Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Southland" Personalities and Money, Part 1

I don't know about you, but I am a huge fan of the television show "Southland."  Part of my interest undoubtedly stems from the fact that my brother is a police officer in the Los Angeles area (though he's not specifically LAPD). More specifically regarding the show, I appreciate the gritty realism that comes from showing the very humanly-written characters perpetually not meeting up with the idealistic standards that we place upon police service; the cognitive difference between idealism and reality keeps drawing me back.

As I've been watching the show and learning more about the characters, I have realized that many of the characters' personality types shown on the program run parallel to personality types that real people have, particularly in regards to money.  This article is the first in what will be a series of analyses of some of the major and minor characters on "Southland," and what these characters show us about how people respond to money.

Our first stop:  Bill "Dewey" Dudek (as played by C. Thomas Howell)

Personality Type: Nihilistic Opportunist

Background:  Dewey is a police officer and a recovering alcoholic.  He also has an abrasive, grating personality, and he frequently proves himself to be racist and sexist.  His disease was at one point so out of control that in a fit of alcohol-fueled rage while on-duty, he seemingly intentionally wrecked his police car, which caused injury to himself and his partner.  After he completed rehab, he was welcomed back onto the force, and he was placed on active-duty.

What I find most interesting about Dewey, however, is something he said a few episodes ago.  In the episode, Dewey notices that one of his colleagues (Officer Jessica Tang as played by Lucy Liu) is about to have a meeting with her superiors to discuss her involvement in the shooting of a teenager; Tang was considering lying about the event, and she eventually chose to do so.  The teenager had been holding a gun, which caused Tang to fire; however, after she got to the victim, Tang realized that the gun was only a toy with an obvious orange piece of plastic on the tip.  In a quick act of desperation, Tang broke the orange tip off of the gun, so that it was now entirely black and therefore looked more like a real gun.

Dewey, who claimed to have been before disciplinary committees three times and who had nevertheless held onto his job, offered the following advice, "You can't change what happened; it's between you and God.  If you can live with it, nobody can stop you."

Analysis:  Dewey is an example of a Nietzschean superman at its finest.  The philosopher Frederic Nietzsche believed that nearly everybody on earth was bound by some form of morality, and Nietzsche opined that those who realized this could live above morality (or beyond good and evil) and that these people, these supermen, could also take advantage of the herds of people who were bound by morality.  For Nietzsche's supermen, as for Dewey, life becomes a profound quest to find out what "you can live with."

Money Personality:  The most obvious parallel to Dewey when it comes to money are those who enrich themselves with little to no regard for how their actions affect others.  In fiction, examples include Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons" and Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol.  In real life, these are the Bernie Madoffs, the energy traders at Enron in the early 2000s, and, if these recent articles are to be believed, the present-day executives at Goldman Sachs and Google.

While it might be easy to point the finger at the super-rich, I'd like to suggest that this line of thinking can affect those of us with more modest means as well.  To the extent that any of us looks at having more money as life's key goal, and to the extent that we're willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal, we're taking steps towards being like Dewey.  And while I still don't know about you, I'm pretty sure the world doesn't need any more Deweys.

Don't get me wrong: earning and having money is a good thing.  However, inasmuch as money becomes the only thing for any of us, we've taken a precarious step down a slippery slope.

What do you think?  Are you a fan of "Southland?"  Let me know in the comments.

*Update* Goldman Sachs has responded to the above criticism.


Jana @ Daily Money Shot said...

You already know what I think of Southland. I think it is perhaps the greatest show ever (after Freaks and Geeks).

I can't wait to see where you go with the rest of the characters. I'm expecting Lydia, Sammy, Ben and John!

Bryan said...

I'm glad you liked it.

I'm ashamed to say I've never seen Freak and Geeks. I'd better get on that. :)

Miiockm said...

I can't say I ever expected Nietzsche to come up on a personal finance blog.

Bryan said...

@Miiockm: You would think he would come up more...