Rob Henderson joins me to talk about Deadwood. Our conversation covers all of Season 1, and Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2.
I enjoyed discussing what makes Al Swearengen an anti-hero and whether he or Bullock is the main character of the show. The golden age of TV was really the golden age of anti-heroes, each show centering around a charismatic figure, and both Rob and I agree that Deadwood is among the best from the era that we’ve seen.
Having recently read Henrich and interviewed him on the CSPI podcast, I’ve been conceiving of the Old West, despite its reputation for chaos and dysfunction, as demonstrating how deeply embedded WEIRD morality was in nineteenth century America. Here were communities coming together and forming under what were basically anarchic conditions, often threatened by Indians.
Nonetheless, out of nothing, and with no laws to rely on, Americans of the Old West built houses, communities, churches, saloons, and much else of what we consider hallmarks of a modern society. They created rudimentary political institutions that were relatively well-functioning and non-exploitative, before being incorporated into the US. This isn’t something that should be taken for granted.
Rob points out something I’d missed, which is that thus far the pimps in the show are arguably monogamous, or monogam-ish. I push back a little bit on the point, but if Rob is right, it fits into WEIRD morality, although maybe we’re reading too much into this, even if it’s true.
One of the things that makes this show unique is its willingness to portray its main characters committing violence against women. Even anti-heroes like Tony Soprano and Don Draper tend not to do that. But Deadwood doesn’t flinch from showing what relations between the sexes were like in the distant past.
Other topics we discuss include:
How the show addresses race, and why racist characters always tend to be the dumb ones.
The show’s portrayal of euthanasia, and how it backs up what I said in my article on people’s moral intuitions regarding when to end human suffering.
Mancur Olson’s idea of the Stationary Bandit and how it explains the behavior of characters in the show.
The attitude taken towards religion and its relationship with science as a Bush-era relic.
You can listen here or watch the video on YouTube.