Monday, January 4, 2010

Strange Botwin

Once in a while, a fictional character comes alone that just... man... leaves you speechless. If you never saw the tv series Weeds, you are missing out on several wonderful characters. Tops among them is Shayne Botwin. Other kids call him Strange Botwin.

I like him so much I want to learn guitar or the drums or something, just so I can start a band and call it Strange Botwin as a tribute.

Three examples of his creativity and charm:

Exhibit A: (my personal fav) The terrorist video

Exhibit B: His gangster rap

Exhibit C: His Graduation Speech

There are three things I love about this last speech: 1) the Segway that rolls past in the background, 2) how this scene ties up the season, and even the series, so perfectly and 3) the way he references a famously bad movie and by doing so makes that movie cooler.


  1. Why do you like him so much? I watched a few clips on YouTube, and I don't get it.

  2. It isn't for everyone. However:

    I find him very interesting. He is sweet and naive but worldly and jaded. That terrorist video... First (this is always first for me), it is plausible a kid would make that kind of video. Second, it shows he is a kid who watches the news and thinks about it, and 3) it shows he is creative. When I was a kid we played cowboys and Indians, but that was a game that was old-fashioned even then. To make it new by making it terrorists vs. infidels works for me.

    I made videos when I was a kid, but they were safer, less edgy, less brilliant.

    The gangster rap... I love the way he keeps his persona of a rapper with the counselor. He is trying things on, making sense of the world. He is acting out to get attention, but he is doing it in funny ways.

    The speech is dy-no-mite! The adults in the crowd, his family and neighbors, have failed him. They are terrible role models. He knows way, way too much about the adult world. Instead of being some victim or just putting blinders on, he confronts them.

    I love how he plays with the predictable graduations speech template, even the stupid quote from whatever blockbuster is out at the time (snakes on a plane). He subverts the form, and at the same time, actually says something meaningful. It is brilliant. Very post-modern.

  3. Your points are persuasive. I think I'd have to actually watch the show to appreciate him, though. The clips gave me the impression of a smart, yes, but also smart-aleck kid with a bad attitude and terrible language. It was hard for me to get past the shock value to see his sweet and naive side.

  4. Ha, shock. Well, in the TV show he is growing up with a drug-dealing mom, and his language is pretty much appropriate to a lot of the situations he finds himself in. His attitude seems to me the attitude of a sane person finding himself in a broken world. :)

    I can't speak for Mike, but I appreciate him precisely because he's not that "sweet, naive" stock cutout that white American TV has for so long insisted to cram child characters into, perhaps following the misguided psychology of white Americans in general. (For some reason the TV show "Full House" comes to mind, though "Growing Pains" and "Family Ties" fit too.)

    Sure, it's a shorthand, a stylization, but in reality kids aren't really so much more "sweet" or "naive" than a lot of adults, if you ask me. There's stuff they know less about, but that's a product of our culture as much as anything. (In the Middle Ages, kids drank with adults, guffawed at adult jokes, and worked like adults. I'm not calling this optimal, I'm just saying -- maybe we've gone too far the other way in "shielding" kids from reality? Like the "concerned parent" who recently demanded a school pull the college-level dictionaries from the classrooms of 4th/5th graders in her kids' school because the dictionary had a simple definition for "oral sex.")

    The brightest (and most interesting) kids I've known were cunning, skilled at manipulating adults, and knew much more than they let on... but understood thsat the dumb grown-ups had forgotten what it was like to be a kid, and preferred the safe stereotype of naivete, and so played the role when it suited them.

    Botwin isn't more realistic, of course: that speech he makes is something I can't see a real kid making because the vast majority of kids in his situation would be much less articulate. (Which is why, say, the old Degrassi TV shows were so much more realistic: I was roughly the age of the protagonists then, and kids who surrounded me were about that pimply, that awkward, that inarticulate.) As Mike says, young Botwin is a postmodern character.

    But he is, at least, somewhat more expressive of what it was like, on the inside, to be a smart kid than anything else I've seen on TV. And he's way more interesting than any of the child characters I've seen on TV in ages.

    However, as Mike said, the show may not be for everyone.