Tag Archives: Caanian cultuematic

Scott Caan discovers culture’s secret machinery

Producing TV that’s fresh and interesting is a challenge.

The moment we, the audience, gets a whiff of formula, we’re gone.

What’s an actor to do?  If he’s Scott Caan, there’s not one problem but three.

First, he’s got a part in a police procedural.  If there is something that is over-formed and formulaic it’s the police procedural, that great work horse of American television.  (I’m guessing that between them the Law and Order and CSI series produced maybe 10% of prime time.)  We know this formula inside out.

Second, Caan is playing a familiar character (Danno).  Third, he’s playing this character on a once famous show (Hawaii Five-O).  So Caan is trebly bound: familiar character, familiar show, familiar form.  Caan had virtually no degrees of freedom. His hands were tied. He was virtually obliged to "phone it in."

Caan found a way out of this artistic captivity.  As he told Entertainment Weekly,

The last thing I wanted to end up being was a cliche.  I wanted to be fresh and different, so I actually based my character on a criminal

Hey presto. You play "criminal" and when this gets strained through "cop," something magical happens.  We the audience can’t see "criminal" any longer. But "cop" looks a little like something we haven’t seen before.  This cop zigs when we expect him to zag.  Who knows what he’s going to do next.

It’s a clever tactic.  It would be interesting to know if this is something Caan devised or whether it is a traditional tactic in the actor’s skill set.

Let’s assume the former and call this the Caanian culturematic, a way to make popular culture that does not feel like predictable culture.


McCracken, Grant. 2009.  Culturematic: a device for making culture in two easy steps.  This Blog Sits At The Intersection of Anthropology and Economics.  September 21.  here.

Rice, Lynette.  2010.  Scott Caan: Fall TV’s new action star.  Entertainment Weekly. November 5. here.