Michael McKean and the American Escape Hatch

Michael McKean: Better Call Saul is About the American Escape Hatch

Here is an interesting interview with Michael McKean about his latest project, Better Call Saul.  As a huge Breaking Bad fan I admit that I am still on the fence about Better Call Saul.  I am still waiting to find a way to connect with it.  There are definitely moments of brilliance as it examines the American legal system and asks bigger questions about the American dream.  However, I find the show to be a bit slow to find its rhythm.  I am a few episodes behind at this point.  I don’t really want to judge it until I have seen all of the first season.  I think creator Vince Gilligan, who also created Breaking Bad, has earned that from TV viewers after creating one of the best TV shows of all time.  Here is a snippet from the interview:

Everything that happens to you in your life can sometimes find the way to make all the difference down the line. But when you’ve got a confluence of stuff here, Jimmy getting involved in these bigger cases, these bigger money cases, getting a whiff of the money anyway — if you’re going to be cheated of the attention and prestige you feel you should have, if you feel cheated of that, you’ll find a way to settle for the money. That’s the American way. If everything else goes off in your face, if your family can’t stand the sight of you, if you can’t hold a job, if you can’t stay away from drugs and booze, well, at least you can make a lot of money and have all this f-you money stacked up. It really is the American escape hatch instead of the American dream.

Walmart, Grey Skies, and a Street Corner Symphony

Slate grey Victorian skies
Come Back to Camden by Morrissey

I found myself buying pants at Walmart today for a funeral, on a day where the sky resembled the above quote.  Luckily it struck me as funny, instead of morose.  I am convinced if there is a God, that He has a strange sense of humor.  If you are afraid of death, and want to fear it less, spend some time walking around Walmart looking at the lost souls in that place.  Walmart is the endgame of the American dream.  It is where we got everything we ever wanted, for a low low price, and all we had to give up in return was our culture and a living wage.  I try not to shop there, but am low on cash myself and didn’t have a lot of time to play around with.  If you live long enough, there are times in life when being a hypocrite is the only option.

Life isn’t all dust and bones and skeleton smiles.  Earlier today I was walking my dog and The Persuasions Medley: He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother / You’ve Got a Friend came on my ipod.  The clouds parted and pure joy reigned down.  The Persuasions are an a capella soul group.  Their masterpiece is probably the album Street Corner Symphony.  Here is the song:

The album’s title is perfect.  They create an entire world of sweet soul music with nothing but the human voice.  How can you be down when something like this is out there?

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when
But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We’ll get there

The Creation of the American Dream

The Jews not only created Hollywood, but also created the American dream.  So goes the theory of Neal Gabler’s An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.  I’ve mentioned Gabler before.  He is probably the best writer I know when it comes to talking about how entertainment has had an effect on the American imagination and culture.  He also wrote the definitive book on Walt Disney.  It’s called Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination.

In Gabler’s book on the Jews in Hollywood, he talks about how many Jews came to America and were not included in mainstream WASP America.  They were excluded from this world of wealth and power by ignorant stereotyping.  The early movie industry, and California during this time period, were things that were open to anyone.  They were virgin territory.  The Jews got into the movie business because it was a place they could find success because there were not cultural barriers to stop them.  This book is really interesting and the stories of all of the early studio heads is tremendously fascinating.  All of Gabler’s books are worth reading.

What was one of the most fascinating things in Gabler’s book, and something I would like to dive into more deeply, was how the modern day American dream was created by these people that were originally barred from it.  The Jews, more than anything, wanted to be accepted into the mainstream.  Louis B. Meyer, one of the early studio heads, even claimed that his birthday was on the 4th of July.

They didn’t want to be seen as outsiders so, even though most of the major studios were run by Jews, they didn’t make Jewish movies.  They also did not want to anger the country, which was much less accepting of taboo subjects than we are now.  In the early film industry they created what we think of as the traditional Hollywood films; movies that had clear moral codes which showed the best of American values.  These movies usually had clear good and bad guys.  Often these films showed the loving traditional American family.  These movies showed the America that the Jews wanted to be a part of.

For the first time in history Americans were going to the theater.  What they were often seeing reflected back at them in the early days of American cinema was an idealized version of who they were.  These films helped to solidify in the American mind, which was a nation of immigrants, the notion of the American Dream.

I find it interesting that this dream, which every American knows, was helped along the way, if not outright created, by people that were originally outside of the acceptance of the mainstream.  This dream which informs the way we think about ourselves, how people vote, so much of our cultural life, was simply invented in large part.  That’s not to say that it has any less power because of it.  It’s just that if we are to go forward, it helps to know this, as we think of how we treat each other and what our relationship is to one another as a people.   All dreams come from the minds of humans.  How do we make those dreams a reality for more people, as we travel down the road?