Are you a Dexter or a Heisenberg?

Philosophy

Dextenberg
Since I’ve become a father I haven’t had much time to sit in front of the silver screen like I used to. I loved sitting in the theatre, alone, getting drowned in a celluloid universe.

But now a lot of my pop culture needs are met through television and Netflix. I have lucked out and happened to pull fatherhood at a time when TV shows have never been better. There’s a trend that I’ve noticed in these past two years as a parent with regards to those shows that has piqued by philosophical nature.

I find myself torn between Dexter and Heisenberg.

First though, I’ll start with Nietzsche. I’ve always been a slight fan of his philosophy on a person pursuing their best self. Whether someone is extremely religious or not (and Nietzsche wasn’t) there’s still something important to gain from his ideology. We should all be more introspective to find out what our true purpose is and then go all in to fulfill that purpose.

You can find the basic Nietzsche philosophy in a lot of popular culture these days, especially TV. Tony Soprano, Dexter Morgan, Walter White, Greg House, hell even Barney Stinson are characters driven by a deep, personal desire to become something great, regardless of what others or society thinks.

Interestingly enough, Dexter and Walter White, or his alter ego Heisenberg, represent two distinct personality types, goal oriented vs. process oriented. Having been a big fan of both shows, I wonder at times which one I’m more like in so far as how I seek to be the best me.

Dexter is very much someone who is goal oriented. His every waking moment is spent working towards the next kill. He does his best to balance a lot of background distractions such as family, work, etc. but his motivation is about getting someone on his table. Once he finishes one victim he begins to move on to the next. He revels in each one by keeping a drop of blood in a slide to represent each time he’s achieved a kill. Dexter is always after another kill.

Walter White, however, is more about a process. Throughout his career in the meth world, he worked to perfect his product. He was obsessed with the process, the right amount of chemicals for each batch and striving for the highest purity. He does have a goal of leading a meth empire but he knows fully that it has to be built on a superior drug. For Walt, there is no dollar amount or purity level that serves as a finish line. He wants to make the best meth.

Yes, they’re fictional characters. I understand that. What I like about the comparison though is that they demonstrate two different paths for living your life. I don’t mean choosing to kill people or make meth but the focus on what is more important: who you are or what you do.

I’ve decided I’m a Heisenberg. In my writing I care more about becoming a better craftsman as opposed to creating a masterpiece. I like finishing stories and books but at the end of the day I want to believe I’ve improved my skill.

While goal-oriented people are highly valued in the job market, there are two major pitfalls for someone who is obsessed with results. 1) When you are too focused on the finish line, the means by which you get there blurs and you may use unethical behavior and possibly take short cuts. 2) If you are going after a major goal, what do you do when you get there? If someone has a goal of running a marathon, the motivation to keep running might dwindle once they finish one.

For me it’s more important to master a process. Results are important. Otherwise how would you know if you’re becoming better at your process? I guess a person who’s truly successful at self realization is adept at focusing both on their skill as well as their accomplishments.

I’d rather be known as a good writer than a person who wrote a good book. I may never achieve either, but my pursuit will be the process.

 

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Right to be Selfish

Philosophy, Politics

I will never claim to be an expert on feminism. Largely because I am a man who doesn’t understand the first thing about the issues women face on a daily basis.

I have witnessed the dichotomies that we have for women in this society though and as the father of a beautiful girl, some of it disturbs me. Some of them are long-standing mores from our sexist past. Some are imposed by women themselves. The genesis of those dual standards are an important element to solving the problem.

Popular culture is a very powerful influence on people. Many times you can see the fringes of societal change in said culture slowly emanate in real life. Seeing a particular character on a TV show or in a book can help pave the way for making their lifestyle, sexual orientation, career, status acceptable to the world.

The inverse is also true.

Al-Jazeera recently posted an article on the critical reaction to Lena Dunham’s character on Girls. I confess to not watching the show but as I have read, the main character Hannah can be self-absorbed and critics don’t seem to like it. One critic has even stated that he’d like to see her choke and die.

Yet, critics and audiences never seem to mind when men are driven, ruthless and aggressive. We’ll even cheer a man on as he commits mass murder in Breaking Bad. We celebrate Dexter as he stalks and kills victims, even if they are bad guys (and girls). We love the likes of Tony Soprano, who damaged or destroy everything around him as he continued to flaunt his Neitzschean nature.

But when a woman does it, we can’t stand it. It’s definitely a double standard. We don’t mind it when men wreak havoc for their own personal gains but God forbid if a woman tries to do the same.

When Breaking Bad first came out, Anna Gunn, who plays Walt White’s wife Skyler, was reviled by audiences because she kept standing in the way of her husband’s goal to perfect and sell methamphetamine. So again a man can cook meth, kill drug dealers, lie and steal but if his wife tries to defend her family against all of that, well she’s just a bitch.

Sorry, that’s not right. We can’t have that view towards women in popular culture and yet expect women and girls to become ambitious. Forthright thinking and aggression in a career are clearly not cherished as a female personality trait.

I know, we’re talking about entertainment here. Not real life. But consider the fact that we obsess over real serial killers. We love reading about real mobsters. More than we’d like to admit, this love of male ambition is part of our consciousness.

The question really is, why does the double standard exist in the first place and why can’t we seem to move past it? And suppose we flip this issue on its head and say, “Maybe we shouldn’t just ask why women can’t be ambitious. We should ask why men are allowed to get away with it.”

It probably all boils down to the classic roles of gender. Men are supposed to be violent hunters who have to plot and methodically track their prey. Women have to maintain the home with domestic prowess for the family. Somewhere along the way though, we allowed the male role to expand in such a way that he uses his skills for himself, not just the good of his family. And we have come to a point where we admire men who do that.

I use the term “allow” because that is what’s going on. Men couldn’t behave like this without passive acceptance by society, other men and women.

In Breaking Bad, Walt even admits to his wife that he cooked meth and created his drug empire for himself.

“I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And … I was alive,” he tells her in the finale.

We should allow women to pursue their personal ambitions or expect better of men. We can’t have it both ways and say the sexes are equal.

We’re likely about to have our first female presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton. No matter how you feel about her, she’s going to be and has been subject to the same hypocrisy. Clinton will be derided for being ruthless, ambitious and willing to do anything to become president, which even means putting up with Bill’s sexcapades.

No doubt she’ll have a male opponent. He’ll have the same traits as Hillary. But he won’t be criticized for it.

We expect it from him.

Tony Effect

Philosophy

gandolfini

There were so many different scenes that typified the type of person Tony Soprano was.

Remember when he curb-stomped Coco? When he held Christopher’s nose, suffocating him? That time he garroted a man to death with wire? All of the fights and tender scenes with Carmela? The time he got his ass handed to him by Bobby?

Along the way, James Gandolfini and his manifestation of Tony, changed dramatic television forever.

Gandolfini died on Wednesday. He was 51. Fittingly, he passed in Italy while on vacation.

It’s been said so many times that we live in a golden age of television. Shows are now written with more depth and driven by developing, evolving characters. The stories and scenes are edgier. TV is providing us with a stronger dose of artistic vision that film cannot.

But that age started with Tony and his sordid life as an introspective and ruthless New Jersey mobster.Gandolfini showed us what was possible with cable television.

As network television doubled down on reality shows, HBO, Showtime, AMC, Starz and now Netflix picked up the slack, going from replaying movies to producing original content that had never been seen on the small screen. TV went from being more than superficial sitcoms, game shows and second-rate drama. It became art.

The Wire. Breaking Bad. Boardwalk Empire. The Walking Dead. Dexter. House of Cards. Boss. Mad Men.

All feature a strong lead character that drive the story.

The first time I sat through a Sopranos episode, I remember thinking the high-pitch voiced Gandolfini was such an odd choice. He didn’t have the screen presence as a lead actor (so I thought at the time). He was a bit actor before that, playing sleazy characters like the pornographer in 8mm. As the Sopranos gained steam it became clear that no one else on this planet could have been Tony Soprano.

Gandolfini’s transformation as an actor also became a bellwether for other actors who would undergo metamorphosize as well. Brian Cranston was the hapless dad on Malcolm in the Middle and Tim Whatley on Seinfeld before his groundbreaking performance on Breaking Bad. Michael C. Hall was doing plays Off Broadway when he began his stint on Six Feed Under and later Dexter. Now Steve Buscemi has gone from being in the background as supporting characters to the ruthless Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire.

What television and acting is today is partly due to Gandolfini and Tony Soprano. We all owe him a huge thanks for making the small screen worth watching again.

Want to be a Nietzsche

Uncategorized

One of my favorite shows is Dexter. The procedural police show with the central character being a serial killer. He analyzes blood by day and kills other killers by night.

There’s just something about him.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a sociopath who has a need to kill like Dexter. I think it’s that he’s so comfortable with who he is and he pursues his passion despite all the obstacles. He tracks his targets religiously and then dispatches them with a nondescript pageantry complete with an enlightening dialogue about their psychotic nature.

It’s admirable really. Dexter knows he has a problem and he knows that there’s a tremendous likelihood that he’ll get caught. But he does it anyway, with an unending fervor because it’s who he is.

Most of us won’t do that. Most of us beat our personal aspirations deep down into a hole of thick suppression. The hobby’s too expensive. Our loved ones will think it’s weird. We won’t be successful at it. We come up with so many excuses.

That is a tragedy. Life’s short and the afterlife is a mystery. Why not go for it? Why not find our true purpose and then find a way to fit it in our lives?

Personally, I think I’d be afraid of the odd stares from my family if I pursued some off-the-wall, soul-driven passion.

Fortunately I don’t know what that aspiration is.