Sunday, January 9, 2011

Living Vicariously

The last week has not been much fun. There have been no major changes that prompted my mood to drop, although there have been a few stressors. I get better, I get worse. Life goes on. I don’t think that I’m ever going to get really clear of this damned black dog. But after a certain amount of trips around the merry-go-round of depression I manage to endure it as best I can.

One way I do this is by living vicariously via quality TV. A number of shows have been a huge comfort and welcome distraction during my lower times – mostly American cable TV series. The Wire, The Shield, Rome, Six Feet Under, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, among others, have helped me through some rough times. I can’t tolerate idiotic television anymore, but watching something of substance is a great help to me.

Most recently I’ve been living vicariously in the 1870s, rewatching the second season of Deadwood. Despite being Australian, I grew up watching reruns of Westerns on weekend afternoons, watching John Wayne charge with the cavalry and gun down Indians. Later I appreciated Clint Eastwood’s Westerns – The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Unforgiven almost seem like a trilogy to me, marking the evolution of Eastwood and the genre.

But I hadn’t watched Westerns for some years when Deadwood came around. A HBO series that ran from 2004 to 2006, it was based around the true story of Deadwood, South Dakota, a small mining settlement illegally founded on Indian territory after gold is discovered. All sorts of people are drawn there in search of their fortune, some to find gold, others to make their fortune by fleecing the miners.

Many of the characters were based on real people, and the most memorable of them would have to be Al Swearengen. A foul-mouthed, woman-beating, murderer, pimp and saloon owner, he nevertheless comes across as being human, believable, and even vulnerable, thanks to a superb performance by Ian McShane.

Swearengen, despite being a real bastard who earned the unpleasant death he received in real life, was apparently quite a smooth operator. And in the series as well, he dominates practically every scene he is in. Despite his many faults, he has the odd word of wisdom to dispense. One short scene that has kept me going several times is viewable below.


  1. Had to smile when I saw you posting about our "friend" Al. It's amazing the power of movies/t.v. and music when we're in a really low place. I've been watching a show, which I know you probably abhor "Sex and the City" because life has just sucked lately. To "endure" is sometimes the best we can do when the black dog howls and bites. And that takes a lot of courage and strength. Btw, have you read the series "A Song of Fire and Ice"? I just read the whole series even though it's been out a while and they're now my fave. books, esp. when I'm feeling really miserable and depressed. Everyone is struggling and just trying to "endure." And HBO is doing the first book this January. I can't wait! I still like "Seth" better though ;)

  2. We *heart* Al! Maybe they should make a line of "What Would Swearengen Do?" T-shirts.
    And speaking of Six Feet Under, you should check out the Moth Podcast - a story called "The Undertakers Daughter" by Jeffery Rudell is right up your alley.

  3. I don't watch the shows you mentioned because I don't get HBO but I have thought recently of ordering it to see some of the popoular programs there. In any case, I also enjoy T.V. as a way to relax and as a distraction from life problems. I tend to watch crime shows, like Law and Order SVU or Criminal Intent and Criminal Minds, but sometimes, to get a laugh I resort to reality t.v. shows I'd be ashamed to admit I watch! I think we all need a break from our own lives sometimes, which can luckly be found in books, movies, t.v. and music. The Al character sounds interesting.

  4. Until the holiday vacation, I hadn't watched a movie or a full television show in over a year (excepting NHK children's programs). Combining work, taking care of a baby, and leaving the rest of the time for reading/other necessities left no time except for a few minutes here and there to catch a snatch.

    I got in three movies over the break, and though neither of them made any great impression on me, I really enjoyed the time. You're right - it is a great escape. Reading a work of fiction after several months of reading purely theory gave me a similar feeling.

    Mad Men is finally coming out on Japanese cable this February. I'm really looking forward to seeing my first episode, provided I have the time.

  5. I've never watched any of the programs you mentioned, and maybe I'll check out some online shops later to see if they are available on DVD.

    I would watch reruns of Seinfeld when I was in the United States. I bought a complete box set of Seinfeld DVD's several months ago, and love many of the episodes. What I love about Seinfeld is that the main characters are all hilarious. Their nonchalant attitude toward everyday things is indeed a pleasant distraction when my mood is quite low.

    Unfortunately, depression is probably something we depressives have to face in some form for the rest of our lives. I first found myself feel sad about this, but I now know I don't have to feel this way because we all have some kinds of limitations that make life difficult.

    I wish I were not vulnerable to depression, but I am so the best thing I can do about this is that I learn to live with it as peacefully as possible, instead of seeing it merely as something to knock down. Maybe I'm checking out the video clip on the post later. Hope you're doing OK. Stay warm and healthy.

  6. I just wanted to say I stumbled upon your blog. I also suffer from depression and blog about it. I like your reference to the black dog. I think of my depression as a shadow that stalks me. I am glad to have found your blog because I love to read. It was always my form of escape.

  7. Hello everyone, thanks for dropping by and posting, it is appreciated as always. I'm tempted to go into some Deadwood-esque Shakespearean obscenity, but I will try to restrain myself..

    Hi Wendy, you guess well about my feelings on Sex and the City. I think I've seen about three episodes of it, and that includes somehow managing to see the same episode twice. As you say, I'm not a fan. But if it provides you with some solace, go for it! I've heard of "A Song of Fire and Ice", but never read it. I was really into fantasy books as a teenager, but haven't read any for a long time now.

    PS-I'm still not a fan of Seth!

    Hello Up the Mountain - while a funny idea, I do find the "What would Al do?" T-shirts a vaguely disturbing idea, because Al tended to respond in a similar way to most situations, and they mostly ended with A) receiving a blowjob while reciting childhood traumas or B) scrubbing the floor trying to remove the blood of someone who got in his way.

    Admirable as such an existence may seem to those who have lost their faculties, Swearengen ain't the fucking' kind of thievin' murderin' cocksuckin' son of a bitch whose life I intend to emulate, not even so far as wearin' apparel that might indicate to the hoopleheads that I endorse anything that sorry excuse for a man advocated.

    Oops, I guess all that Deadwood got to me. But I'm not the only one. For explanation, check here.

    Hi Jen, I guess like anything TV is good in small doses. In large doses it can be damaging and addictive, but as a temporary source of time off from the world it can be great. I used to watch Law & Order back in the 90s, but I've never been able to tolerate more than a few minutes of "reality" TV. HBO has a lot of great shows, but there are other ways than buying cable to see what they've made...

    Hello Anonymous, a lack of TV is probably not a bad thing. I essentially never see Japanese TV, occasionally I switch it on but can never tolerate more than a few minutes. It would probably be good for me to practice listening, but the shows are either much too difficult to understand, or so patently idiotic that I don't care what language they are in and refuse to waste time on them.

    Hi Takashi, As noted above to Jen, purchasing TV series that you wish to watch is not the only way to see them, especially if the budget is tight. About Seinfeld, I used to watch it all the time in the 90s back in Australia, it was a lot of fun. Jerry's standup itself was not very good, but the show itself was always enjoyable to watch. There was a good take-off of Seinfeld done by the guys at Collegehumor recently.

    Hello Jen, thanks for coming by and posting. I've never really thought about depression as a shadow that follows me, but that is an apt description. Reading can be a great escape, and blogging is good therapy!

  8. I found myself living vicariously through CSI Miami and NY. Enjoying the shows isn't the problem, it's when I find little moments in the shows that remind me acutely of just how much my own life doesn't begin to measure up.