To an appropriate soundtrack of Radiohead B-sides and the start of the Asian rainy season, I've been thinking about Dr Gregory House again, and what he represents. It's partly prompted by a thought MA Peel had at the Museum of Television and Radio blog (a blog for people who get paid to watch telly - none cooler, surely?), linking our favourite cantankerous medical genius with Rick Blaine, Bogart's character in Casablanca (still the greatest movie of all time, and no argument will be brooked on this one); and also by something Realdoc (our favourite lovely medical genius) said about most TV doctors being utterly divorced from reality (Green Wing and Cardiac Arrest excepted).
Yay, four sets of brackets in one sentence. This blog ought to get a Parenthetical Advisory sticker. Munch on that, L Brent Bozell III (who, incidentally, looks like the mutant offspring of Chuck Norris and a hairdresser I once knew).
The thing is, House sidesteps the whole issue, by not really being a show about medicine, any more than Fawlty Towers is about the hotel trade, or Casablanca is about Casablanca. Many critics have suggested that it's more of a whodunnit, with House and Wilson a barely disguised Holmes and Watson. (This presumably makes Foreman, Cameron and Chase the Baker Street Irregulars; Cuddy a weird synthesis of Lestrade and Mrs Hudson; Vogler is Moriarty; and Stacy has to be Irene Adler. For the violin and the seven-percent-solution, read the piano and Vicodin.)
A few months ago, I mooted a link between House and David Brent of The Office, suggesting that the difference was self-awareness and desire to be loved. On second thoughts, it's more than this. House is about men.
Dr Gregory House is the alpha male who knows that the chest-beating, knuckle-dragging mundanity of being an alpha male is beneath him. He needs the respect of those around him, but he doesn't want to need it, and certainly doesn't want the others to know he needs it. He's good at his job, but his self-image as a loner means that he's totally unsuited for a senior role within the orthodox hierarchy. And he's faced with a paradox - if he becomes too self-aware, too much in awe of his own limping, baleful majesty, then that persona becomes invalid. It's a similar situation to that in Eliot's Murder In The Cathedral. Becket knows what is right, and knows that the right action will lead to martyrdom. But by consciously seeking martyrdom ("the last temptation"), he risks invalidating that martyrdom. The only person who can't be a House fan is House.
The only way the two conflicting sets of needs can be reconciled - for the hospital to make best use of House's talents, and for House to retain his lone-wolf self-image - is for him to operate a semi-autonomous little gang within the organisation. It's what the management guru Tom Peters (yes, I have a parallel life where I have to read management books) calls a skunkworks. It has its own rules and culture and loyalty, although its ultimate purpose is to serve the overall ends of the organisation. There's no dress code, you can eat pizza at your desk, and throw it at outsiders who enter your territory. There's still a paycheque and a pension plan at the end of the day, but let's not be so crass as to mention that.
It's a classic compromise for the post-punk, post-feminist male. In his head he's Meursault, Holden Caulfield, Raskolnikov. Like Brent, he really wanted to be a rock star, and he would have been a better one, but he'd have walked away from the showbiz bullshit before he made it big. He can't be tempted with a flash car, a shiny desk, golf-club membership or a leggy secretary. (House's attitude to women is fascinating; he's self-consciously laddish and horny when confronted with a nice pair of tits, yet deep down he respects the take-no-shit stance of woman-in-a-man's-world Cuddy.) His outsidery, existentialist pose has to be stroked and stoked to get the best out of him. He needs to exasperate to feel wanted. And he needs a gang around him, who maintain unswerving loyalty (to him, not to the hospital) without ever tipping over into obsequiousness.
Damn. It's Gordon Brown. The departmental autonomy within the bigger structure. The gang of outriders, who are Brownites first, Labour second. The brooding. The fearsome intellect. The unspoken sadness (the dead child) and the disability (the dead eye) for which he will tolerate no pity.
But even those who despair at the surly snarling of Brown/House know that the alternative is worse. Brown is softening, making himself more amenable to Middle England, bigging up Blair's achievements, laying on more of that weird, lopsided smile. House's soft side resurfaced briefly in the second series, with the arrival of Stacy; and there's always the worry that the simmering sexual tension with Cuddy (modelled on Hawkeye and Hotlips?) will boil over and destroy the show (David and Maddie; Niles and Daphne). And if Brown leaves the diagnostic punk skunkworks of the Treasury for a role where he has to kiss babies and be nice to foreigners, the magic will be gone forever.