Monday, October 15, 2007

Madmen, Hillary and the Wizard of Oz

American Movie Classics'(AMC's) Madmen is great television. Madmen's quality equals HBO's and Showtime's, which puts it a cut above today's Hollywood movies.

Madmen stars Jon Hamm as Don Draper. It is about an advertising agency in the golden age of television, the late 1950s and early 1960s. The name "Draper" alludes to draping or deceiving, and we are reminded of the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz, whom Dorothy exposes behind the drapes of the control room. Like the Wizard, Draper's job is to create illusion. One of the story lines is that Draper's firm represents the Nixon campaign pro bono in the 1960 election, the first that television influenced.

Before watching Madmen it would be useful to read a history of consumerism. One is William Leach'sLand of Desire: Merchants, Power and the Rise of a New American Culture and another is Gary Cross's All Consuming Century. Both books provide rich perspective on the dynamic of consumerism and its implications for culture. Leach goes into an extended analysis of the Wizard of Oz.

Following amusement parks, Wannamaker's department store decorations, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and L. Frank Baum's ideas (Baum, besides being an author, was an early expert about window displays), advertising has been the basis of consumerism. That is, one of the characteristics of consumerism is the creation of imaginative imagery about consumption. Thus, New York and several other large cities became the centers not only of art, culture, theater and television, but more importantly of imagery about consumption that created today's global culture. Such imagery would be unnecessary or unimportant were it truthful. The association of consumerism and advertising suggests that deception is at consumerism's root.

There is an inherent conflict. To be possible, consumerism requires advances in technology. In turn, technology depends on uncovering of the truth, discovery of fundamental principles and a relentless willingness to let old modes, business methods and social constructs die. Schumpeter called this creative destruction. But stimulation of consumption relies on creating an image, one that is often false, romantic or misleading.

At the same time the left is a romantic movement that itself is a reflection of consumer society and advertising. The left manufactures political ideas that are romantic but have as little truth or reality as the mountain stream in a Newport cigarettes ad. The left claims to oppose the deception inherent in commercialization, but does so through "draping" and deception that parallel commercialization. To the left, ideology plays the role that advertising plays to consumerism. The left substitutes lies about a romanticized past and a fictional claim to ethical belief. It deceptively claims that the past is the future.

Thus, the left claims that centralized economic planning (monarchy) is economically superior to markets, a lie. The left claims that government power and regulation, much like the power of kings, is more humane than limited government and private enterprise, which is a lie. The left claims that monetary expansion, which favors the wealthy over the poor, is necessary to help the poor, which is also a lie.

Hence, the dialogue of twentieth century America* was largely between a conservative, market-based view which depends on the truth and technology for its foundations, but furthers its ends through lies and mass media; and a left-wing view whose ideology is itself a lie. Both modern conservatism and left/liberal ideology depend on groupthink. Both rely on the mass media. Both focus on the trivial. Both advocate policies whose effects are the reverse of what they claim. It may be said that in the twentieth century the Sophists triumphed and that the Sophists now dominate our most retrograde institutions, such as universities.

The Republicans claim to be for less government, then when elected expand government. The Democrats claim to be for the poor, but create massive inner city slums, urban ghettos that isolate racial minorities and the poor. As well, the Democrats' educational policies, via left-wing institutions like NCATE, cripple the poor by enfeebling them educationally; and they and the left attack private institutions such as Wal-Mart that benefit the poor economically.

Were it not for the left, the role of intellectual would in part be the one that L. Frank Baum assigned to Dorothy: lifting the drapes from the Wizard's control room, and exposing him for the fraud that he is. That is the tradition of Thorstein Veblen as well as the Austrian economists. But the academy fell prey to ideology, and has adopted rigid, ideological deception, commitment to elitism and attacks on the poor, for instance, through attacking Wal-Mart and through favoring the Federal Reserve Bank, low interest rates and inflation. Universties themselves are a state supported system that encourages class stratification, alienation of the average person and economic isolation of the talented poor. Universities are institutions who demonize the average person, humanity, in the name of an inept elite that produces nothing and whose main purpose is to institutionalize itself.

Doug Ross @ Journal lists "Hillary's Top Ten Fabrications". These include her claim that she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary although she was born five years before he climbed Mt. Everest; her failure to disclose profits from Whitewater; and her description of abortion as a "tragic choice".**

It is not surprising that Hillary is a liar. Nor would it be surprising that the Republicans are equally liars. The groupthink; lack of vision; fixation on trivia; emotional outrage about superficial issues and ignoring the fundamental issues such as special interest group influence; corruption of the democratic process through gerrymandering and related processes; misleading disclosure in areas like government operations and inflation; monetary expansion and the corruption of the dollar; claiming to be for less government when you are for more government (such is the history of Rudy Giuliani) all suggest that Republicans and Democrats have similar stakes in equivalent forms of corruption. Both are parties of liars.

It is increasingly important that competition be introduced into the political system. "Voters for None of the Above" offers a mainstream alternative. I discuss NOTA here.

*In Europe, with the exception of Britain, the chief ideologies of the twentieth century were mainly variants of the left, to include fascism, Nazism, communism and today's dirigisme.

**Concerning the abortion issue, William Saletan of Slate writes:

"...against the ugliness of state control, she wants to raise the banner of morality as well as freedom...'There is no reason why government cannot do more to educate and inform and provide assistance so that the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances.'...Once you embrace that truth—that the ideal number of abortions is zero—voters open their ears...Admit the goal is zero, and people will rethink birth control. 'Seven percent of American women who do not use contraception account for 53 percent of all unintended pregnancies'..."

But Clinton's argument, which transfers the moral concern about abortion into a discussion of abortion as a quality process, a quality target that needs to be minimized, is itself a form of draping.

No comments: