Saturday, May 31, 2014

DIFFICULT MEN by Brett Martin

Depending on your age, or at least on your familiarity with the entire span of broadcast drama on TV, you will appreciate an examination of The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad in the audiobook DIFFICULT MEN: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution. Instead of focusing solely on the actors involved in these hit shows, author Brett Martin tells us how these shows were imagined and created in the first place, including why they chose the actors they did. The head writer or producer is called the "showrunner." He provides the show's primary arc or storyline, then assembles a group of writers to hash out how it will get from point A to point Z each season. (The trip itself is more important than the ending, after all.) Keith Szarabajka narrates this behind the scenes story about the arc of television itself into a third "golden" age of antiheroes, in which the lead characters are no longer like Jim Rockford, but instead might be despicable and truly guilty. There is some discussion of how cable companies operate too, with some interesting revelations about their motivations and inner workings. Is television a reflection of culture, reinforcing it, or did it help create our culture of violence and amoral opportunism? It isn't an either/or question. This book shows how audiences were teased into caring about people who didn't deserve their admiration, much like certain pop stars whom we routinely forgive even though they may be unremittingly poor role models. With the right spin, empathic situations, and convincing arguments, even Hitler might be admired by today's audiences, for as long as they were distracted from the facts. Scary, but insightful on many levels.

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