New Orleans Being home for a short spell, as a treat we’ve been watching some television before the lights go off. Recently, we’ve been catching an episode on an almost nightly basis of “Rita,” a series on Danish television about an anti-authoritarian, but deeply committed and wildly popular school teacher. Last year, I watched several seasons of the Danish series, “Borgen,” about the rise and reign of a woman as Prime Minister in Denmark, which many commentators have argued is perhaps the best inside-politics television show ever. What’s up with Danish television that they are making such strides at examining real life concerns about education and public life while we’re having to deal with debates about the future of Kevin Spacey and the politics of Roseanne Barr?
Rita is an early 40’s single teacher with an active libido and a unique parenting style as a single mother with three children. She’s no porcelain doll, but a mass of contradictions and hard edges around a soft heart, especially for her children and many of the school’s misfits. The show is subversive in the way it looks at Danish mores and social institutions. Of course, teachers, especially Rita, are the stars of this show, but they are real people. One young teacher is constantly confronted with the problems of her theories and putting them in practice. A senior teacher retires rather than confront student bullying in his classroom. Principles are bureaucrats, but not outside of the struggle to educate. Students have real issues and difficult school and social challenges.
Interestingly to me, parents are most often presented as the obstacles in both the school’s educational mission and the maturation and education of their own children. If there’s one enemy in this show, it’s often parents. They squabble. They are too precious in their concerns, whether about vegetarians and animal protection, or wild demands for promotion and protection of their children up to the point of bullying. The state social system and other institutions like even the teachers’ own union and its contract, come in for ongoing critiques as rigid and unbending in being able to deal with individual issues for children and families.
“Borgen” is a compelling drama of backroom political tensions grounded in parties and personalities as much as policies. We struggle through the strengths and weaknesses of real life politicians including our heroine, a woman who rises in a center-left coalition to become the first woman prime minister of Denmark. In “Borgen” we see the real struggles between advisors and between politicians and their staffs, especially the modern rise of the powerful combination communications-policy adviser in much more realistic terms than the darkness that surrounds “House of Cards,” especially the original British version.
I love Roseanne Barr. She spoke at ACORN Conventions. She and Michael Moore worked in Florida during the minimum wage campaign in the Kerry-Bush election. I wish her absolutely nothing but the best. I wish she would watch “Rita” and bring her power and demand for change for the voiceless to issues in some of the same ways.
Beau Williamson brought his own political experience working in liberal political campaigns to his retooling of “House of Cards.” I’ve visited with him. He’s a progressive with skin-in-the-game of the resistance. I would be shocked if he hasn’t watched “Borgen” and taken notes. He’s onto other projects, but in the last season of “House of Cards” needing something to fill the vacuum of Spacey’s departure, it would be wonderful to have him go more “Borgen” in the final act.
Just a prayer from a fan being offered up to the lords of Hollywood to learn something from an unexpected source in the wee country of Denmark where television is being rewritten in human terms.