By ROB SCHUMANN
Note: While much of the material here is based on Californication’s protagonist, viewing the show is not necessary. Hank Mulder’s character is only used as it serves as an excellent example to illuminate these theories and observations. Fiction is very often a window into our own psyches – displaying fears, desires and fantasies, not only of the author but of the generation the show/book/movie targets as well. Fox Moody is a brilliant piece of fictional engineering, not only for the exploration into seduction the character offers (and the archetypal Rake that he is), but how his position is a fantasy personified. Additionally, the following interpretations only pertain through the beginning of the fifth season. Opinions may change regarding some of the material presented, however the character assessments should be solid through the end.
Note II: Prior to watching Californication, I had heard a good bit of talk about how the show’s protagonist was a “sex addict,” and how this paralleled Duchovny’s personal battles with sex addiction. Not only is this incredibly wrong, but it obscures the show’s brilliance in individual examination.
“Life imitating art huh! Weird how that works!” No idiot, Moody is the farthest thing from addicted to sex. He may very well get around like the Tupac track, but he never shows symptoms of addiction. Repetition compulsion maybe, but no way is he a sex addict (alcoholic, probably). Moody’s perpetual and seemingly constant sexual pursuits (wrong word, he rarely is the ‘pursuer,’ a point I’ll examine shortly) are the result of a lifestyle that comes along with being a modern, self-destructive Rake, and stem from other ‘issues’, and attempts to fill a ‘need’ in the only way that seems attainable.
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“Dude, I told you I don’t give a shit about pop culture.”
Cute, but it gives a shit about you, and it takes itself very seriously. Maybe it’s time you do as well. Literature/film/television offer seemingly infinite windows into the human condition, into the ethos of the age they were created in, the culture that surrounded and influenced them.
If they’re done correctly, they even force introspection on the part of the reader, dynamically changing the process from a consumed medium to an interactive medium. This ultimately should be the goal and Californication — this innocuous little show, with all its breasts, balding Charlies and booze — succeeds on all fronts.
Examining pop-culture fantasy is an excellent way to educate those on psychological phenomena, philosophical belief systems and the like that the audience may not have exposure to otherwise. Using examples illustrates such ideas in a consumable manner, allowing an easier introduction to material. While not the goal here, this approach will be used lightly.
So, what’s the importance of the show/any show in general?
“It tells people how to think!”
No, please sit down.
What television shows purport to offer is an examination into the hypothetical lives of others, setting the tone with how the people depicted (and the people they serve to represent) think. This point is vitally important.
If a million people watched Californication, I’ll bet all fourteen dollars in my wallet that a good portion of them will think to themselves (either overtly or subconsciously): “So, that’s how attractive middle aged (men/women)/precocious teenage girls/rappers/whoever think.”
Projecting these attributes onto what “fits,” falsely (or not) leading the viewer to believe they have a deeper understanding of a certain representative ‘group’ then they actually have. Let me give you a fantastic example (as the show revolves around ‘love,’, sex, etc. we’ll stay on topic):
Where do you get any/all information about how the opposite sex ‘thinks’?
“Experience in interactions.”
All of it? All those opinions/’facts’ you have about approaching men/women, what relationships “should” look like, how social interactions between genders “should” proceed?
This leaves: the media. All forms intertwined, they (either through observation, or creating the tone/image themselves) depict, describe and show you exactly what/how relations/ships should be. We shall call this collective force the Other.
“Not fiction, most of that shit is fantasy, duh.”
Right, fantasy based on what exactly?
Repressed desires, fantasies, the authors’ illustrations of them. If it was too fantastic, too ‘over the edge,’ no one would tune in every week. But again and again, shows just like Californication and other ‘dramas’ get millions of viewers and always will, inevitably demonstrating to viewers how people think/act and most importantly teaching them how to want by showing what these others think is desirable.
This sets the tone for interactions with other people, regardless if they watch these shows or not. The Other teaches you not what to want, but rather how. Creating the process of habitual consumption and the manner in which it proceeds.
You think if someone was raised underground, with zero exposure to the outside world and educated solely by staid, middle-aged, culturally-ambivalent professors in Dockers and suit-jackets, his first goals upon getting released above ground would be a BMW, sunglasses and bar-hopping, looking for fertile blonde women? The plaintiff rests his case.
Back to Fox Mulder: what can be learned from his interactions in the show?
“He bangs a lot of broads.”
Thanks, teenage boy, but why and more importantly how is this accomplished? Hank rarely, if ever goes out of his way to pursue women, note I didn’t say “approach.” Important distinction here. As the show progresses — and even in the earlier seasons — Moody rarely goes out of his way to introduce himself, though he has a reputation that precedes him.
In marketing, this is called brand image, or branding, or some other shit. Nomenclature is irrelevant, the vector forces that dictate action is where the importance lies.
Regardless, the point is well illustrated in many of his interactions. Women appear to be drawn to him because of what he represents, who he is in the eyes of others. Note how this attraction is never done overtly, he never comes out and declares his personal attributes like all your perpetually single friends do: (“I’m a nice guy and I like running, and reading novels and working out and my interests are many, and I have good hygiene and I work in the IT department. What do you do?”) but rather represents desirable attributes in the eyes of others.
Hank’s reputation is a fine example of social proof, even despite his well known character faults (amorality, dishonest, not the ‘relationship’ type). In spite of all of this, the reputation he has, this perception in the eyes of others, is an added lure. If so many have submitted to his charms, there has to be a reason.
Moody is a perfect example of the modern version of the archetypal rake, the ultimate female fantasy figure. Hank is delightfully unrestrained (“That’s it. I’m fucking his wife.” – in reference to Crazy Little Thing Called Love’s director), a slave to the affection of women (he discussed early in the show how he’s never met a women he didn’t ‘love’ for ten seconds/minutes etc.) He’s bold, especially regarding his openness towards seduction. If words are a woman’s weakness, Hank is the ultimate linguistic seducer.
Carefully observe how he never overtly discusses sex, but instead uses subtle lures (both physical and spoken) to give the respective female the idea. Moody is so confident, that it appears the issue of confidence never even occurs to him.
Note his complete lack of concern for any of his interactions with women, and how his demeanor never appears shaken in such interactions. Fantasy or not, I’ll bet these are all valuable character traits.
So, what’s Hank’s fatal character flaw? What leads to his perpetual unhappiness?
“He’s an alcoholic and womanizer!”
Wrong again. Both are effect, we are looking for cause.
“Uhhh.. Karen won’t take him back for good!”
Right, that’s a part of it. But why?
“He doesn’t know how to love!”
Ok, give me one example of what that even means, not from TV or movies, and I’ll be at the bar with a billion dollars reward money you’ll never get (see how the train of thought originates from the Other/Matrix^?).
So, what here is vitally important about Mr. Moody and more importantly, his relationship?
Karen serves a vitally important position in Hank’s life, aside from the obvious. Describing her as his muse, Hank (likely being well versed in literature as his apartment would indicate) isn’t the type of individual to chuck around words whose meaning is unfamiliar to him.
Remember how steamed he got at the “LOL” girl? Hank takes the English language seriously, as any writer should.
In Greek mythology, Muses were the goddesses of the inspiration of literature and the arts. Hank knows Karen’s importance to him is far beyond ‘baby-momma’ and ‘significant-other.’ Her role is also a contributing factor to his writing, both superficially and as a source of inspiration/emotion.
This effect is likely even magnified when times are tumultuous between them. She and the relationship between them is integral to Hank on many levels. Hank’s perpetual seduction cycle and his drinking are likely the result of his lack of fulfillment coming from his inability to achieve his idealized object of desire (Karen + Becca + assorted fantasy of how they should co-exist together) .
He realizes this is his own fault, the drinking and sexual encounters are both ways of escaping, satisfying desires associated with the ultimate goal, but leave him utterly empty. Hank, like many/most/all Americans has a gaping existential hole in his soul, and despite the astounding number of sexual encounters, literary successes and bottles of booze, and crappy yet phallic P-cars nothing quite ‘fits.’
It can be seen in the show, that when the group is united the pressure to maintain solidarity between members is a paramount pressure, especially on Hank (Becca understands this better than either adult. I’m sure somehow this is important).
Inevitably, something he does, some skeleton in his closet or some other event he is at least partially responsible for ruins the relationship forcing another wedge into the achievement of the fantasy. It’s possible the pressure of such a goal gives Hank anxiety resulting from his fear that he himself will ruin it, causing a self-fulfilling prophecy where his actions push him further away from that very goal.
What if he is also afraid that the destination is his only motivation? (Note how destructive he is when he thinks all hope is lost.)
What happens if he nearly achieves it and again it doesn’t work out? What then? What if he reaches this destination, it ends in failure and ties are severed, all hope is lost?
His only true goal is gone. You ever heard, “Never meet your heroes?”
Well, it works both ways. Heroes and dreams are just that: idealized fantasies that will never, ever live up to your expectations.
Maybe Hank knows this and simultaneously keeps this fantasy ‘at bay,’ possible, yet unattainable. Achieving it, coming to terms with how much it lacks in comparison to his ideal conception of it would likely destroy him.
Additionally, his art, his works, all these products (even his contribution to Kali’s lyrics) come from this pain, this absence. This void is central to his character, and he knows it. Without it, what’s left?
As consummate bad-ass/genius/seducer/only interesting Brit ever Oscar Wilde (may) have said: “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.”
Maybe he was right.