Monthly Archives: May 2011

Morality at Home and Morality at Work: Guilt and Repentance on The Good Wife

I admit to being a latecomer to The Good Wife.  I only began watching it a few weeks ago, succumbing to various recommendations, but I am all caught up and felt I had to write something about it. The Good Wife fills a space recently vacated by the original Law and Order by entertainingly and critically using “ripped from the headlines” episodic storytelling that is grounded in characters who exist in the tension between idealism and practicality.  But unlike Law and Order, The Good Wife revels in its melodramatic serial elements.  It recalls 19th century novels, particularly Austen and Dickens in a few ways: the constant presence of public scrutiny, the romantic tension between Alicia and Will (and especially the missed connection represented by the “lost” voicemail from the end of the first season, reminiscent of the miscommunications that undergird the romantic novels), and, perhaps most interestingly, the kind of semi-Victorian attention to guilt.  Guilt is not shame in this conceptualization, though they are linked.  I’m using guilt here to play not only on the legal elements of the show but also to confine the affect to the specific sphere of the Florrick family.  While Peter and Alicia might feel shame (or at least portray themselves in public as ashamed as required by the political machine) as a result of the press and public attention to Peter’s affair, guilt within the Florrick family is a little more slippery.

The reference to morality at home and morality at work in the title of this post is lifted from the second-season episode “Wrongful Termination.”  Michael J. Fox’s character, Louis Canning, an in-court antagonist to Alicia, describes her as feeling guilty about what she does in her job, particularly the moral compromises required of her as a high-powered lawyer.  He advocates moral compartmentalization while much of Alicia’s character arc over the two seasons occurs in the space between her (and others’) idea of herself as a moral person and the moral pragmatism required of her as both a lawyer and a politician’s wife.  And yet, as Suzanne Leonard wrote for Flow, Alicia is often afforded a degree of privacy that somewhat obscures the question of her morality.  She is shaped by the political world around her and is mostly reactive to it.  Attention to her morality (and her guilt) is elliptical.

Giving Angela Landsbury a run for her money in the category of playing hateful, manipulative, political matriarchs

Jackie Florrick: She may look harmless, but she can out-maneuver Eli Gold (while being less charming).

If Alicia does, as Canning claims, go home and feel guilty about her work, it seems in direct contrast to Peter and his mother, Jackie.  The show executes a fairly masterful work of sleight-of-hand in its jump from the initial press conference where Peter resigns from his post as State Attorney and admits to his adultery to six months later when Peter is in jail and Alicia has started her job.  It keeps the viewer from seeing his apologies, from seeing his expressions of guilt.  By the time the action of the series really begins, it’s six months later and any apologies seem rote instead of earnest.  Jackie tells Peter in “Boom,” “You are a good man. You want to blame yourself. But you apologized. You apologized again, and again. Anybody who wants another apology from you only wants you to be weak. So stop this. Stop this now. My son will not be made weak.”  It’s a moment that she is pitting herself against Alicia and her requirements and reminders of Peter’s guilt.

Apologies are easy; repentance is hard, and it’s repentance that Alicia seems to want.  Repentance requires acknowledgement of guilt from within then earnest attempts to atone; it requires humility and acknowledgement of one’s own weakness.  Jackie thinks only in terms of public scrutiny: Peter apologized publicly and went through the motions of a repentant politician, but–and this may be due to Chris Noth’s performance and intertextual persona–Peter never seemed all that guilty at home, particularly in his relationship with Alicia.  He accepted her requirements for his return home, including sleeping in separate rooms, but he often framed his self-reform in terms of never committing the same sin again.  This is a key element in religious repentance, yes, but it elides over the deeper issues in his personality and in their marriage that led to his affairs.  He goes through the steps of repentance, especially as mandated by Christianity, but I never got the sense that Peter feels guilty.  And Jackie serves as an absolving force, pushing Peter away from feelings of guilt and casting Alicia’s desire to see his guilt as completely ludicrous and cruel.  Jackie even sets herself against the possibility of Peter’s movement toward guilt and atonement when she tells the pastor from whom Peter seeks spiritual guidance, “You just say ‘God’ and you think you can make people feel bad about themselves. . . . You don’t know my son. This is a phase. You are a phase” (“Running”).  But I never saw Peter feeling bad about himself, in deference to neither God nor Alicia.

What's the verdict: Guilty or Not Guilty?

While Peter’s relationship with Pastor Isaiah folds into his political ambitions and maneuvering–it helps him shore up the black vote and provides a place for him to surreptitiously meet with political operatives during his house arrest–it is still a viable avenue toward atonement, especially with Alicia if it can help him to display guilt.  However, as the politics of his race for State Attorney heat up and the political benefits of the pastor fall by the wayside, Isaiah is essentially dismissed as spiritual advisor.  This occurs as Peter continues to cover-up an affair from his past that Alicia does not know about.  The cover-up and betrayal push Alicia over the edge, and she moves Peter out of the house.  Guilt would have Peter disclose all his past sins in order to seek atonement and Alicia’s forgiveness.  Such simultaneity is not coincidental, and I’m very interested to see how Peter is characterized next season regarding his affairs, his guilt, and his either continued or halted (and ostensibly completed) path of attempted redemption.  And I’m interested to see where Alicia’s morality goes and how her possible turning away from guilt could be liberating instead of morally isolating.  After the final betrayal, she is hardened but also perhaps more herself, and as she insists to Jackie, “I am this way.  Your son made me this way” (“In Sickness”).

Friday Feast: recipes from religious studies

[Edit: Well, this post seemed to actually turn people away from my blog.  Maybe someday I’ll do something with this project, but it’s unpopularity and my increasing tendency to travel on Fridays have led me to discontinue this proposed weekly posting.  No more Friday feasts unless actual food is involved.]

Welcome to the first “Friday Feast,” a bit of a departure from the regular topics I use this blog to explore.  There will be little to no television-related content in these posts, but it’s a fun little project I want to share.  Beginning today and continuing each Friday in May, I will be posting theoretical “recipes” from my religious studies cookbook.  These were originally the culmination of a graduate seminar in religious studies theory, methods, and history.  The cookbook traces many canonical thinkers and their theory or methods in religious studies.  This essentially represents the field’s intellectual history.  The recipes attempt to encapsulate some element of each thinker’s contribution to the field (when concepts are mixed with real food elements, there is an explanation), and the courses that I will focus on each week mark the general periodization of the field from the 15th century to the present (except for the “main course” which I reordered slightly to fit those thinkers I find foundational).  Each week I will also be posting without much commentary a menu grouping that seeks to make connections among the thinkers.

These postings will not take the place of television-related posts for this month, but I hope they will provide an interesting diversion each Friday

The How I Met Your Mother crew is excited about appetizers and hors d'oeuvres

Appetizers (15th-early 19th centuries)

Herbert of CherburyCommon Notions crudités
There is a Supreme God.
This Sovereign Deity ought to be worshipped.
Worship means genuine piety and morality and not hypocritical displays.
Sins can be forgiven.
There will be rewards and punishments in an after life.

1.Combine ingredients on a platter to present the common denominator of all religions.
2. For variation: There is no variation; this is the universal religious foundation.

David Hume-Hopes and Fears Bruscetta
This recipe serves 6-10 people as the scientifically based origin of religion.  For most accurate results, use hope, fear, and other sentiments with unknown origins and causal processes. Bread base must be all-natural because religion is natural and non-rational; best if recipe used is from a polytheistic religion, as that is the original form of religion according to Hume. DO NOT SERVE WITH DIESTIC APPETIZERS.

6-7 tomatoes, chopped precisely in repeatable half-inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, chopped precisely
6-8 basil leaves, minced
1 Tbsp pure fear
1 Tsp essence of hope
other sentiments to taste
All-natural bread base, toasted.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
2. Combine tomatoes, garlic, and basil in a large bowl.  Soak in fears, hopes, and sentiments until completely infused and no longer discernible as separate from the tomatoes, garlic, and basil mixture.
3. Spread mix of sentimental tomatoes on the natural base.
4. Serve warm. Best with other attempts at scientific study of religion.

Friedrich Schleiermacher-Geful Three-Layer Pate 
This recipe best served to rationalists and intellectuals resistant to religion.  Shape pate in manner befitting its surroundings when served.

3 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound beef hearts (feeling), trimmed and chopped
1 pound lamb livers (God), trimmed and cubed
1 pound mixed cauliflower and zucchini (base), chopped
1 cup  affect, thirded
½ cup feeling, thirded
¾ cup Hegelian thought, thirded

1. For each layer of consciousness in the pate (base, feeling, God):

  • a. Sautee one onion and one garlic until browned.
  • b. Add beef, lamb, or vegetables and cook through

2. Set each layer aside to cool.
3. Pulse each layer in food processor while contemplating the experience of the infinite and the feeling that you might experience from encountering it. (Note: this process will be subjective based on the affects and sentiments each cook will feel.)
4. Cook each layer with affect, feeling, and Hegelian thought.
5. Pour each cooked layer into lined mold in order of consciousness: base, feeling, God.
6. Chill at least 4 hours before serving to allow affect and feeling to infuse throughout.

Karl Marx-Vodka Tomatoes
To get the full effect of this opiate of the masses, use the strongest Russian vodka you can find and have it consecrated by a Russian Orthodox priest.  For best results, used tomatoes and basil grown in community garden.

1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 bottle vodka
2 Tbsp fresh chopped basil
2 Tbsp Hegelian dialectic
3 Tsp Feurbachian projection, locus in society

1. Blanche in water infused with Hegelian dialectic and Feuerbachian projection.  Peel tomatoes, maintaining influence of Hegel and Feuerbach.
2. Soak in vodka and basil until one taste would create the illusion of heaven at the price of material concerns.
3. Serve chilled and to the masses.

Variation for presentation: Serve over base of economic concerns and within the superstructure of social institutions.

Ludwig FeuerbachProjection Cheese Puffs
While traditional cheese puffs may call for the diner to resemble the form of the cheese puff, this recipe works best when cheese puffs are formed in the shape of humankind.  Great appetizer for an anthropological or a humanist menu.  Do not serve any puffs that fall flat as they will no longer resemble projection theories.

2 Tbsp Hegelian essence of God/humanity, reversed
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash cayenne pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese (Emmenthaler or Gruyere)
Course salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Bring milk, butter, salt, and cayenne to boil in saucepan.  Remove from heat and mix in flour, stirring vigorously.
3. Transfer to food processor, add eggs, paprika, and cheese. Pulse until well mixed.
4. Form into shape of human on lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt.
5. Bake for about 30 minutes until nicely puffed, forming base and projection layer separated by the air of psychological need.

Structures and Patterns Menu
(Those thinkers who look for patterns in religions that reveal underlying cultural structures)

Appetizer: Herbert of Cherbury-Common Notions crudités
First Course: James Frazer-Practical Magic Onion Soup
Main Course: Max Weber-Ideal Types T-bone Steak
Dessert: Harvey Whitehouse-Doctrinal and Imagistic (black and white) Cookies