Present Day American Culture
– four archetypal personalities –
Some years ago, I was in a conversation at a small anthroposophical conference, and I used the term: American culture. The European anthroposophist sitting next to me snorted, and clearly looking down his long nose at us poor unenlightened Americans, offered this terse commentary: What culture!?!?! Shall we see? Keep in mind that this which is being described is youthful and raw, as against the mature (but dying) European Culture, which had clearly reached remarkable heights of achievement in the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.
I’d like to start with someone who is certain to raise a lot of antipathy in those who haven’t bothered to think about these things: Clint Eastwood. Here is a man, not only associated primarily with movies, but with violent movies. Clearly movies are not great literature or opera or symphonies of the masters. Worse, Steiner has indicated certain problems that can arise when one sits and views cinema. It is a singular experience, often passive and lacking in all the greatness and natural co-participation of the high arts of Western Civilization. All the same lets see what can be observed if we do not automatically close our minds right from the beginning.
Born in 1930, Eastwood begins his career in television, and is most often remembered by the older American generation as a character in a television series called Rawhide, centered around the practice of driving cattle to market in the West in America and set in the late 19th Century. Subsequently he is tapped by the Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone for three operatic Westerns that essentially made Eastwood into a Hollywood star. As a star Eastwood then makes a number of Westerns, as well as a series of police detective films (the dirty Harry films), which if we use our imaginative faculties are really just Westerns set in modern times. These observations lead us to asking the question: Just what is the significance of the Western for the American Soul, for it once dominated film and television, has its own special place in American literature, and still (as can be seen by recent films such as the remake of 3:10 to Yuma) captures the imagination of the American Soul.
We know that in the background of European and other world cultures there are Myths, often profound in nature and quite revealing of the character of the people whose myths are being studied. For the New World and for the American Soul, the Western is our Myth – our archetypal story that reveals a great deal about our character. Now this Myth is rich, deep and wide. It encompasses, for example, a quite dramatic change overtime in how Native Americans are depicted. Early Westerns took the more European view that Native Americans had no culture and were primarily savages. Steiner even uses that term (savages) in a lecture. Eventually, beginning with such films as Little Big Man, Jeremiah Johnson and then Dances with Wolves the whole bigoted view of America’s aboriginal peoples begins to be stood on its head.
In this rich field of activity – the story telling of the primal Myth of the American Soul, Clint Eastwood emerges not only as its master, but in such films as Pale Rider and Unforgiven he uncovers in the former film quite spiritual dimensions, and in the latter the incipient reflections of the Consciousness Soul.
Consider now the basic aspects of this Myth: Evil takes hold of a community, and fear paralyzes the members of this community. Then comes the individual, the one (whether a member of the community or a stranger-other) who has the courage to face down evil, even when the community itself (out of its fear) stands in his (or her) way. In the early years these themes were painted in stark contrasts of black and white, even to the color of the hats the bad guys and the good guys wore. As the Myth is worked with over the years, the stories become more and more sophisticated, and at a certain point the same Myth gets transferred into literature in the genre of detective fiction. The hard boiled detective, often himself an anti-hero (as are many Western film characters), has to wander in the dark underbelly of society in order to right a wrong.
The Western writer Zane Gray begins to include spiritual elements in his works, but is mostly yet unknown outside small circles of fans. It is really Eastwood who starts to explore these aspects in the more popular art of film, first in the movie: High Plains Drifter (1973). In an interview years following the film, he offers in his laconic way of speaking, that he thought that his character could either be played as an avenging spirit come to this town, or as a dead man brought back to life in order to right the wrongs committed in the community. Later, in the film Pale Rider (1985) [Revelation 6:8: “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death…“)] which Eastwood directed and starred in, he plays a dead man brought back to life (there is a scene were another character sees this man, who has come to town wearing a priestly collar, with his shirt off, and his back is covered with a half dozen scars of gunshot wounds).
In fact, the opening sequence of Pale Rider has a young girl, who is burying her dog that the evil doers killed in a raid on the community, praying to god for an avenging angel to come. Needless to say, the Eastwood character kills the bad guys, saves the town and so forth.
As Eastwood matures, both as an actor and a director, he finally creates his Western masterpiece: Unforgiven (1992). The film wins four Oscars, with Eastwood receiving two: as best director and for best film. The main character is a former killer and drunk, now widowed, who in the beginning (in order to make some money) leaves his small children alone (they are perhaps ages 10 and 6) and goes off to kill (as in paid to commit revenge) a couple of cowboys who had badly cut up the face of a whore. Nobody in this film is a mister good guy. Everyone is wounded and troubled. None of the moral questions (which are fundamental to the films themes) are unambiguous.
Eastwood has here instinctively found the core of the questions being faced by the Consciousness Soul (moral dilemmas in an age of ambiguity, which force the I to rely fully on its own inner resources). Yet, he continues to mature and more precisely understand and observe human beings, and the next two significant films are modern and face the Consciousness Soul questions squarely (it is unnecessary in any Epoch of the Evolution of Consciousness for those participating in it to use the terms Steiner created. They only have to see the core of the human questions, and then portray them in their art).
The first of these is Mystic River (2003), based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, and directed by Eastwood. The film wins two Oscars for its principle actors (Sean Penn and Tim Robbins), and Eastwood is again nominated for Best Director and Best Film.
The story begins with a flash back to a time when two young boys watch a third (they are friends in Boston) be abducted by a unknown man who subsequently abuses the third. Then we come to many years later, and the three become involved in a horrible crime (one’s daughter is killed – he is a local petty criminal, another is the lead detective in this homicide, and the third (the abuse survivor) becomes – erroneously – a principle suspect. Every character (including the wives and friends of the principles) confronts moral questions, each unique to their personal biography. Few make what might be good choices in the abstract (idealistic), but between the novelist’s vision and Eastwood’s film rendition, the confusion and moral ambiguity seeps out of every corner of the film and almost every scene. Nothing ends with clarity – no nice wrapped up package. It is all too real, and the audience well knows that this is a slice of life they themselves have faced at one time or another at least in part.
Then Eastwood directs and stars in: Million Dollar Baby (2004). The film wins four Oscars, Best Film, Best Director and two best acting awards for two of the principles (Hillary Swank and Morgan Freeman, besides Eastwood, who was nominated but did not win best lead actor).
Eastwood’s character, a boxing coach, becomes faced with a horrible moral choice, one that most of us would hope never to have to face. He is also a practicing Catholic, who goes to Mass almost everyday, although he constantly fights with his priest about whether any of this religious stuff means anything anymore. Based on a short story by F.X. Toole, the film leaves behind the multiple moral dilemmas of Mystic River and focuses precisely on one character and one principle question. The character eventually denies his Catholic background, makes his own choice (clearly making a Consciousness Soul decision) and afterward goes on into (for the movie goer) a kind of unknown limbo which we can only imagine never leaves this character for the rest of his last few years of life (he is quite mature).
Not content with these triumphs, Eastwood next takes on the issue of war, in a time of the Iraq war, and directs two more wonderfully related films: Flags of our Fathers, and Letters from Iwo Jima. In the first we see the Battle for Iwo Jima from the side of the Americans, and in the second the same battle from the side of the Japanese. Letters sees Eastwood nominated (but not winning) for Directing and for Best Picture once more, while Flags is less successful in that department. Since Flags actually tells a story about the American military in the Second World War, that is not heroic in its nature, the movie is not so easily popular. In both, Eastwood once more highlights moral questions and their resolution, and most interestingly in Letters we see the struggle between the group soul and individualism portrayed, as a couple main characters try to step outside Japanese military tradition, and make in the moment individual moral choices.
Eastwood is, of course, not the only director in film to deal with Consciousness Soul questions, but he is easily one of the most gifted and focused (again never needing to do anything more as an artist but see the human world in which he lives).
Next lets look at the work of Neal Stephenson. Stephenson is a novelist, and a genius. Born in 1959, Stephenson is mostly seen as writing science fiction, about which he says: The science fiction approach doesn’t mean it’s always about the future; it’s an awareness that this is different. [emphasis added, ed.]
Coming from a hard science background (family and early college), he makes a name for himself with imaginative novels of a unique character (Snow Crash, the Diamond Age and Cryptonomicon) and is nominated for and wins several awards in this field. The latter, Cryptonomicon, actually explores a whole new field of literature (he is basically inventing this), which while unique, is still not yet recognized for what it contains and what it portends.
Cryptonomicon is part novel, part exploration of code cyphers and computers, part real history and part imagined history. It is over 900 pages long and actually succeeds in being quite educational. In this novel we get a glimpse of the later works, which do something with history that so far has only been imagined.
Owen Barfield, a significant anthroposophist and researcher into the mysteries of language (and what they can say about the Evolution of Consciousness) once remarked about the works of R.G. Collingwood (author of The Idea of History), suggesting that Collingwood was onto something special when he (Collingwood) said that all history is a history of thought. It is, according to Collingwood, not so much that a certain event happened at all (such as Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon), but more crucially what Caesar thought when doing this that the historian must discover. Steiner’s spiritual science gives us much of this kind of history, and Steiner himself suggests that in the future individuals will be able to do this – that is give us a history of what was thought – of the insides, not just a usual history of events – of outsides.
It is my view that Stephenson is able to do this instinctively, although no one really yet recognizes the significance of his genius in this regard. Now I could try to demonstrate this with long quotes from his books, but sadly they really must be experienced (just as Eastwood’s films must eventually be experienced). All I can do here is present the idea of this kind of new instinctive cognition as regards the representation of history, and suggest that Stephenson is able to do this. It will be up to the reader to engage his works, in particular those I go to next, in order to satisfy themselves as to how successful Stephenson has been.
Stephenson, after Cryptonomicon, took on the subjects of certain aspects of the history of the world, in particular mostly Europe, during the time (about 1670 to 1730) when Newton and Leibniz were arguing quite fundamental questions, whose resolution was essential to the future of physics and scientific materialism. While this scientific debate was ongoing, there were also struggles among bankers and traders and buyers and sellers of financial instruments (stocks etc.), concerning the real nature of money, of trade, of currencies and the relationship between government and private individuals as to finance and banking. A great deal that lives in modern civilization was being given birth in those years, and Stephenson has written six novels, collected in three volumes, for a total of 2700 plus pages, in which he recreates an imaginative picture of what was thought by the principles (real and fictional) regarding these and related questions.
Called the Baroque Cycle, the three volumes are also rich in story-telling, adventure, passion, secrets, plots and counter-plots. Where a particular question might puzzle the reader, Stephenson invents fictional dialogs of explanation. For example, a young princess (a real historical figure), travels by horse drawn coach for several weeks across much of central Europe in the company of Leibniz and another, who in response to the naive questions of the young princess are required to explain the nature of the arguments among the savants (the leading natural philosophers of the day).
In one such dialog, we find a fictional character and Leibniz explaining the significance of the counter ideas over the nature of matter (Leibniz wants to have his monads have consciousness, and Newton wants to have his atoms be mere things without consciousness). In a later dialog they recognize in this moment that the course science takes as a result of these dialogs among the leading savants, will have enormous consequences for the future. This later dialog is remarkable, and deserves some detailed hints as to its contents (it can be found beginning on about page 672 of the last novel: The System of the World).
The Hanover princess Caroline (a historical figure) brings to her drawing room in England two other historical figures (Newton and Leibniz) and a fictional character, Daniel Waterhouse. She sets them the task of trying to settle a certain argument of which she has become aware (during the processes of education in her youth), concerning the relationship of matter and of spirit, or in another way: what is the nature of substance and what is the nature of free will. Both of these were significant questions of the time among the leading thinkers, and Caroline is portrayed as being concerned with what kind of cultural future is to be born out of a resolution of these questions that leans too far in one direction at the expense of the other.
The ensuing dialog is delightful – that is it is a pleasure to read, and makes the modern arguments between such ideas as evolution and intelligent design (for example) seem lost and confused, because they have failed to keep in mind the more fundamental questions as Stephenson has so ably recreated them for his readers. Steiner, of course, has not lost sight of this question, for his The Philosophy of Freedom (or Spiritual Activity) fully embraces the question of free will in the spirit of natural science.
The same methods of illumination are applied by Stephenson to finance, trade and the creation of money. At various places fictional characters interact with real historical figures, and the underlying principles of these matters (which effect us now greatly) are examined in quite plain and clear language (something we have a hard time getting today).
In addition, the reality of the times and places are portrayed starkly. The lives of the poor are not whitewashed to any degree. We get to attend hangings outside London, wars in the fields of Europe. slave ships prowling the Mediterranean, parties at the Chateau of Versailles, arguments in the English Parliament, what it means to be a soldier for Kings of all kinds, what Cairo was like at that time, what the Alchemists (including Newton) were pursuing, how women had to dress during the winter in order to keep warm at the French Court, and on and on and on.
The world of Europe (and elsewhere) is so fully realized, in all its rich detail, that we can’t help but feel we are there. The novels are never boring (as history often can be), and over and over again we find language used in such a way that we go: oh, that’s where that word came from that we use today.
There will no doubt be those modern historians or cultural anthropologists who want to argue with Stephenson, but they will really be jealous, for he makes us live in the time, intimately know the times, and most importantly understand the thinking (just as Collingwood suggested was necessary for history) that was giving birth to the world we live in today.
Most significant is that because of what Stephenson had been writing, and who his readers most ofter were and are, we can come awake to an instinctive Consciousness Soul teaching and teacher. Stephenson cares about his subjects and his readers. He has mastered all manner of questions and historical details, and then rendered for his readers (often the very geeks we recognize as responsible for the best in modern technology and advanced green biology) a true living history of the world in which we stand today.
Consider the titles to the three volumes, which should not be seen as arbitrary in any sense: Quicksilver (not only does he here recognize the strange world of early chemistry, but also the mercurial nature of the changes going on at this time in history; The Confusion (everything has become indefinite, unformed, ready for new form); and, The System of the World (the questions are resolved, and science and finance and much else has now to move forward based on the questions asked, and then answered, during this period of European history (whether correctly or not).
Those familiar with the lifeless sense of the history that stands behind our present world conditions, will be graced with a great gift in these books, which are always entertaining, always informative and always intellectually engaging in the highest sense of those terms. A lapse in conventional education regarding recent history, which had probably confused many young minds today, is in these books overcome. To read them is to become more awake to the world that surrounds us.
Let us now take up another novelist, this time a woman, Ursula K. Le Guin, born in 1929, a half year before Clint Eastwood. She has written so much and for so long, that it is almost impossible to categorize her work. Much, as with Stephenson, seems to be in the realm of science fiction and fantasy, but as with Stephenson this is really a field of literature (relatively new) where one can invent stories in which to clothe ideas. For example, rather than writing a philosophical treatise on the nature of gender sexuality, Le Guin writes an award winning novel (The Left Hand of Darkness – 1969) in which she creates an imaginary world through which she can not only raise the issues, questions and ambiguities, but demonstrate, through the imagination, how these matters might play out in life.
Here is some Steiner and Tomberg on social life and images and pictures: From Rudolf Steiner’s Education As A Force For Societal Change: In the future, social life will depend upon cooperative support between people, something that happens when we exchange our ideas, perceptions, and feelings. This means that we must base our general education not just upon ideas taken from science or industry but upon concepts that can serve as a foundation for imaginative thoughts. As improbable as this may seem now, in the future we shall be unable to interact in a properly social way if we do not teach people imaginative concepts. In the future, we shall have to learn to understand the world in images.
From Valentin Tomberg’s Anthroposophical Studies of the Old Testament: At the present time, the mission is different (the mission being the method correct for the average student of mystery wisdom in a particular epoch). It consists in a thought knowledge endowed with vision achieved through the development of the forces of the conscience in order then to live powerfully in the creative word.
Remember, here we are coming to know American’s who arrive at Anthroposophy naturally, and who are instinctively in the Consciousness Soul in their life of rights.
In Le Guin we have another instinctive Consciousness Soul artist, who examines the depths of human existence and potential using the imagination. Now some may suggest that the classic novel, or even the modern more ordinary novel does this well, but in those cases we have a kind of spirit recollection (past looking gesture) coupled with a bit of spirit mindfulness (present oriented gesture). It is human nature seen most often as fixed, settled and unchanging that novels outside the fields of science fiction and fantasy often consider. In Le Guin (and others) it is spirit vision that is significant, as well as the ability to illuminate the present by changing the context imaginatively.
Similar in a way to Owen Barfield, Le Guin loves language. She not only employs it with profound grace to render her thought into pictures (stories), but many of her stories focus on the significance of language itself (such as The Telling – 2000). Moreover, she is quite interested in the spiritual dimensions of existence.
For example, while her Earthsea stories and novels seem to be about wizards and magic, in fact they are morality tales. Her question often is in these works: what do you do with power and why do you do it. The power can be the great power of a king or a wizard, or the simple power of gossip and lies in a small community. In The Farthest Shore, the old mage tells the young man, who doesn’t know he is about to become a king (and thus have a lot of power), more or less as follows: The important thing to recognize is the balance: When you lift a rock, while the ground underneath is lighter, your hand is heavier. If you change the weather here, the weather elsewhere is also changed. Every act has consequences far beyond what seems to be immediately true. Would that modern day political leaders had such an education!
In the world of Earthsea, the fundamental power comes from knowing the true name of something. Names are important, and this is a theme of significance throughout Le Guin’s works.
In what I consider her greatest achievement (she might disagree but like The Left Hand of Darkness it won several awards), the Dispossessed: an Ambiguous Utopia (1974), she creates two contrasting worlds that are neighbors to each other. One world is the large moon of the other, a planet. This moon is not airless and bears life. At some time in the past, a group of people, in disagreement with the direction of the main planet’s cultures. were asked to leave and go live on this stark and hardly habitable moon. There they consciously created a society of anarchists (what would be a natural consequence of Steiner’s ethical individualism). To do this, their leader (a woman) invented a whole new language. Taking the power latent in naming, she sculpts a new language that can not only carry their political ideals, but also the quite naturally more awake soul (psychological) realities of ethically free human beings.
Now Le Guin only instinctively does this herself, but as she just imagines that it can be done, she then works out bits and pieces of what this new language might be able to do. Mostly she works with her characters, making the vision she has of a society – of people trying to raise children to be ethical individualists – live in the reader through her depiction of their thoughts and actions.
She is also, like Steiner and Barfield, a quite subtle thinker. Consider the title, for example: the Dispossessed. The world she imagines has a very definite set of ideas concerning the relationship of human beings to things – to personal property. In fact, a common epithet in this community of free individualists is to call another a: propertarian – that is someone who sets more store in things, than in relationships. Further, as children are raised, they are encouraged to be more other-directed by being challenged as egoizers or committing the act of egoizing – that is being self-centered.
In essence, as conceived by her, this community finds some degree of its freedoms by becoming dis-possessed – free of possessions. In the first chapter, the main character – a man from the Moon, says this to someone who is from the home planet: “You see, I know you don’t take things, as we do. In your world, in Urras, one must buy things. I come to your world, I have no money, I cannot buy, therefore I should bring. But how much can I bring? Clothing, yes, I might bring two suits. But food? How can I bring food enough? I cannot bring, I cannot buy. If I am to be kept alive, you must give it to me. I am an Anarresti, I make the Urrasti behave like Anarresti: to give, not to sell…”.
As a genius at story telling. Le Guin also tells her tale by alternating chapters from one world to the next. In the first chapter, her main character is leaving to go to the planet-world from which his fellow anarchists once fled (200 years before). There, as the novel unfolds, we get to see what he sees of what is essentially our modern culture, but from the point of view of someone raised in an entirely different fashion. In the alternating chapters on the moon, we get the back story, to who he is and why he went on his journey.
Using the contrast between the two worlds, and the awake consciousness and moral sensibilities (not always certain at all, but quite ambiguous just as the Consciousness Soul age requires) of her main character, Le Guin not only comments on our contemporary society and its many flaws, but also on a possible ideal society and its many flaws (remember it is an ambiguous utopia). Also, at the core of the whole thing she puts the problem of language and of meaning. A great question arises here, for we are confronted with the idea of what could we do if we changed our language itself. How could we take hold of our communities and our cultural life if we took a firm grip on the fundamentals of the meaning of words, and instead of letting their development take place sub-consciously, we intentionally craft all of it anew.
In this envisioning, Le Guin has shown us just what we might be able to do if (as I suggest), Western Civilizations is dying, and we are on the transition from a literate culture to once more an oral culture. This may seem for some a degeneration, but if we take hold of this transformation and introduce into it new stories, stories carrying the true spirit of our age (as born out of Anthroposophy), we might just discover how to be far more creative than we yet imagine in our application of the new picture-thinking.
Le Guin has done this for us to a degree, albeit instinctively, for she has set the past and the future along side each other (the old no longer socially vital planet-world and the new more socially vital moon-world) enabling us, by this contrast, to see both with greater clarity and not too much vain idealism. Yes it is utopian in its hunger, but ultimately human and ambiguous in its true nature.
If I was to teach a course on Steiner’s threefold social ideas, I’d include, as necessary reading, Le Guin’s social masterpiece: the Dispossessed: an Ambiguous Utopia. Why? Because while Steiner’s threefolding ideas are quite significant, they are too ideal for the American Soul, with its quite practical down to earth need to solve problems. Le Guin isn’t advocating an ideal utopia, but she is imagining the concrete and human reality of such a social experiment (as ethical individualism), in a remarkably wise fashion.
Last, I want to introduce David E. Kelley, a writer of television scripts, who I call: America’s Shakespeare. Of the four, he is the most fully awake to the Consciousness Soul. He is the principle writer (and later producer) of several television series: L. A. Law; Picket Fences; Chicago Hope; Ally McBeal; The Practice; Boston Public; and now Boston Legal. In Picket Fences (about 1995), for example, he actually has a character say (the sheriff) at the end of a hard and morally ambiguous day for everyone: “you know, there are no rules anymore, we are all on our own“. It would be hard to imagine a non-anthroposophist more clearly characterize the human question at the center of the Age of the Consciousness Soul.
Kelley is a former lawyer turned Hollywood TV writer, and first comes to public attention in the late 1980’s (1986-1994) as a major writer on L.A. Law. When that show had a special 100th episode (it was extremely popular and won many awards) instead of a drama, this episode consisted of cast and crew interviews. Richard Dysart, a lead actor, was asked about being in a drama where there weren’t just a couple stars anymore, but rather a large ensemble cast. His reply was surprising. He said, in essence, that the actors were not the stars of the series, but the scripts. It was the ideas in the scripts that made the show what it was. There was also a brief interview with Kelley as a principle writer, and he talked as follows about his practice: I like to go into a room, alone, with a lot of legal pads and pencils, so I can be there undisturbed with my characters.
This bears some thinking about so as to not miss the special nuances. Those who read this who write fiction will know this better, but when one is living dynamically in the imagination, the plot and the characters (when this art is at its best) take on a life of their own. We write and record what passes before the eye of the imagination, but are frequently surprised. Yes, we do some work in the beginning setting up the situation and the structural context, but once we set them free the characters begin to take on a life of their own. The more we set them free, the more human they become and the more real.
It is also important to realize that most television writers might pen four to eight scripts a year and feel quite productive. It is not uncommon for Kelley to do twenty to thirty, sometimes writing (or supervising) personally all the scripts for a series. When Ally McBeal and The Practice were running simultaneously on two different major networks for a time, it was thought that in one or two of those years he wrote over forty scripts personally.
Three other characteristics of Kelley’s work need to be noted. One is how much actors like to play his characters. Not only do they win all kinds of awards (for example, the lead female – Kathy Baker – in Picket Fences won a best actress Emmy for three of its four year run; a major supporting actor – Ray Walston – won twice in the same series, which ran from 1992-1996. In more recent times, James Spader has won three Emmys – 2004, 2005 and 2007, playing the same character – lawyer Alan Shore – in two series, The Practice and then when that had finished out its 7 year run, in Boston Legal), and you can actually see their love of this work as they get to speak the words Kelley has given them to speak.
The second characteristic, and probably the most important, has to do with an indication of Steiner’s where he said that: English speakers are instinctively in the Consciousness Soul in their Life of Rights. Kelley, as a former lawyer and an artistic genius, as he developed his craft more and more placed his characters in courtrooms. Picket Fences, for example, frequently spent the first half to two thirds of its plot setting up a court case, where the moral and legal issues being dramatized could be discussed both legally and philosophically.
Lest we think Kelley is advocating a point of view (which he is not afraid to do), in the 100th episode of L.A. Law referred to above, it was described of him how he was able, through his characters to see every side of an issue. No point of view was overlooked, or weakly presented. Often the judges who had to rule (which is why Ray Walston as Judge Bone in Picket Fences won two supporting actor Emmys) could come off as modern day – yet quite human – Solomons (or as needed, Falstaff-like fools).
Consider a plot line from Picket Fences, with which the third or fourth year of the series began. The town in Picket Fences, Rome Wisconsin, is a basically white rural community not too far from a large urban city. A black federal judge in this large city decides to bus 400 inner city youth to Rome for the purposes of desegregation. Kathy Baker, playing the town doctor, who has recently been elected mayor, decides to resist. This crisis, and its implications for all the characters in Rome (as well as for the judge) is given four episodes to work itself out, with the final episode mostly consisting of the judge and the mayor, sitting in her jail cell (the judge jailed her for resisting his order), arguing (with great intelligence and passion) all the underlying moral and legal issues.
The third major characteristic of his work is his fascination with comedy as well as drama. In Picket Fences he would often weave humor into the opening set-up leaving the serious matter for the courtroom at the end. For example, in one story he had the town sheriff and doctor (who were married in the series) discover that outside town was a farm where cows were being used as surrogate wombs for human babies. A little scifi (and certainly funny), but with Kelley one can justly assume he read somewhere about this being considered as possible (all his writing is very contemporary, and very sound in its understanding of the technical background to any story – of course his success lets him no doubt hire all kinds of research people). In any event the embryos in cows is played broadly and a bit for laughs, until we get to the human question of what to do. That decision lands on judge Bone’s shoulders, for the issues of do we let them get to term and so forth are not simple questions.
When Ally McBeal and The Practice were on the air at the same time, he split the comedy off into the former and the drama off into the latter. Both involved law firms, and Ally would often deal with somewhat silly legal issues, but mostly with sex, love and just plain strangeness (a supporting character in Ally had tourette’s syndrome – the one where one can’t stop from swearing in public, and/or other uncontrollable nervous tics and gestures). The main character in Ally (the Ally McBeal) often saw strange visions and had a love life that had more ups and downs than a yo-yo. While The Practice took on every serious issue of law it could, but mostly concentrated on what it means to defend criminals (rapists, drug pushers and all the worst our society produces). Getting people off for murder (especially one they committed) requires of a lawyer a very odd moral character. None of these questions were down played, and many of them had serious consequences.
For example, different lawyers at different times in the series, were attacked physically by clients (sadists, crazies, you name it) and often in the hospital and near death. The relationship between lawyers and prosecutors was explored over and over again, as well as with judges. People had affairs, got married, got divorced. One lawyer’s teenage son got caught dealing drugs. Another main character, whose lawyer wife was being stalked by a crazy sadist, hires a former client (a murderer) to intimidate the crazy, but instead the crazy gets the client to murder him, so that the lawyer himself now gets charged with murder for hire.
At the same time, no social issue that can be made a legal drama is ignored. Law suits are filed to stop pollution, to reform political processes, to force corporations to do the right thing. In one remarkable episode, a woman is arrested for resisting the police when they try to remove her from her place of protest at a political event, and make her go to one of these free speech zones that have become so common in America as a way of keeping protesters’ activities away from the television coverage of politicians.
This woman, not a liberal by the way (her issue is more tangible and less ideal), is also somewhat foul mouthed and unlikeable. She is something like a waitress who lives in a trailer (or some such job and life). She actually punches out the officer who tries to force her to move from the place where she is holding her sign. All this as a set up for her to be able to say from the witness stand, with great passion and clarity: “I thought the whole country was a free speech zone!!!“
In the final couple of seasons of The Practice, Kelley finally invents his most unusual character, the lawyer Alan Shore, played by James Spader (and winner so far of 3 Emmys for best leading actor in a dramatic series, as noted above). This character is so significant a creation, that when The Practice ended as a series, the character became a member of the law firm in the successor series: Boston Legal (currently still on the air).
Shore is whimsical and seldom serious of demeanor (even in court). He finds the ethical rules of the legal profession often at conflict with his own moral sensibilities (a classic Consciousness Soul question). He is also flawed and troubled and a bit oversexed. His office repartee with the female lawyers is frequently bawdy, but more clever than coarse.
Spader plays him with an out thrust lower jaw, and a posture that represents his aggressive willingness to say and do anything to make a point or win for a client. If you get him as your lawyer, you are getting a thunderbolt inside a jar, who cracks jokes to show up legal hypocrisy. If he needs to open it in court, out it comes, and judges, other lawyers, witnesses and juries beware. At the same time, he is very very smart (or written that way, we should say). He won’t get angry, but intense and pointed. Since legal ethics doesn’t hold him down, he skirts the edges of those rules all the time, and when he can get away with it (usually out of sight) he ignores them.
[see, for example, the fictional speech Shore gives before the United States Supreme Court, that can be found on YouTube, at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-GG7sj2APpc ]
He is, oddly enough, an ethical individualist in training, who still lacks all the self knowledge that is possible, but is not unwilling to learn. Kelley has also given him, in the actor (a ham getting to play a ham) William Shatner – what is essentially Shore’s Fallstaff – lawyer Denny Crane. So we have the prince – Alan Shore, who can’t quite always figure out what the right thing to do is, and who can’t quite tame his own impulses in many instances, but who if you have him on your side, will die for you. Then as a partner in crime and sometimes in weirdness unimagined, Denny Crane, outrageous in sexual behavior, loves a good drink, a good cigar, and a good gun (plays a parody of a conservative to Shore’s parody of a liberal).
The two fall in love. Not sexual love, but the deep brotherly love of men for men which is seldom explored so openly in dramas, and certainly not so obviously as Kelley has these two do (they have sleepovers). Shatner, by the way, wins an Emmy as well.
Having only one series on at this time, Kelley has both comedy and drama mixed together, and the usual collection of strange characters. At least one legal issue in every episode is socially aware. Nothing going on in the current political climate of America is ignored, and Shore (and other lawyers or characters) is often given remarkable speeches to make (during summation to the juries) in which the basic moral issues of war, politics and their social consequences are examined. As well, the other side’s view is equally represented and cogently expressed. The only problem lies with the fact that a lot of what constitutes politics today is based on lies and tricks, so it is hard to write something that makes these lies and tricks sound not quite like what they really are.
Part of what Kelley teaches us is that if politicians were forced to give their speeches in a court of law, where rules of proof and logical coherence were required and examined, most of what is said today would fail those obvious rational tests. He is also, by the way, beginning to be fed up, for the amount of time devoted to commercials has expanded since he first began to write for television, and he has publicly stated that if this goes much further, he will not be able to write in such a restricted time environment. I suspect he loves his characters too much to continual cut them down in order to abide by the rules of commerce.
So now we have examined four American personalities – four artists working in the youthful unpolished dawn of American Culture: Clint Eastwood, Neal Stephenson, Ursula K. Le Guin and David E. Kelley. They all use the imagination with instinctive consciousness, and moral intention, and demonstrate for us precisely what Steiner had in mind when he said that Americans develop anthroposophy in a natural way. Hopefully the reader will now begin to see that these are but the tip of an iceberg, and that if anthroposophical institutions in America do not begin to turn toward and study what is going on in American Culture, we will not discover the deeper truths of our own souls as Americans.