Monday, October 17

how societies form, according to deadwood

I've gotten addicted to the HBO show Deadwood. When my friends ask me what it is, they seem surprised when I say I'm watching a Western. But it's not just some shoot-em-up. As explained in this New Yorker profile, the show's creator and writer, David Milch, wanted to
write about the lives of city cops in ancient Rome during Nero's reign, before a system of justice had been codified. "I was interested in how people improvised the structures of a society when there was no law to guide them," he said. "How the law developed out of the social impulse to minimize the collateral damage of the taking of revenge."
HBO already had a Rome show in the pipeline, and as an HBO exec put it, "How many shows about ancient Rome can you have?"

So Milch did a Western with the same underlying concept: how an outpost town, within a few months of being formed, starts to organize and get codified laws, despite the fact that many of the residents are there specifically to avoid such things. I've been fascinated with these issues for a long time. I even wrote a science story, "Civilized Outrage," about how reputation systems in online sales can satisfy people's longing for revenge when ripped off, while keeping everyone accountable and perhaps quashing cheating.

The profile delves into Milch's druggie past and his strange but effective writing habit, which involves him lying on the floor while dictating lines and rearranging on the fly where to punctuate a sentence with a "fuck".


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