Late in the evening, tired, our guard down, we plop in front of the TV looking for a little entertainment. We give “Deadwood” a try. People seem to like it. This version of a frontier town has virtually everyone issuing the f-bomb every other word (surely a contemporary overlay; was vocabulary so impoverished then?). And people so monodimensionally mean-spirited, when not downright murderous, that we move on about the time they throw a recently dispatched sucker to the pigs for dinner.

But out of the (f—-n) frying pan… into “Spartacus,” which has grabbed me occasionally in the past. Story of a Roman noble down on his luck, and his gladiators. The title character is in “the pits,” a hellish, to-the-death fight in which one victor deliberately hacks off his victim’s face, affording us a good glimpse of what’s underneath, and parades around with it to the glee of onlookers. What am I doing to myself, I wonder. But stay to the end to see if S will survive, to see if there will be any of the nudity insistently warned against.

Plenty of f-bombs here, too, and they’ve come up with a ridiculous clipped version of English to suggest something about the way the old Romans might have spoken or heard each other. (What’s Latin for “f—-n”?)

Is this really nitty gritty realism about some bad old days? Something tells me it is less about there and then than about here and now. A version of ourselves, WHAT WE’VE COME TO in our cynical oligarchy. Is there really any difference between the show’s depiction of the debased Romans absorbed in the pits horror– sweating, laughing, spattered with blood, clamoring for more brutality–and us watching them watch (as well as watching what they are watching)?

Yes, it’s not intended to be family fare. We have choice. But that this is available to choose; that we as a society choose to have this choice. That fellow humans choose to make such stuff…for the likes of me. (And you too, apparently, from what I read in Wikipedia about its reception.) Is it just happy freedom from censorship? Or something not so happy?

Somebody tell me this doesn’t mean anything dire about the state of us, that it’s “all good,” as we say about everything these days.

Pilgrim Progress : the beat goes on

Pilgrim has withstood a virtual tsunami of bad news the last couple of years. It seems like just about everybody wants it to go away. All Cape and Vineyard towns, the governor, and our state and US representatives– all want to see it closed, for reasons that have been rehearsed almost daily in this paper. […]

Kline House: Class struggle in Truro

Truro’s protracted battle with the Klines continues. The latest chapter, reported on in the Times on July 6 is the $178,000 it has cost so far to enforce the law—that is, tear down this house declared illegal by the courts—and whether the town can afford to go on enforcing its own zoning. Christopher Lucy, former […]

Michael Moore’s story of capitalism: the only one?

Speaking, as I was in a recent column, about stories of our nations’ meaning, stories we can—or cannot–imagine being taught in the schools, or without embarrassment telling our children. In 2009 I did a column about Michael Moore’s movie with the ironic title, “Capitalism: a Love story.” This movie is the most powerful and inspirational […]

New Citizen life being born in Wellfleet?

Something new, an unprecedented form of citizenship, may be taking shape in Wellfleet, the Little Town That Could. It’s not clear even to those who are part of its emergence (including this writer) what this new thing is, or might be. At this point it could go in any of several directions, become this or […]

Reminding ourselves of the story of progress

You hear the word “story” a lot these years. One way of thinking about the current national mood of discontent is that we—our feckless Congress but the rest of us, too– have lost track of the story. What the story is or was and where we were in it. It’s as if the bookmark had […]

Nukes and tourism

Have nuclear power plants have begun to have an effect on tourism? I’m not just talking about Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, or Fukushima; I’m not aware that any of them were big tourist destinations even before their disasters. My wife and I have spent time in France for many years. I’ve always loved the French […]

124: older can be better

Congratulations to Harwich on defeating the initiative to “improve” Route 124. A predictable reaction to the decision in a letter to this paper complained that the existing road is scandalously old, dating back to the 1920s. Sometimes we carelessly use “older” as a metaphor for incompetent, as if newer always means better. But the argument […]

Iraq : once more unto the breach? (seriously?)

To intervene or not to intervene. It’s one of the great issues of our time for the few countries powerful enough to consider such a thing. But Iraq for a third time? This should be an easy decision. Iraq’s history is once again not going the way we’d like it to go (those of us […]

Risk Management

In the late 1990s a large number of Wellfleetians organized to keep cell phone towers out of our town. A big part of it was aesthetic. We didn’t want them dominating our modest skyline, competing with church steeples. We didn’t like the prospect of people polluting our pristine experiences at the pond and ocean by […]