role model liberalism and soap opera

As everyone knows, the best Danish tv program ever was Kingdom (Riget), the Lars van Trier weirdness. And in fact I’d go so far as to say that no other program featuring autistic, dwarfish dishwashers as a Greek chorus to the main events was as good as Lars van Trier’s version of an autistic, dwarfish pair of dishwashers acting as a Greek chorus to the main events in the show. My favorite character in Riget is, of course, the evil Swedish doctor, who comes to the Danish hospital trailing rumors of malpractice in his native Sweden. The show made his denunciations of Denmark a regular feature: as I recall, many episodes ended with him standing on the hospital roof, looking towards Sweden, and showering curses – like a Swedish Mephistopheles – down upon the incorrigibly backwards Danes. “Here is Denmark, excreted from limestone. There is Sweden, chiselled from granite. Danish scum!”  Here’s the Youtube link thatlines up all the curses.

However, Kingdom was a one shot deal. Lately, A. and I have been watching Borgen, another Danish tv series. This one is about a female prime minister – you can see it on Linktv, complete with English subtitles. It is an interesting study in Role Model Liberalism. The prime minister is elected as a moderate – which, in tv land (and in the media) – is the G spot of politics. The idea actually goes back to Aristotle’s Rhetoric –we take social temperaments or positions, we label them as extremes as one type or another, and we then have a mathematical grasp of them, so that we can find the middle. A young man is impetuous, an old man is scared of any change, and a middle aged man is sometimes impetuous, and sometimes scared of change – or prudent. This sociology of types has long been obsolete, but in the media world, it is applied religiously to politics: if the left wants x and the right wants z, why, y must be just what the world is waiting for! This method makes no sense, since it neither diagnoses the political problem nor the solution.  However, it has tremendous fans in the media, in which the people who are ‘opinionmakers’ or tv series directors are paid enormously and want to keep their class positions, but at the same time have identified themselves as representatives of a long tradition of progress. It is the same impulse that keeps geriatric rock n roll bands singing tunes full of old adolescent sneering. 

The show I boggled at was one involving a crisis –the show is set up around the old crisis/solution format – that occurs when the Prime Minister  daringly introduces a law that would force corporations to institute parity between men and women (50-50) on their corporate boards. This is introduced with the implication that here we have the latest in ultra-feminism. That the measure would simply affect say one hundred wealthy women in Denmark is never, quite, brought to the fore. The reason is that this is the feminism of role models, and obviously the writers and producers think that the triumph for some corporate dog is a triumph that can be shared by all women. Just as women could once look at movie stars  and dream a little dream, now they can look at the rich and sassy bread of  corporate heads and feel liberated deep inside.

Role model liberalism used to be called tokenism and other dirty names, in the radical sixties,  but it has gradually crept into the very texture and weave of the contemporary liberal or progressive ethos, and not only in America. Of course, the crisis in the show was averted when finally, the prime minister and the CEO of Denmark’s biggest corporation face off and she gets him to yield – cause he’s a very human curmudgeonly CEO. Of course – no caricatures of Mr. Moneybags in the era of  Role model liberalism!

Luckily, the show realizes that role model liberalism is incorrigibly dull –thus, the real juice   in it all tends to the standard soap opera themes that are our real role models for getting into and out of trouble in the prison  of ordinary life : will the p.m.’s husband adjust to her new fame? Will the spokesman have an affair with the Labour Minister? Role model  liberalism dissolves, at the crucial points, into the older appetites. I like the older appetites a great deal, but I feel like raining curses on Denmark whenever the moderate political solution raises its ugly head in the program.