The Death Of "deadwood"

by The New Republic Staff | August 31, 2006

Hello, everyone. This week marks for me two landmarks in the twenty-first-century academic career--joining a group blog with fellow scholars, and playing TV critic--no, HBO critic--in a respected periodical of higher education. You can read what I've had to say about the recently late and heartily lamented series "Deadwood" in Scott McLemee's excellent (as usual) discussion here. Warning, "Deadwood"-esque language, which means colorful Anglo-Saxonisms. A short, bowdlerized excerpt, about how the show uses critiques of Frederick Jackson Turner's frontier thesis.
"There's some evidence that [the show's characters] are safety-valve types. They're people who say, as Ellsworth does, that they might have "f***ed up their lives flatter than hammered s***, but they're beholden to no human c*******r".... But they're not, Turner-style, out there to get an opportunity to civilize themselves. Which is to say, they don't go West because only there can they get a patch of land and settle, Jeffersonian-like, into civilization."

Rather, people finding their way to the mining town are looking for a new start—often because the economy has destroyed their other options.

"In several conversations on 'Deadwood'," notes Rauchway, "we've been told that these people have bumped into each other in other boom towns, before those booms went bust, and now their predilections have brought them here. And we can infer that soon they'll move on again. If they're the advance agents of civilization, they're doing that work unwillingly."
If you wondered how I had Ellsworth's exact obscenities readily to hand, I found them on Scott Eric Kaufman's fine item, here. So what say you of "Deadwood"'s short, glorious life and untimely demise? Its iambic pentameter, its new Western history, its gloss on the role of corporations in the American frontier? The possibly bogus and anyway unpromising assurance that HBO will wrap it loose plotlines with a movie (because that worked out so well for "Twin Peaks")? --Eric Rauchway

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