NUCOMINTERN is a website dedicated to the renewal of revolutionary politics, social justice activism, and grassroots organizing. We publish topical reporting, revolutionary theoretical analysis, and commentary on the arts and popular culture. If you would like to contribute to NUCOMINTERN... please email david.thurston78@gmail.com... all contributions are welcome! PEACE.LOVE.REVOLUTION @NUCOMINTERN

Monday, March 28, 2011


Six Feet Under
HBO, created by Allan Ball

Six Feet Under ended its fifth and final season on August 21, 2005.  The HBO series, created by Allan Ball the screenwriter of American Beauty, is built around the Fisher family and its Los Angeles funeral home.

The show began with the death of Nathaniel Fisher Sr. in a gruesome accident; it ended with the death of his eldest son Nate (Peter Krause) and with the family’s struggle with anger and loss.

Few would have thought that a show so centered on death, grief, and mortality could become so popular, moving, and often inspiring.  With breath-taking honesty, the show has grappled with the hypocrisy of conventional morality, the pain and conflict of family life, and both the joy and brutality of sexual relationships.

The show’s characters are often described as “dysfunctional.”   But the anger, pain, and trauma on vivid display are far more common than we are taught to admit.  Issues of mental health and substance abuse are confronted with a level of intensity and humanity that is sadly absent, not only from popular culture but in society as a whole.  The show confronts these taboos, which are all too often mere fodder for scandal, and conveys an understanding of choices and behaviors that are usually either ignored or demonized.

One of the show’s key contributions has been the way it has addressed issues of oppression.

Over the first two seasons, we watched David (Michael C. Hall) struggle to come out to his family and to deal with his own shame and guilt about being gay.  David and his partner Keith, played by Matthew St. Patrick, are developed as people, not stereotypes.  This might be the best portrait of gay life on television, in part because these two characters are integrated into a wider cast without the pretense of being iconically representative.

Six Feet Under gave us a striking range of compelling female characters.  Ruth Fisher, played by Frances Conroy, is a mother of three and the picture of maternal constriction and repressed emotion.  Married since she was 19, she grapples with regret at sacrificing broader life goals to marriage and family.

Given the pliant stereotypes that dominate the airwaves, it’s refreshing to see women on the show actively challenging sexism coming from men in their lives.  This is true of Ruth’s daughter Claire (Lauren Ambrose) and of Brenda (Rachel Griffith), who is Nate’s lover and partner for much of the show.  Brenda’s struggle with an abusive childhood and destructive emotional patterns is given admirable depth through the show’s five seasons.

The show also stands out in having a leading Latino character, Frederico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez) who challenges some of the Fishers’ cultural blinders.

The show’s final season has been increasingly political, peppered with tirades against Bush and the war in Iraq.  In the finale, Claire begs her conservative boyfriend to go to Canada if “the corporate warmongers invade Iran and bring back the draft.”  A week before, we watched a veteran of the current war who has lost three limbs commit suicide with the help of his sister.

As a show about a funeral home, a constant theme of the show has been its examination of how we deal with death and the fact of our own mortality.  As Alan Ball put it recently, “In this culture we just sort of grieve quietly.  You don’t want to embarrass people with the big emotions.”  Six Feet Under has been the antidote to all of the repressive implications of these unspoken social rules.

The stunning final sequence of the finale is a montage of scenes from the characters’ futures, set against Claire leaving Los Angeles for New York to pursue photography.  The show projects the deaths of each of its main characters, which is riveting and painful for anyone who’s followed the show.  Yet as the sequence develops, we watch Claire grow confident about moving forward.

The message here has been a running theme—that by accepting the reality of death, loss, and grief, we can live our lives more fully in a world so full of hardship.

Six Feet Under’s intelligence, its humor, and its honesty will be missed.  Fortunately, this brilliant show is fully available on DVD.  Rent it or buy it for a show that will make you laugh when it makes you cry—a show that poses critical questions about society, family, love, and life that demand to be answered.

No comments:

Post a Comment