Episode 38: Cynicism

Rachel and Leeman talk about cynicism in pop culture and in faith

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled:

Church Bytes, Mad About You, True Detective, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Community, Farscape, Star Trek, BSG, Vorkosigan Saga, Game of Thrones, Sandman, Small Gods and Rachel’s Blog.

Our outro is Debs & Errol’s Walkthrough

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One Response to Episode 38: Cynicism

  1. Rachel Kolar says:

    This podcast led to Tom and me having a ten-minute discussion trying to hammer out whether or not “The Wire” actually is cynical. (I know neither of you have seen it, so I’m going to keep this general and spoiler-free, because it’s really good.) On the one hand, it’s incredibly cynical about social systems and bureaucracies; there’s this pervading belief that bureaucratic institutions are inherently corrupt and inefficient, and each individual institution is locked into a shambling behemoth of a system with all the other institutions. Even if you have some incredibly bright-eyed, optimistic, well-intentioned cop who tries to make things right, it’s not going to happen because the police department finds it far cheaper and easier to do things in a slightly lazy and unethical way than to do things in the way that does the most good. And then, if by some miracle he manages to turn the police department into shining paragons of virtue, the government, the school system, the media, the unions, and every other organization is so horrible that they’ll block the good guys from getting anything done.

    But because the view of institutions is so bleak, the view of individuals is actually incredibly optimistic. Cities like Baltimore aren’t hellscapes because people are awful; they’re hellscapes because even the best people in the world have to work so hard to make even the most minor changes. There are plenty of characters in “The Wire” who are well-meaning, compassionate, and caring, and who manage to make some kind of change on a small level (the teacher character doesn’t singlehandedly stop No Child Left Behind, raise the school’s test scores to unprecedented highs, or send every kid in his class to college, but he makes them really interested in math by letting them gamble and using that to teach about probability). There are also characters who are well-meaning, compassionate and caring but end up inadvertently making things worse and trying to make up for it for the rest of their lives. Even the drug gangs get a sympathetic view because of David Simon’s hatred of systems–the clear message is that the dealers and junkies ended up where they were because they were born to the wrong parents in the wrong zip code, not because they’re inherently horrible, and there’s a whole spectrum of bad behavior from “gun-crazy sociopath” to “basically decent guy if it weren’t for the whole drug thing.” We ended up coming to the conclusion that it’s not cynical, but David Simon seems to have conflated bureaucracies with original sin.

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