Saturday, 15 November 2014


My adolescence, which doesn't feel like it's over yet, was characterised chiefly by doubt. First, doubt of everything people were saying around me, and then, overwhelmingly, doubt of myself. Self-doubt has become basic to how I approach life, taking my cue from the scientific method and republican and Marxist humanism.

The flip side of doubt, to my mind, is confidence. In anything. Confidence seems like glorified blind faith, whether it's in a set of beliefs or in your own abilities. It is antithetical to criticism, to commitment to the truth and to authenticity. It is basically superstition, and like most superstitions, basically in service and affirmation of the status quo. Confidence is a guy smiling with two thumbs up and telling you everything is a-okay. But I don't think even he really believes himself.

I feel like I've been carrying with me, almost everywhere, as a sort of alternative to confidence, an all-pervasive ironic detachment. If confidence is religion, irony is the nihilistic overreaction of atheism. It preserves doubt, but to no actual purpose. It's a sort of neutered rebellion, because instead of changing anything it ignores the problem. Together with doubt, it implicitly preserves the basically religious notion of shame in deviance, because the alternative remains unvoiced.

Which got me thinking about a possible truer secular alternative to confidence, which is pride. Pride in doubt. I know pride is a major sin in Christianity, but I think its condemnation is basic to all repressive systems. Pride means not needing outside affirmation. It means you're okay even if you're wrong. It means that you're human and you deserve to be loved. Maybe that's the value of the artistic public exhibition of weaknesses and pain. It's a sad pride parade. It's probably what this blog's about goddammit. Claiming your space without becoming doctrinaire. The same ways gays aren't actually trying to get straight people to sleep with people of their own sex. I would guess all people with an effective religious upbringing have a really hard time getting their heads around that. You express yourself merely to communicate that you rock.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Empire of Sadness

We've all heard of sad clowns (aren't they all?), but Nucky Thompson was a sad gangster. If Tony Soprano had moments of remorseful humanity, Nucky never enjoyed his criminal lifestyle in the first place. It's like me and university!

Organised crime is probably a fairly shitty way of pursuing happiness, but it's more than that - Nucky's sadness defines him. It's inextricably tied to his efforts, such as they are, to be good, and to find meaning. Even when he's happy, it's a sad happiness.

Why is sadness so important to him? Why is sadness so imporant in general?

Nucky's into saving people. It's a form of righting wrongs. I suppose that in order to want to help someone, you have to be empathetic and feel their pain. The same is probably true if you want to help yourself.

Thing is, he'd probably be much happier if he just had a good cry, and had less business meetings and more heart-to-hearts. In the final episode, without giving anything away, the audience gets an enormous sense of vindication simply from being allowed to see, without distractions, just how incredibly sad all of this is and always was.

There's also the denunciation of the American dream, which appears to have become a prerequisite for any American TV show these days. Straighten up and fly straight and your life will be fucking miserable. But it's difficult, with this kind of show, to derive any kind of approved, alternative attitude towards life. Except maybe Margaret's, with her refusal to be docile complemented by a wariness of corruption. Which again reminds me of Lisa Simpson, goddammit.

And maybe the bottom line is that it'll never get better than the 20s if we don't acknowledge that they actually sucked.