Schumann: Drugs, Sex and Middle-Age


Blog Contributor

Note: The following only applies to the first season. I am unable to defend this theory beyond that point, however I have a feeling this shoe will continue to fit.

Recently, I had exhausted every episode of Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, and was looking for another filler to take up the hours between attempting to sleep falling asleep drooling on top of my laptop. On a recommendation from one of my couch-surfing, analytical-approach-towards TV watching compatriots, I began the journey into Californication. (Yes, I’m aware it started 7 years ago. Give me a break, I don’t own a television.)

One thing was immediately shocking to me: this show displayed so much symbolism, so much aspiration and so much potential for after the fact justification of not pursuing the same aspiration it displays, that I had to make certain I hadn’t mixed up my anti-depressants with my hallucinogens stash again.

It’s a brilliantly crafted plot, not so much the obvious struggle and (Don’t spoil it!) inevitable resolution between protagonist > lost target of desire he seeks to get back by pushing her away/simultaneously pursuing her but the way in which it depicts the image of Hank Moody.

Hank Moody, the protagonist of Californication is a struggling writer in Los Angeles, perpetually womanizing, abusing drugs/women, archetypal Hollywood playboy (but past his chronological prime, which strangely is seldom mentioned*) lifestyle and so on. The show very cleverly shows the personal struggles Hank experiences as a result of his womanizing, simultaneously creating a divide between the male viewer’s perspective on his actions (look at all the hot young girls he bones!) and the conclusion the show inevitably forces you to reach… eg: His lifestyle may look pretty fantastic and certainly alluring, but look at how empty he is, how destructive his actions are to his own personal progress, both as an individual (the comments he gets from his ex/agent/friends). Additionally, and for what appears to be further reinforcement, this is contrasted by his agent Charlie’s relationship with his wife: Sexually stale and frustrating. Charlie appears to veer away from the issue, burying himself in the product of his work, letting that be the identity he chooses for himself.

There’s one terrifying conclusion to be drawn here: the producers of this show know exactly what you want, know that you can’t get what you want, and then want to make sure you feel okay about it. This ensures you tune in next week, as good feels = good views.

What the hell are you talking about? It’s a show about a struggling writer.

No, it’s not. It’s Charlie Sheen 2011, written four years before. (More on this at the bottom of the page)*

Hank is the ultimate narcissistic aspirational image. It’s almost humorous how many attributes he has that directly indicate this. At times, Hank seems too contrived, too over-the-top to make the show any bit authentic. But it still serves to demonstrate a very important point.

Aspiration for whom, exactly?

Not me, I’ve got a few short years left. Hank is the aspiration for every late-30-early-mid-40-something who’s life resembles Hank’s agent Charlie.

Look at Charlie for a minute: Kinda Pudgy, bald by alopecia (not by choice), stale sex life, married happily-ish, buried in his work (presumably to avoid looking at the rest of his life) and awkward around his attractive secretary. Beta-male, unfulfilled.

Hank represents the antithesis: Full head of hair, fit, attractive (my opinion notwithstanding, he is often described as such by very attractive women — making the statement true as it pertains to the show’s characters), incredibly suave, ‘cool’ by any convention, women hardly notice or mention his age/or it’s seen as irrelevant, has a career all about him/his product = who he is by virtue of unique traits/who he is* (opposed to being an employee or ‘working hard’).

Then there’s his actions: sleeping with young attractive women while simultaneously exerting minimal effort (makes it look easy), always drunk/lounging, wears whatever he wants etc. I won’t even touch on the 964 Carrera Cabriolet, a representative purchase made by consumers who would love to indicate their unique taste in automotive technology.

But, what happens as a result of his actions? His writing career falters, the woman of his dreams refuses romantic involvement on a serious level, he’s deemed a ‘sex addict,’ can’t find intimacy on any substantial level so on and so forth.

So what is the message here?

Isn’t the medium the message?

I appreciate your literary investigations into philosophical ideas about the media, but it’s 1:00 a.m. and I’m far too tired to touch on such an esoteric concept. Partial credit.

Directly, there’s only one conclusion the viewer can draw: (This is under the {likely correct} assumption the viewer compares their existence to Hank’s)

Good thing I don’t get drunk and sleep with young girls all the time, looks like it turns out pretty shitty! Ok, time for a nap.

So, let’s get this straight: Hank lives what the viewers would likely describe as an ‘awesome’ (possibly implicit description for reasons stated below) lifestyle full of easy seduction, booze, aspirational career and obviously ‘has money.’

But naturally, as you suspected it’s too good to be true. Turns out all those ‘vices’ you were always told were guilty pleasures were actually destroying you, just like you were told.

So lucky enough, you (you = Charlie) made the right decision, the minor annoyances and existential dread of your meaningless job/loveless dying marriage are totally acceptable alternatives to Hank’s destructive, idealized frat-boy-style fantasy.

Whew, thank god. Makes me feel better about the beer gut and nonexistent hairline.

Right, so you made the right choice.

What would happen if the script was flipped? Hank’s actions remain the same but he’s supremely fulfilled in his existence, decides that life only has meaning as you ascribe it and learns to work with his addictions and vices to have a better understanding of himself, gradually working towards his goals and spending time to appreciate the very nature of his life.

I have a guess: No one would watch it.

Show is so fucking fake.

He comments at his still Anne Taylored wife as they sit simultaneously in the same room, but off on different vectors (he on Hank’s lifestyle, her on answering work-emails after hours to avoid the despair with facing her home life full-on)

Yeah, I agree.” :thumb flips on BlackBerry:

Also, the show discourages the actions depicted by indicating the outcomes of such actions. Leading the viewer to this conclusion:

Good thing I don’t do that (sex/drink/drugs) cause that happens (discussed above)”

You already said that. Are you out of shit and just dragging this out?

Yeah, kinda. But no, look deeper.

Good thing I don’t do that = I could do that if I chose too, but I’m again made aware at the likely outcome of the actions, so I abstain from such activities.

………Hiding the Charlie target viewer from the distance from him to Hank.*

This example serves as an excellent intellectual exercise to examine your own thought process, and how it influences your actions.

1.* Age is important to who I assume the target demographic is. Having it (what is deemed as a defining characteristic) deliberately ignored by the ultimate manifestation of cultural attractiveness is a huge aspiration for those, and if they tell you it isn’t assume they are lying. The real idea, the fundamental “feel good” aspect of the show is the “it’s not too late” aspect surrounding Hank’s middle aged antics.

2.* The media/pop-news TV crowd breathed a collective sigh of relief when Sheen’s lifestyle led to his downfall. No one wanted to come to terms with the fact that the way he lived/partied/drugs/hookers could exist without dire consequences, otherwise why the hell were they suiting up every morning and coming home to a stale remnant of a marriage? “I look forward to Golf on the weekends.” — While Sheen is out sleeping with porn stars and making rock bands envious of his opiate consumption.
:Sheen in Rehab: “Thank god. Took long enough.” It’s odd how the trajectories of the actual and fake stars resembled each other. What happens when life imitates art? The dots are all there, take a minute and connect them.

3.*The big one, the American Narcissists’ fantasy: “I am a unique individual and I want to be recognized for that fact, and only for that fact. It defines me, not my actions.” Notice he’s still a writer even after not having written for a year.

4.* The difference between the portrayal of Hank’s primary attributes and Charlie’s/Target Viewer’s primary attributes, and the actions associated with them. Well, I could do what Hank does…. But the results… blah blah blah. Right, we’re all sure you could. You’re definitely who you think you are, not your actions…. see 3 above.
This mechanism of thinking protects the individual from change. You’re not lying to yourself, you’re being lied to by yourself.

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