The Return of Californication

If I had to guess, I would say that 90% of all the male writers in America wish that they could be more like Hank Moody -- or at least have lives like him.

Before I get ahead of myself, I should address the fact that Californication is a television show, albeit one that airs on a premium cable network.

There's a general belief out there that television and writing are mortal enemies.  Stephen King says as much in his book "On Writing."  He straight up tells you to stop watching television, as it's no good for you or for your work.

It's not an unreasonable stance.  I don't think anyone can deny that the rise of television led to the decline of reading, and the decline of reading has a pretty serious impact on those of us who write.  Hell, if television didn't exist, it would probably be much easier to get a book deal.  Television put a cap on the demand for books.

And let's face facts: television is a time suck.  The average network television series is 22 episodes a year.  For an hour long show, minus commercials, that 880 minutes, or 14.666 hours.  If you watch two, hour long shows, you're ultimately giving up over a day of your life.  Imagine how much writing you could get done in a day.

But all the negative beliefs about television overlook a very clear positive: stories are stories.  Sure, you can debate the quality of the storytelling on the average network television show, but in a world of ebooks self-publishing, I don't know that we can claim the average written work is that much better anymore.

As with anything, the key to television is moderation.  It is very, very easy to get pulled into television and waste hours and hours of your life in other people's stories.  But such a trap is easily avoidable in this time of DVRs and on-demand video.  I could theoretically watch 3 episodes of hour long shows and 3 episodes of half shows in 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon.  That's 3 hours spent digesting a variety of storytelling techniques, 3 hours enjoying a different medium than the one I work in.  It's 3 hours relaxing on a Sunday afternoon and if there's something wrong with that, then I don't want to be right.

And so we come back to "Californication," a show I can, in fact, watch whenever I want because it's available on-demand.  It's a half an hour long and it features a writer, so it kind of does double duty.

"Californication" is male fantasy.  Hank Moody is a drunken, partying writer who has success without trying and has lots of sex in much the same way.  And, as the male fantasy holds, the one true love of Hank's life remains relatively chaste as he sleeps his way through a certain demographic of Los Angeles.

Hank is brutally honest in a way that almost none of us could ever be.  His only notable family is his father, who he indirectly wrote horrible things about, and who dies a few seasons in.  He has a daughter that you can't actually imagine him ever taking care of when she was a little girl, but we come in when she's on the verge of being a teenager.  His daughter's mother, the aforementioned one true love of his life, always manages to be nearby, but just out of reach, mostly through Hank's own doing.

So true.
Which, of course, is why the show is so appealing -- Hank continually fucks up, yet his savior, the most important thing in the entire world to him, is always near.  He can be that kind of Salinger influenced Easton Ellis/Palahniuk/McKinerney type of writer who just takes that hard line, crotchety stance on any given thing, surrounds it with shock value, and throws in this feint glimmer of hope, as if the shitstorm he's created won't actually drown everyone and everything.  It is how he writes and how he lives.

And what red blooded, heterosexual, American male writer doesn't, at some point, wish they could have that life?  Who could deny the appeal of partying like a rock star and yet still being able to come home to the loving and beautiful muse and the amazing fruit of that union in physical form?

It's a character that I don't think really exists anymore or, rather, a character that we don't really care about anymore, at least when he's real.  We enjoy Hank Moody, but I doubt we'd tolerate him were he real, and I can't imagine the publishing world would have any time for him.  He's written one novel that was turned into a shitty movie and another novel that was stolen by the underage girl he slept with.  He's not a guy that publishing companies are lining up to give a book deal.

Yes, that's his fictional book.
Maybe we can blame that on the 80's beating that dead horse to a pulp, or maybe we can blame it on the new reality of book publishing that says companies are looking for reliable revenue generators and you can't generate revenue from the floor of some bar or in the back seat of a car, covered in your own vomit, having unprotected sex with a woman who was about to go home with the guy standing next to you until he had to run to the bathroom real quick.

"Californication" is the fantasy.  It's the romanticism of writing.  It's hilarious and occasionally heartbreaking and it's often inspirational.  As the writer who is more highly regarded than Hank says to him, you have to sit in that chair until your ass bleeds.  You have to put the work in until putting the work in seems like punishment for some crime you've yet to commit.

And perhaps that's what writing really is.  Perhaps we're all just doing penance for the sins down the line. And perhaps that's why "Californication" is so appealing, because Hank Moody is getting away with the sin...for now.