I usually don’t 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, it’s something I just can’t 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 Grammer’s 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.
Grammer’s 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 Ba’ath Party hauled out as traitors, one by one, from a large meeting in July 22, 1979, when those yet to be manhandled started singing Saddam’s praises hoping if they sang loud enough they wouldn’t face the executioner.
But this is not Chicago. This is some Hollywood writer’s 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 henchman’s 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 O’Hare 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 man’s 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 AMC’s The Walking Dead for an audience.