Skip to comments.Boss, the TV Drama: Itís Not Chicago
Posted on 11/06/2011 2:00:39 PM PST by Kaslin
I usually dont write about the arts. Politics is my passion. But when the arts cross into politics, especially Chicago politics, an interest of mine both by profession and birth, well, its something I just cant ignore.
Boss is a new TV series on Starz. It is about a political boss in Chicago. It has gotten a lot of good publicity, especially about Kelsey Grammers thespian skill in his portrayal of a tough Chicago mayor, loosely modeled, some say, after the inimitable Richard J. Daley, not to be confused with his son, Richard M. Daley.
Grammers Tom Kane character is tough and violent, caught between the pragmatic desire to get things done for the city he loves and the numerous obstacles presented by a multiplicity of parasitic, selfish interests wanting to forever feed on the body politic. Kane accomplishes this by being ruthless, violent, and demanding a type of loyalty and obedience last seen when Saddam Hussein had members of the Baath Party hauled out as traitors, one by one, from a large meeting in July 22, 1979, when those yet to be manhandled started singing Saddams praises hoping if they sang loud enough they wouldnt face the executioner.
But this is not Chicago. This is some Hollywood writers myopic, stereotypic view of Chicago as probably seen from the top floor of the W on a foggy night. Chicago politics is not about the mayor grabbing a henchmans ear and squeezing it until the pain is so excruciating he is about to faint. This scene occurs because one of his underlings violated the chain of command and in so doing, stupidly threatened a major construction project that required years of negotiations and ugly payoffs to get built. It is a project that Kane desperately wants and the city desperately needs the expansion of OHare Airport.
Chicago politics is about power, ambition, greed, and functional corruption, at least it was under Richard J. Daley. Chicago politics is not about a ruthless and violent mayor torturing his henchman or his henchman demanding medieval-style tribute by taking the ears off the lackey who forgot what the chain of command looked like. The lackey, at a very upscale festive occasion, his ears bandaged, hands over a tastefully wrapped gift box to Kane. At home, Kane opens the box to find the mans ears. Without emotion, Kane simply puts the ears in the garbage disposal and grinds away. I got the immediate impression the shows producers thought they were competing with AMCs The Walking Dead for an audience.
There is more drama in the reality of Chicago politics than in this pimping out of gratuitous violence. Richard J. Daley was a complex individual. He was not violent. He was inclined toward nepotism, which he did not deny, but real corruption was not his suite. Yes, corruption flourished around him. And early on, Daley realized there was little he could do about it and survive politically. But it didnt mean he had to get his own hands dirty. By well-placed accounts, he didnt. His Catholicism was not a political veneer as it is with many a political figure that discovers God with all the sincerity of a con up for a parole hearing. Daleys religion was his North Star in a world of misdirection.
If corruption meant getting things done, it was the cost of business, but Chicago was not and is not New Orleans, where corruption meant pockets got lined but things didnt get built. And a complex man trying to stay above the fray of corruption is far and away a more intriguing story line than a violent thug showing his displeasure by taking a leaf from a brutal Iraqi dictator.
Richard J. Daley presided over the beginning of the transformation of the city, a city so rich in architectural splendor that there is a boat tour that focuses on the captivating skyline and its history. His son, Richard M. Daley, transformed the neighborhoods, bringing the middle class and the ex-patriot whites back into the Fatherland, as we affectionately call the city. Before the real estate crash, the adage in Chicago was, The neighborhood you were afraid to walk in last year is the one you cant afford to live in this year. And Richard M. Daleys pragmatism sometimes got the better of him, as when he wanted Meigs Field, a private, downtown airport, turned into a nature preserve, and famously had the runways stealthily bulldozed in the middle of the night. So much for due process standing in the way of progress! But Richard M. Daley had a love for and vision of Chicago that transformed blighted neighborhoods into great places to live.
So, maybe the writers of Boss can get beyond the ear chopping and down to some of the great stories of Chicago politics, stories the machines historian Milton Rakove, a raconteur par excellence, told with wit and flourish, and which he also set down in two well-received academic works. These are stories laced with humor, pathos, compassion, irony, and, yes, corruption. And there are many new ones since Rakoves passing. There are stories of who got the lock on the land for the Olympic Village that was never built. and how they are hanging out in the economic cold. Theres Planet Blago, the story of former Governor Rod Blagojevich, which could be its own sitcom. And of course there are enough stories swirling around the Obamas and the Chicago machine that could make a subplot for seasons, if the writers of Boss have as much affinity for gonads as they do for ears.
But if the writers continue down the path of unreality in a city where fact is more intriguing than fantasy, even Kelsey Grammers acclaimed acting is going to be wasted on a script that people who live in and around the city are going to equate with competition for AMCs The Walking Dead.
King Richard I feted and backed the downtown interests with one hand and threw the working-class neighborhoods to the wolves with the other. The collapse of the south and west sides into ghettos took place on his watch. His son, known to some of us as “Dick II”, continued the same process and left the city broke.
Da Boss was better than many other big-city mayors of his time, but that’s about all I can say about him.
The one example this guy used, ripping up a private airport without due process, undermines the argument that Daley wasn’t corrupt.
Daley ripped that airport out because he lived very close to it, in the Burnham Harbor development.
It had nothing to do with anything except that he didn't like the noise, and as mayor, felt he had the right to rip it out.
He should have been thrown in jail, or worse, for what he did.
“Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs” comes to mind. A different kind of corruption, but corruption nonetheless.
They’re right. The ears thing doesn’t sound much like any of the Daleys.
Now, Rahm Emanuel, on the other hand...
If you want a feel for Richard J Daley,and his under the horizon power, Royko’s “Boss” is a good read.
Yeah. To paraphrase Stalin, “How many dollars has Garfield Park?”
I know several people—some within my own family—who were witness to the collapse of their West Side neighborhoods in the space of a couple of years in the early 1960s. It’s clearly still an open wound to them.
I lived in Chicago in the mid-70’s and every time they have an election I wonder who I voted for ;)
My nice lives and works in downtown Chicago. Said in ‘08 she didn’t DARE mention she was a Republican, much less put any bumper stickers on her car.