Sunday, March 25, 2007



Schoolbell/Hellhouse

The new issue of Vanity Fair tells us that The Sopranos is the greatest TV series of all time and goes on to insist that this is because it is "relatable". Wrong. The reason that The Sopranos is one of the greatest shows of all time is that it is a brilliant attack on the essential immorality of capitalism. Veronica Mars is a better show because it is a more brilliant attack on the essential immorality of capitalism.

I've Been meaning, for quite a while, to write something about hauntlogical aspects of Veronica Mars. These things are always mentally planned out as tightly-written online essays with, like, footnotes and stuff but unfailingly end up as hastilywrittenandpoorlyproofread blog posts. Okay, I don't have much time, so here we go...

The specific aspects of hauntology that I'm referring to here are:

(a) The use of ghosts and ghostly imagery to represent a hazily remembered, vaguely idealized past/youth, characterized by the strength and efficacy of the public realm.

(b) Images of drowning used to represent an unreal, dystopian present, characterized by the victory of disturbingly cynical elements in the private sector.

The presence of ghosts in Veronica Mars is, of course, a simple fact. For example, Veronica spends much of the first season being rather benignly haunted by her murdered best friend, Lilly. In VM, though, ghosts don't represent the way our dead friends come to manifest themselves in the living world but the ways in which we come to realize that they are truly absent.

Veronica's life pre-Lilly's death is portrayed, through a series of gauzy flashbacks, as a paradise of inclusiveness, in stark contrast to the hell of exile she enters after the murder. Lilly is a fairly major character throughout the first season but we never see anything from her perspective because she doesn't have a perspective any more. She ventures plenty of opinions and theories about the season's central mystery - her murder - but these are a mere reflection of her fading memory, as it exists within Veronica's subconscious. Therefore, she is only able to help Veronica solve the mystery in a thoroughly mediated fashion.

Likewise, Veronica makes most of her important realizations about Season Two's central crime after a series of oblique conversations with victims' ghosts. During one pivotal episode, she spends much of her time asleep, dreaming conversations with the kids who died when a school bus plunged, rather suspiciously, off the Pacific Coast Highway and into the ocean. Significant aspects of this episode are as follows:

(i) Veronica only really knows most of the ghost-kids she talks to via her post-mortem investigations into their lives.

(ii) The conversations happen underwater, in The Drowned World.

(iii) The conversations happen on a yellow American school bus. I always think of these buses as being an anachronistic hangover from a time when the US public realm was not quite so marginalized - perhaps the 1970s of After School Special.

(iv) Some of the kids who should have been on the bus decided, at the last minute to hire a limo - a private car - to take them home in style. Obviously these are rich kids and two of them are the sons of an unscrupulous local property developer.

This last part is a pretty brutally angry use of hauntological metaphor: the rich get away in private luxury while the poor perish in the destruction of the public realm. It's quite amazing how VM creator Rob Thomas has managed to sneak this kind of thing under the network's nose again and again.

Or, at least, he managed during the first two seasons. Now, in season three, the ghosts are gone and the show takes place squarely within the "gritty reality" of standard televisual murder mysteries. As such, it represents a much less compelling vision of the world we actually live in.

2 comments:

Saelan said...

you know, i never watch tv. not even on dvd, really. and not because i have any prejudice against the medium, just because a) I don't have the money for TV and when I have had it, I spend too much time watching it, and b) I don't seem to have time to go rent things. How this is, I don't entirely understand. I never seem to do much other than surf the internet.

Anyway, I have never seen Veronica Mars, The Office, Extras, Lost, or the Sopranos, aside from brief clips on YouTube. This is frequently problematic for me in social situations. I have, however, seen all of the second and third seasons of Arrested Development thanks to the fact that I once had a girlfriend and she, like most people, watched TV.

To be honest with you, I don't even really watch movies anymore unless my roommate rents them, and then I tend to wander in and out of the living room at my leisure.

How do other people get so much done all the time? Even when by "getting things done" I mean, "engage in so many leisure activities".

Biggie Samuels said...

What kind of society do we live in where people don't have time to watch really great TV shows? What happened to the good old days when nobody had anything better to do than sit around all day watching crap?

The best way to get around to watching a show as large-scale as Veronica Mars is simply to get around to it. The chances are that, once you start, you won't stop. We've lent our VMars DVDs to people and they usually return them within an alarmingly short period of time, demanding more with a crazed look in their eyes.