deadwoodIt’s been a comfortable ride on the bandwagon this week as I just started watching Deadwood on DVD. I don’t feel strongly one way or another about westerns, but neither did I care for police dramas before NYPD Blue, also written by David Milch. The way Milch pairs characters and actors makes you feel as if you’re constantly catching both with their pants down. He tweaks clichés enough so that you’re watching fictional archetypes battling real circumstances for the first time instead of just running through a narrative. It’s like seeing Hamlet getting a colonoscopy. You don’t know what’s going to happen because the character types have jumped the rails and are along for the ride just as much as you are.

The gritty fetishizing of tough times is immediately sexy, at least partly because it stands in such stark contrast to today’s comfort-laden world. If I was living back then, the horror of day to day events (in addition to holding my bowels for weeks at a time because a bowl filled with my own shit sitting across the room scares the poo out of me, not to mention the hoardes of mites, parasites, and bacteria all waiting for the smallest scratch in your paper-armor skin to ‘fester’ you to death) would be unbearable.

I have no convictions or nobility to carry me through the uncertainty of a mountain pass or to steady my hand in a shoot out. This is because the things around me are more understandable, more predictable. I’m able to rely on health care and public transportation without thinking twice about it. Everything I interact with is so god damned dependable, my own character becomes ambivalent and weak. For the characters in Deadwood it’s the opposite. No one knows why people die of mysterious illness, or what to do about it; no one knows if they’re going to find gold or be killed by mauraders. There’s no time to hmm and hah over who you are, or what to do when someone’s in trouble.

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You just do it. You’re the only thing you can rely on.

Despite the thinnest of opportunities available to Deadwood‘s characters, each one seems to have more persistence towards these tenuous payoffs than I do for ones that are far more concrete. Everyone seems to believe their salvation lies just beyond the next shot of whiskey (wait, maybe we’re not so

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different after all…).

I’m glad I don’t have to be quick on the draw to survive from day to day, but at least staying alive back then was a black and white gauge of success. There are so many dumb and/or reckless people alive today who shouldn’t be that those of us looking for validation of the path we’ve chosen need to read between varied and blurry lines.

Maybe we’ll find a way to meld comfort and engagement without intentionally putting ourselves at risk, but until then it’s interesting to see the ways people are searching…

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