Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Appraisal of My 'Hero'

I finally saw the finale of what has probably been my favourite TV show of the last decade: House, M.D. I was kind of glad they ended it, as even a great show runs out of steam, like 24 did a few years ago. A sign of great writing is the ability to realize this. Of course, you 'wish' it didn't have to end, but what if Tolstoy had decided to add another 200 pages to War and Peace? No thanks or yes please?

What was my point of fascination with House? It almost completely resided in the often despicable genius of the main character himself. I liked the medical mystery which constituted 80% of the plot line, but it was House himself who fascinated me. When I first heard of the show, I thought, derisively, oh great another 'rebel bad guy with a heart of gold!' Not at all. Gregory House had no redeeming traits, no moral virtue, in Aquinas' sense, but one significant intellectual virtue. That was not something the writers were willing to sacrifice, and they should be commended for persevering through the difficulties that this obviously entails: selling a show week after week about a character with 'nothing that should make us desire him,' as the Prophet Isaiah says. Sometimes even my fascination with this un-comely genius could no longer palate him, and I began to wonder if they had taken things too far. He was that vicious sometimes. Yet, here was a definite departure from the shallow, usually saccharine, certainly always formulaic, characters of the rest of the Hollywood world.

I want to know, in the end, what the success of the show says about us modern people? First of all, there are bad people like him. And in the end, we would have to agree such a person would not belong to the Kingdom of God. There are many bad people like him. You see this people all the time: they are the people that riot after a hockey game, smash store widows in Montreal, go to strip clubs, fight with others during a sale, steal a cab from someone else, desecrate churches in Toronto... We could go on and on: but they are the very people we deride when we hear about them on the news, but who are probably no further down the road of sin than a great many of the rest of us, they just happened to be in a newsworthy situation.

House was a person whose intellectual virtue could do nothing to outweigh his moral depravity. I don't buy the argument for a second, that his 'unorthodox ways' were justified by the results he obtained: treat a patient with meanness - sometimes even indignity - so long as you cure him. No, I don't accept that. People are not mere organisms, and such an approach to medicine lessens us all.

But you see here, many of us would buy that, would accept that results are the most important thing. That is culture of death thinking - and that is part of what our fascination with House says about us.

Also, we clung to the hope that House would see the light, that deep within that troubled heart was something good that would come out in time. The perpetual insistence that man is essentially good. I applauded that the writers of this show did not give in to that falsehood. The penultimate word on that was his best friend's eulogy at his supposed funeral: he was an ass. Even his best friend, no, not even, but only his best friend, was able to see that. He was not good; he was essentially selfish - even in this one lasting friendship he maintained. The final thought we are meant to ponder does nothing to undermine this conclusion: he faked his death so as to escape jail so to be able to spend the last few month of his friend's life who was dying of cancer. It was not altruistic, though you'd like to believe so, and that was part of our fascination with House.

We'd like to believe that greatness implies goodness, but it does not. Tiger Woods surprised so many. This did not turn out to be the black man with the heart of gold stereotype white people want to believe in with their Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington caricatures, did it? We want to believe that Einstein was saintly. We want to believe that Che Guevara was - he was a mass murdered, btw: he shot a fourteen year-old in the head, and killed more than a hundred other people with his own hands (see here). It is not true that J. F. K. was a good person; nor is anyone who works for Planned Parenthood, nor anyone who is a member of the Liberal and NDP parties, etc. It is easy to believe that everyone is good, especially those whom we want to admire. It's neither true that genius and virtue go hand in hand, nor does it make for interesting TV. Maybe we are actually convinced that these people are morally good, which would be a sign of how sick our moral sensibilities really are!

Even still, genius fascinates us. But can it be an end in itself? We laud those who treat one thing with maniacal enthusiasm as heroes. I think they are not; I think this makes them dysfunctional human beings. But these are the ones we can't help from admiring. Napoleon caused untold misery to millions, and yet we want to admire him. He became powerful because we want to admire him. Insert standard Nietzsche quote here. But you know what, Nietzsche's psychology is sound, but it doesn't make what we are moral. Along the same lines, someone said something the other day that I didn't initially find all that persuasive, but I think it applies here: those who promote homosexuality do so because they want their own immorality accepted or at least looked passed. House should have been pitied, loved and rebuked, not tolerated, and certainly not admired.

House was a convincing and pondering examination of man as he really is: deeply flawed, a creature the whole universe tolerates because the whole universe hopes he will change. The show was a fascinating eight-year long examination of a genius who failed us in so many ways, but whom hope nagged into tolerating. It took us away from the same old shallow fluff we are used to: virtuous and healthy homosexuals, inconsequential sex, women who can 'have it all,' children who appear and disappear from the script as convenient, marriages that cannot be interesting (and so do not last), a black man or a Muslim or a Jew who is always more virtuous than everyone else... We are thankful to the show for that.

Occasionally you meet a great man who is honest enough to tell us that he doesn't care if you realize his greatness does not make him good. House was this way on TV. I am getting the feeling that Conrad Black is this in real life. Now, I can admire someone like that. He doesn't celebrate his sin, which is boring and all too commonplace now in Hollywood; he just does not care what you think of him. He is not selling anything, nor he is not running for public office. He has the ability and the courage to not care whether you like him or not. The aura of holiness that surrounds someone like Obama is a sure sign of a lack of integrity. This is a man who never told anyone what he actually thinks. I don't think he himself knows what he actually thinks. That, again, is what made House interesting watching. Today, everyone is selling something, and so we never see the real them. (This is a temptation for bloggers too.)

The motto of the show was "everybody lies." House lied for fun and for medical reasons. He was a little better than the rest of us because those were the only reasons why he lied. Most of us lie because we don't want others to know how evil we are, because we want others to like us. House was a concerted failure in this regard, and that was his one finger-hold on virtue. Objectively speaking, grounds of hope for change. You will not actually become good until you stop lying to yourself and others about how bad you really are. House's characteristic un-ironed shirts physically manifested this freedom. Also, his sober amoral puritanism gave him a special insight into his patients. He knew 'everybody lied,' so he did not rely on patients' words for his diagnoses. Not permitting 'pleasant lies' aided his medical work; not lying about his own moral depravity would not be an obstacle to moral betterment to him, as it is for most of us.

Now, in the end, an examination of vice is one thing - and a great deal of credit needs to be paid to the writers of this show for doing that so well. An examination of virtue is quite something else, though. Way out of the league of even those talented writers, I suspect. You don't find such a thing done well in too many places outside of the Gospels themselves. I'm glad they ended the show here, before being tempted to treat of something for which they were probably not able to: authentic virtue. Geniuses like Plato, Aristotle and Kant struggled valiantly in this and yet did not make great progress. No writer in Hollywood should dare. Unfortunately, most of them do so dare.

Give me men free from concern for the opinions others have of them. God can make saints of them. He usually won't make saints of the rest.

Evil is intriguing. Vicious genius fascinates. The hope of reform kept us watching for eight years. That House did not reform leads me to admire the writers for not taking the easy way out of the problem of man. House was a bad man; and thus, the show was good art: art must imitate life.

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