The cul-de-sac at the end of the road to enlightenment

Discussion in 'Knots Landing' started by Jimmy Todd, Jun 8, 2019.

  1. Jimmy Todd

    Jimmy Todd Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    There are a flurry of books out there now using philosophy as a lens to view popular culture(i.e. Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Philosophy, etc)
    I've decided to indulge two subjects I spend too much time thinking about: KL and philosophy.
    I'm far from an expert, and I could definitely be wrong, so any constructive criticism, insights, views will be welcomed with an open mind.:welcome:

    Part I. Gary "The Other" Ewing
    The "Other" is a concept several philosophers discuss. To simplify it as much as possible for the sake of this post, it's putting people into a category that essentially separates them from the self or the "Us." Historically, as we all know, this has been done by Europeans to the people who populated Africa, Asia, and the Americas. This has also been done to gays, immigrants, Muslims, but I personally have seen it done to the police, people who voted for Trump, the poor, and the rich. From my understanding, it's stripping someone of their humanity making it easier to hate or debase.
    The character of Gary Ewing is a good example of "othering." His family viewed him as the "weak one" and "the black sheep." His neighbors often saw him as "the drunk" and the "one who cheated on 'poor Val' " and the media depicted him as the "Ewing heir" anytime he was on trial for murder.
    An aspect of this concept is that the "other" is a reflection of ourselves in the eyes of people and how we conform to this image. Jean-Paul Sartre famously said, Hell is other people" in that we can't escape the "gaze" of other people. We lose a certain amount of autonomy in outside opinions. That is our "hell." Sone philosophers raised the idea that we discover our true selves through our interactions with this "other" and their is the possibility for personal and moral growth when we recognize the humanity in whoever we deem separate from the Self or "Us."
    I like to think Gary escaped this hell as the series progressed, due to his own growth, to a degree. When Val told him how she hated her mother for abandoning her, he pointed out how young she was when she had Val. In other words, he didn't excuse Lilimae's actions as much as display an understanding of her humanity. Just as Gary was more than the "weak Ewing," Lilimae is more than the "Bad Mother."
    You could say Gary was more trapped in Sartre's hell in one of his earliest appearances on Dallas. He spends more time with baby John Ross than his own daughter Lucy. Babies can't cast a reproachful gaze on us the way young adults can. In Lucy's gaze, no matter how happy she is to see him, he'll always see himself reflected as the drunk who abandoned her. A few seasons later he visited SF and could interact with her(and give her his voting shares). Maybe this is why Muss Elllie could travel all over the world yet somehow never make it to California to meet her new twin grandchildren. She's be in the crosshairs of Sartre's gaze, courtesy of Valene, and see herself as the woman who stood by and let her son kidnap Valene's baby, Lucy.
    In fact, in the end Gary could be the luckiest Ewing of them all. He was the victim of JR, Jock, and Abby Cunningham, but it was through his interactions with them that he may have achieved the most personal growth out of everyone in both series. That way he could finally settle down with the one person who never "othered" him, Valene. It took 14 seasons of affairs, marriages, a succession of blondes and brunettes, but hey, the road wasn't boring.
    Next in Part Two: Simone de Beauvoir and the men, the females, and the humans of Seaview Circle.
     
    Last edited: Jun 9, 2019
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  2. Jimmy Todd

    Jimmy Todd Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    Simone De Beauvoir: The Men, the Women, and the Humans of Seaview Circle.

    I first heard about the feminist philosopher Simone De Beauvoir back when I was a wee lad in the 70's from the most distnguished of sources: Joanie Caucus of Doonesbury fame. Ms. Caucus had left her husband to start a new life and was working at a day care center.
    She quoted Ms. De Beauvoir to her very young charges, " There are two kinds of people: human beings and women. When women start acting like human beings they are accused of trying to be like men."
    Many years later I recalled that quote when I read more about Ms. De Beauvoir. Her theory on male and female roles in society drew heavily on the concept of "the Other." Men were the standard and everything a woman was only in relation to him. A man could have total autonomy over his identity and place in the world, but a woman existed only as a reflection of HIM. She was HIS wife, HIS daughter, the mother of HIS children, HIS secretary, etc.
    You've all heard of that conversation game, if you could invite any 3 or so people to dinner, living or dead, who would it be? Well, I'd modify that to, if you could invite any 3 people to watch KL with you, who would it be? My pick would definitely be De Beauvoir(The other two would be Pope John Paul II and Tina Turner, but that's a topic for a different thread).
    I think de Beauvoir would love KL, and its female driven narrative. I can't think of any problem she woukd have with Karen, but if she did, I'd be intrigued to know it. I'm hoping she'd feel about Abby as I do, appalled by her ethics, but admiring her ambition, strength, and intelligence. Imagine her response, having been born in 1908, to Abby calmly telling Richard she doesn't need him the way he needs her, and then amassing a fortune by the end of her run through a mixture of guile, business sense, and marrying a Ewing. I'm not saying De Beauvoir would be thrilled about that last part, but I'd like to hear her thoughts.
    I think she'd respond very well to Val's evolution, although maybe sigh when she marries Gary a third time, after marrying two other men. No matter how much Val grew, she seemed to need to follow a conjunction, Gary and Val, Ben and Val, Danny and Val, Gary and Val. Was there ever more than an episode or two where
    she was really just Val?
    However, the character that I believe would get the biggest reaction out of De Beauvoir would be fan favorite Laura.
    Laura's story seems to best convey De Beauvoir's observations about sexual roles in society as well as her wish for what they could be. Laura begins as a typical housewife, married to a man who fits De Beauvoir's view of the insecure male who needs to "other" women in order to affirm his own superiority. Yes, Laura struggled against him and the traditional beliefs on a woman's place ingrained in her. She got her real estate license, despite his disapproval, and began to experience success. However she didn't have Abby's steely confidence nor Karen's forthright nature to fully evolve in the manner of her choosing and was constantly being pulled back down, at times brutally so.
    The scenes that I find the most telling are the ones that involve life and death choices. Laura tells Richard she wants to have an abortion, and he slaps her. Greg tells Laura he doesn't want her to have the baby that will become Meg, yet now she firmly persists. When the doctor asks Laura if she wants to know the sex of her baby or be surprised at the birth, she decides. "Surprise me now" Laura wants to leave Richard but decides to stay with him when she finds his suicide note. When Laura learns she is dying Greg wants to be with her, yet she persists in dying alone without explanations or apologies. Many male existentialist philosophers have believed that a person's defining moment is death, while some female philosophers promulgated the idea of meaning occurring many times in our own personal births and rebirths. Laura combined those male and female views when asserting her essence.
    When Richard returns for her memorial, he chastises her friends and neighbors, saying that obviously it is a poor reflection on them, that her choice to die alone must be indicative that something is inherently wrong with the cul-de-sac. I love that he raises this idea and the show never provides a definitive response. No, Richard still doesn't get it. Just as he didn't get Laura's friendship with Ciji as anything more than just Laura's desire to be herself with another human being. It had to be sexual because Richard can't conceive of a female not needing to "get" something from another. Richard always saw Laura's life as "the other," not as a human being existing unto herself. This applies to her death as well. Her choice to die in her own way is not a reaction to Greg, her neighbors, or anyone else. It was solely about Laura just wanting to live and die her way.
    I believe one important reason that Laura was such a favorite among fans is that her innate desire "to be" touches a chord within all of us. Karen wanted to be the savior. Val wanted to be with Gary(no matter whom she married). Abby wanted to be the richest, the most powerful. The roles they sought defined their place on the show. Laura ultimately wanted to just be Laura, but first had to find out who exactly that was. Ms. De Beauvoir believed that no one was "born" a woman, but one "becomes" one. While Karen, Val, and Abby had there identities set from their first episodes, Laura became Laura over eight seasons. It wasn't until her death, and her choosing the way she died(complete with a final video ensuring Laura had the last word) did she make unequivocally clear who she was. The title of that episode, "Noises, Everywhere," has two meanings. It reflects a line from a child's story she reads to Meg, the life she created, and also to all the "noises" in society to which Laura was subjected, telling her who to be, finally silenced so the real Laura can speak.
    Yes, Laura's story is a feminist story, but deeper than that it's everyone's story. Male, female, liberal, conservative, gay, straight, feminist, housewife, working woman. So many labels out there, and thirty years later, even more so. We can now add Socialist Democrat, neo-conservative, pansexual, non-binary, transgender, womanist, etc. etc., it's so easy to mistake oneself for just the label, and forget the human. We are lucky we have Laura to remind us that what unites all of us is the desire to have all those "Noises, Everywhere" stop telling us what to be and let us just....be.
    Thank you to anyone who reads my ramblings. Responses, comments, and opinions are always welcome. And of course constructive criticisms are as well because, of course, I could be wrong about everything:embarrassed:
    Next:
    To Albert Camus,
    Thanks for everything!
    Greg and Anne
     
    Last edited: Jun 24, 2019
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  3. Treeviewer

    Treeviewer Soap Chat Dream Maker

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    This was echoed in the John Lennon-Yoko Ono song "Woman is the N***** of the World" in the line If she's real we say she's trying to be a man.
     
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  4. Jimmy Todd

    Jimmy Todd Soap Chat Well-Known Member

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    To Albert Camus,

    Thanks for everything!
    Anne and Greg.

    The characters of Knots Landing are like most people in that they want to know life has meaning and there is some moral structure in the universe. People have traditionally turned to some form of religion to provide this meaning. KL rarely touched on the spiritual lives of our favorite suburbanites, but Laura did have Meg baptized, Val and Gary sent the twins to Sunday school (and there was one scene of Gary taking them to church), Mack gave a thumbs up to a religious image in the hospital chapel when Karen came out of her surgery successfully, and Paige even went to confession once. The characters also seemed to get meaning in non-religious ways. Karen worked for the ACLU and environmental causes. Mack was a highly principled man who fought for justice, such as for abused children and the homeless. Gary was passionate about the land and environment. Val derived meaning from her love for Gary, her children, and her writing. I don't think she ever stated it, but I'm reasonably sure that of one asked Val what the meaning of life was, she'd respond "love."
    The existentialist believed life has no meaning until the individual imposes their personal idea of meaning on their lives. You can't assume God has given your life an inherent meaning. Many of the existentialist didn't even believe in God and the ones who did still emphasized that God gives us free will and the responsibility to make meaning of our lives, not sit on our butts and assume it's automatically there. Karen and Mack always seemed to me very existential in that they were determined to live in a world that they viewed as having meaning. Both lived with a clear sense of right and wrong. Karen, more than Mack, seemed to me to be much less inclined to bring God into it. She didn't need there to be a God, imho, because she was going to impose meaning through sheer force of will.
    Albert Camus was a French writer and philosopher who promulgated from what I understand is an offshoot of existentialism: absurdism. Basically, he's saying there is no God, no moral structure, and no meaning. Anywhere. From the table where Karen and Val had their most heartfelt talks over coffee, to the beach where Gary first shagged Abby, to Greg's ranch and out to the furthest reaches of the universe where Sid's daughter was apparently banished, there's not one iota of sense, reason, or meaning. It's all absurdity. The key is for we humans to embrace this absurdity and enjoy it a much as possible.
    The example Canus gives is Sysiphus, the Greek mythological king who was sent to Hades and condemned to roll a boulder up a hill. As soon as he got to the top, the boulder slipped from his hands and he had to start all over. The cycle repeats for eternity. Camus said we must be like a Sysiphus, faced with a pointless, onerous task, and smile. Because life itself is a pointless task. That's his cheery view of reality.
    I think of Anne and Greg the most when it comes to this idea because they both accept the absurdity of life and find it highly amusing. I'll start with Anne.
    When Paula asks Anne what she's going to do when she loses her figure, Anne smiles and says, "Enjoy life. What else is there?" When she learns Greg is dying, she tells her scam artist pal Nick, "It's times like this when I realize how important it is to get that million dollars."
    Paige walks in on her at Greg's and exclaims, as is her won't, "Mother!?!"( not "mom"), Anne shoots back, "Daughter!" There's even a line where she displays some unapologetic self awaress and quips something along the lines of "It's hard work being this shallow." When explaining to Paige that she's marrying the man her daughter loves, she says matter of factly "You dropped the ball." "What do you think this is," Paige adls. "a football game?" Well, actially, she kind of does.
    These lines indicate to me that Anne's not looking for meaning in life, doesn't expect it, and is content to make do with what she can. Of course, she's lucky she was born into a life of wealth. However, when she loses it, she keeps going. She does a nude photo spread. This is unacceptable at the time for a woman her age, but Anne isn't concerned with what's "acceptable" despite her high brow breeding because she doesn't take any of it too seriously anyway. It also fits the whole absurdist motif that after all her scheming to get her daughter's million dollar inheritance, it turns out there wasn't any. All that work, plus alienating her daughter even further, came to naught. Camus would say, I think, of course it came to nothing, but did you have fun while you were at it? Well, Anne generally seems to be having fun. She may not exactly be "Sysiphus smiling" when she becomes homeless; she breaks down in tears. Yet this is when she's looking in a store window at a dress she can't buy, not because she feels she's failed as a person, disappointed her family, or feels lonely. Through it all, Anne doesn't, or refuses, to turn to religion or have any epiphanies. I don't think it's because she's necessarily dim witted, she just doesn't see the point.
    " Enjoy life. What else is there?" Well Anne, whom Greg once said he had horses smarter than, asked a question that has some good, old-fashioned horse sense to it.
    Greg himself is different than Anne in that, when he was first introduced, came with a backstory that suggested he was once almost as idealistic as the McKenzie's. Although William Devane said he played him as a Republican, his first appearance indicates he was an idealistic Democratic politician who, unbeknownst to his supporters, had lost this cock-eyed optimism a long time ago. Karen was at his season five campaign fundraiser, and I'll roll 500 hundred boulders up a hill before I believe she's a Republican!
    So Greg loses his virtues due to the harsh realities of the American political machine. Before that there's the trauma of, as a kid, walking in on his mom being straddled by Paul Galveston, whom was not his father. At least not the man he thought was his father, until he found out Galveston was his real, dear old daddy.
    In season 6 we meet his mom and it's a marvel he had any optimism at all with a mother like that. His encounters with Abby and Woodbridge are only going to confirm the moral wasteland that is life. He finds true love with a good woman, Laura and what happens? She up and dies on him and won't even let him be with her at the end, preferring solitude to the presence of her husband. Oh, and the day his estranged daughter comes to visit him, she's assassinated. While sitting at his desk. No wonder he embraced the abyss. A later KL mantra was "Poor Val." "Poor Val?" I say, "Poor Greg." Val only lost a couple of husbands, a couple of times her sanity, her daughter, and in season seven a decent hairstyle. Greg lost his
    soul.
    Anne isn't looking for morality or meaning in life and care to find them, but Greg seems to deep down wish there were such things, and was profoundly disappointed to come to believe they don't exist. He's stabbed Mack in the back a few times and even got popped in the mouth by him, but still admires him. He even let's him raise his daughter. I think he admires Mack because he wishes he could believe there's something making sense of it all, as Mack does.
    Yet Greg carries on, enjoying his wealth, making self-deprecating comments, and smirking at the shenanigans of Abby, Paige, Anne, Linda, Mort and Mort's compatriot. He doesn't mourn his daughter's death, and when faced with his own impending demise, refuses any funeral or preacher because, what's the point? Life is absurd until you die. And then it's nothing. Lucky for him he's a character in a prime time soap and can once in a while laugh at the foolishness. The writers will make sure of it.
    Greg is the more complex, more respected, more celebrated of the two characters, but is he better off? To paraphrase Anne when she opines on the modern woman, "I don't see what's the big deal about women in the workplace. Nobody seems to be having any fun."
    Greg may have horses smarter than Anne, but are they having as much fun? Is anyone? Karen, Mack, Val, and Gary have more ideals, have accomplished more, and have been on more seasons, yet Anne gets to laugh the most and some of the most memorable lines. Absurd.
    Thoughts, comments, opinions, and sarcastic comments welcome. After all, O could be wrong about everything.
    Next: Nietzsche's ubermensch goes toe to toe with the Uberblonde.....and loses.
     

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