As compelling as HBO's Deadwood is, it only gestures at the historical forces that shaped the real-world Old West: military conquest, industrialization, and ethnic conflict. Complex phenomena such as those undercut the notion of the individual taking control of his or her own destiny, a trope at the heart of this, and every other, Western.
Forget the Machiavellian appearances--A Song of Ice and Fire is really a parable about the disastrous consequences of unchecked realpolitik.
Showtime's blockbuster series is great television, but not a useful guide to real-world homeland security. Hint: we always tap the suspect's cell phone.
For decades, the American Mafia and Hollywood have engaged in a sly quid pro quo: the Mob provides inspiration for the entertainment industry, while that industry, in return, romanticizes and humanizes made men. The latest evidence of this exchange can be seen on HBO, in the series Boardwalk Empire, which is thinly based on the life of Enoch "Nucky" Johnson (renamed "Nucky Thompson" in the show). Johnson, a monumentally corrupt Republican political boss, transformed Atlantic City during Prohibition into an emporium for illegal drinking, gambling, and sex. Although he was paid an official annual salary of $6,000, Johnson raked in an estimated $500,000 a year (about $10 million in today's dollars) from his partnerships with bootleggers, gambling dens, and brothels. Lucrative work, if you can get it.
Boardwalk Empire captures some details of the era well. Imitating the real Johnson, Steve Buscemi's Nucky enjoys a lavish lifestyle while dressing like Beau Brummel, with a red carnation in his lapel. The character's love of big cars, sexy showgirls, and power -- gleaned from political deals with rival Democratic party bosses, including the legendary Frank Hague, the mayor of Jersey City from 1917 to 1947 -- also rings true...