth paying for). But they aren’t the first to do that; NBC, in its heyday, gave us lots of quality and smart shows; alonside all the reality kitsch now filling the air (an overdose that will fade away like all fads before) there are many good shows on TV now (and they rise to the top of the ratings because we, the people, we Americans, do, contrary to popular assumption, have good taste).
No, what’s truly remarkable about HBO’s lineup is that it has the courage to be so dark and often depressing.
And what’s remarkable about America today is that we have responded to this so eagerly. We’re eager to be depressed, eh?
That says much about our true national psyche.
On the outside, we’re waving flags and fists; we’re buying cars and homes and keeping the economy going; we’re playing the strong, silent types.
But on the inside, we’re pretty damned miserable, depressed, angry, lonely, and frustrated — we’re a mopey mess — and watching HBO is our group therapy. We know the truth that HBO’s show speak about corruption is fully realized in Enron, Anderson, Worldcom, Tyco, et al. We know that show biz is bull and reality can be sad. We as nation — where too many of us are either posting personals online or searching for porn online or now getting divorces online — are too often lonely. It all rings true.
That’s why we love HBO.
Mind you, honesty doesn’t have to be dark and depressing and sad and angry — just some/much/most of the time. It’s not the mood that matters; that’s not what truly speaks to us. Instead, it is the willingness, the courage to be honest that grabs us.
That is the secret to Howard Stern‘s unprecedented popularity and success. He’s honest, unflinchingly, bravely honest. And funny.
So there is a moral to this story: If you give us credit for our intelligence and if you give creative talent the room to create and if you don’t try to lie to us, we the audience will respond and you will succeed. HBO is the proof.