The ethic of “care” was born 40 years ago in the United States under the pen of psychologist Carol Gilligan. This ethic of consideration for others, of “caring” has since become the subject of reflection in all areas of the humanities and social sciences: economics, philosophy, political science, and even management science. Its resonance with our time of pandemic and conflict in Europe is, unfortunately, all too obvious: focusing on observing our vulnerability and therefore our interdependence, care is at its most relevant. But to talk about it, it might be interesting to digress from… a relatively unknown series from the 2000s.
Philosopher Sandra Laugier has repeatedly stressed how important fictions are to our understanding of this form of ethics, because “they teach us the semantics of caring by offering new public expressions of it. And add that “literature (for example, […] movies and TV series) refines our perception by raising moral questions in specific situations.”
If we share this belief, deadwood then emerges as an exciting series to decipher with that lens. Jane Campion, director, first woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1993 (for piano lesson), also the director of a very beautiful series (upper part of the laketwo seasons), names among the “television” works that have marked her deadwood, a creation by David Milch. Jane Campion just won an Oscar for her latest film. dog power, which depicts “alternative” forms of masculinity in a world where virilism reigns supreme, historically for the first time (the far west), but also in the film industry (women attacking this genre are not legion, men who approach it differently, from the side of gender roles too). From one western to another, this genre, which seemed worn out and so little “feminine”, brings us a new breath, and deadwood participated in this dynamic.
A sort of soap opera in the days of the western, deadwood depicts the turbulent life of the pioneer camp, whose prosperity is based on the “gold rush”. With three seasons (and an epilogue in cinematic form), Deadwood is a delightfully talkative series (great dialogue) where duels and fights are fairly rare, brilliantly written and interpreted. It projects us to South Dakota in the 1870s.
But how can it offer a reading grid, a view of the current world? Because she offers a great set of concerns in a world that is nonetheless masculine, brutal, little (or not) regulated, in which women seem to play secondary roles – mostly prostitutes with little power, an addicted widow, a cattle alcoholic and a bit of a vagrant. A plague is raging in this nascent world (hey hey…) and without the dedication of the camp’s only doctor, pastor and future Calamity Jane, the most vulnerable will be left to fend for themselves. their fate. (some, in fact, are). Therefore, mutual assistance and solidarity still exist. However, the corpses of those who are mercilessly killed are thrown… to the pigs of the Chinese community, a despised and shamelessly exploited micro-society. world according to deadwood far from idyllic.
bursts of humanity
The most interesting concerns the characters, whom we obviously expected less attention to others in this register, in the form of commitment associated with the sense of responsibility we have towards his “community”. Such is the case with Razanov, a dedicated employee of the local telegraph company, a Russian émigré who does not hesitate to betray professional secrecy, the very basis of his profession, in order to warn the public of a great risk that threatens his safety and even his survival.
This is especially true of Al Swearengen, the show’s central character, arguably as great as Tony Soprano. Soprano : brothel owner, heavy drinker, murderer at times, greedy and cynical, he reveals a more complex personality through the seasons. So, when he takes care of his disabled person, whom he loves to scold publicly, when the doctor offers to make him a splint, and he lets her go; or when he leaves, somewhat in spite of himself, one of his prostitutes to learn accounting and has an affair with a camp merchant; so, finally, when he takes the head of the community to appoint the outspoken or even adamant sheriff, Seth Bullock.
These two characters, who seem to be opposed by everything, will nevertheless provide the basis of a sacred alliance in the service of society.
The entire series is permeated with those often clumsy, ill-calculated and modest impulses, those little courtesies received or generously endowed that testify to a humanity that is not quite resigned to the cruelty of the world.
From acts of resistance like those of Bazanov and the camp’s only journalist and editor (a defender of a certain freedom of the press in a world where transparency is rarely needed), to the doctor’s more expected devotion, the many thoughtful acts that emphasize everyday life not bypassed by violence, racism, alcohol, prostitution and gambling. As a master lesson in life and even survival, when the entire community is in danger of being destroyed by the iron will of the predatory gold miner George Hirst.
It’s about the body
Most of all, the series shows itself powerfully fair when it shows bodies in pain, these degraded bodies that need to be taken care of no matter what, from the plague to the disease that Al will suffer from, passing through the damaged bodies. and dirty, with which the doctor and those who help him deal, deadwood reminds us how much care work depends on the body.
The series can also surprise and even disturb with its rude attitude towards the bodies and the sexuality of the characters. In the series, the doctor listens to prostitutes in this way, frontally, as it would be “in real life” – they are together, without intimacy, and are treated “along the chain”, although the doctor is filled with humanity (but he has to come to terms with the harsh reality).
Wounded or even dying bodies, bloodied or swollen, are shown in all their rawness. But the ethic of care calls into question our relationship with the bodies of the people we care for, an embarrassment that can arise when it’s not about babies, but about dependent or even decrepit old people. Thus, the often hidden part of the caregiving work is brought to the fore in the series, contrary to the almost cleansed vision that prevails in this kind of representation.
And then there’s this sequence where one of the supporting characters, a man of color who is constantly scolded by a white man, refuses to leave him when he gets kicked hard. Postponing his departure from the camp (which he was about to do) until later, he decides to bring a doctor and stay to take care of the horses and… this man who never stopped protesting her supposedly racist hatred of him. And this despite the fact that his co-religionist committed suicide shortly before because of the contempt of this very white man – but above all because of the weight of a lifetime as a person who is trampled and judged by the measure of his skin color. The world according to Deadwood is also like that. After all, horses also need care, as do those who care for them.
That deadwood applies to each of us
Through it all deadwood highlights a caring perspective that “emphasizes the interdependence and vulnerability of all” when “no one can claim self-sufficiency” (Sandra Laugier, ibid., 2021). A series to be seen and seen again because it features fictional characters that are just like us: imperfect, constantly being built (and reconstructed), clumsy, sometimes fair and sometimes unfair, sometimes rendezvous of worries, and sometimes, unfortunately, careless, incurious about the other. The focus of attention in these works is on the care of […] thereby confronts us with our own incapacity and inattention” (ibid.).
And this interdependence, in the end, brings us back to the Ukrainian news, when the nation unites against the occupier. As deadwood also this series, which, after all, tells for three seasons about the emergence of a community of women and men with sometimes conflicting trajectories and ethics, who seemed to be united in a given territory by purely economic issues. A community that, under the external threat embodied by Georges Hurst and his henchmen, is gathering before our very eyes.