a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Issue #11 (September 16, 2009)

57th & 2nd, New York City

Foto-Kollazh by Valbona Shujaku

Experience from the Experiment: “Mad Men” (AMC), Part I
(Continued here)

by Janet Lynn

I’m glad that “Mad Men” is back -- the series and its portrait of the era: the early 1960’s in mainstream urban America. Things looked pretty cozy in the man/woman area; the edginess we do see between the sexes may or may not be typical of any generation. But then the Draper marriage will never settle down because their lives were set at the dawn of the sexual revolution….

In the new season it’s now 1962 and the women are beginning to show faint signs of the changes going on. But by setting us in Manhattan the producers will cushion the blow of the violence that will unfold. There will surely be the sound of breaking glass, certainly of the glass ceiling, but will the writers avert our eyes from the other glass-shattering -- the clocks thrown against the walls, and all the small splinters women endured quietly, internally.

The biological clock went off-rhythm in 1960. If you were there then you felt it, as a female of any age. Even though the FDA at first granted very limited approval for distribution of the pill, its very existence had an effect felt by all women. By 1962 all but eight states had authorized the pill’s distribution and contraception, supposedly reversible, was on its way.

In “Mad Men” two of the main female characters have recently had their first one-night-stands: Betty Draper who is married with children, and Peggy who gave up a child for adoption and is advancing in her career. Neither woman is concerned directly with the ticking of her biological clock. Although what these characters do in 1962 is rare, we know that by the 1970s it becomes the rule.

It is significant that these acts are out of time because when the psychology is wrong as it is in this telling, the true story of the era is lost to the political correctness of the modern day. It took many years past the introduction of the pill to get to the point that the one-night-stand could be accepted, let alone understood as an act of “integrity” as its modern writers have it according to the Wall Street Journal:

Over homemade guacamole and a pitcher of mojitos, they debated whether Betty Draper, the fictional 1960s housewife of advertising executive Don Draper, should have a one-night-stand in a smoky Manhattan bar. The men were against it. Betty would never compromise her integrity like that, consulting producer André Jacquemetton recalls saying. Most of the female writers disagreed. After all her husband’s infidelities, ‘how the hell is she going to take Don back if she doesn’t do this?’ executive story editor Robin Veith argued. Mr. Jacquemetton was outnumbered. From this discussion came a pivotal scene in the final episode of season two: Betty sleeps with the stranger.

To perform the act of the one-night-stand with such equanimity and guiltlessness, as presented in “Mad Men” actually took many more changes and at least another decade. The female psyche had to evolve en masse. But we make allowances for our heroines because we know there is action somewhere out there that the characters are picking up on and representing.

What is out there is a different female demographic – one where this experiment began at the inception of their nominal child-bearing years, in particular at college. But even for them in 1962 it was also just beginning. The pill had not yet been approved in all states for unmarried (later called single) women. Most obtaining the pill from their doctors embellished their embarrassed request with stories of love and their future marriage and children. They, like most women at that time, were essentially apolitical until of course they found a husband and would fit into his life-style and politics.

But life in the student world suddenly became political for everyone -- assassinations, civil rights, Viet-nam, anti-capitalism, and by the late sixties, the concept of finding a husband became itself the central political issue ("The Personal is Political", Carol Hanisch, 1969). The middle-class nuclear family was seen as a power structure that was blamed for oppressing women. Feminist ideology was evolving and the major message was that life could be lived without a man. With the introduction of the pill for girls at first winding of the biological clock, the rejection of marriage seemed easy and was a sudden relief from the traditional pressures.

Women’s lib and the consciousness-raising groups were not only natural for women, but were strong organizing tools that changed women’s minds and spread the word. All ages were partaking in the free love spirit, and the pill became not only acceptable but absolutely assumed.

Later, television portrayed the happy female careerist with Mary Tyler Moore’s show (1970-77) which was set in Minneapolis. Her friend Rhoda, who spun off into her own show in 1974 really did want a marriage and moved back to New York only to amicably divorce a few years into the sit-com. The writers of “Mad Men” are so young they probably saw these MTM series in rerun in the 1980s and 90s; what they know of 1962 is tipped off by the use of Bob Dylan over the credits of the first season’s end. That is they know it dimly only as a dark age of hippie legend. We can guess what will happen to these two women characters as “Mad Men” continues through the sixties. Betty is headed for a divorce and single motherhood, and Peggy will become a great success in advertising and may, if they get to 1970, come out as gay.

Men and women had agreed on the same language, Ms, not Mrs., no judgment, one-night-stands…. The “straight” single men adopted the third date as their polite equivalent of the one-night-stand. Everything was acceptable to everyone. John Lennon was having love-ins openly with Yoko Ono on magazine covers 1968; Jane Fonda ‘67 to’71 was having threesomes and other forms of group sex; in 1973’s “Fear of Flying” Erica Jong describes the “zipless fuck,” and by the mid-seventies there was much talk of fantasies.

But the hard left was lurking behind and setting policy. Marriage and babies were gradually banned. The women of the left of that era became equal, but equal only to their radical Marxist brethren. The war between the sexes had intense ideological roots as well as it was fought between these men and women.

From the mid-sixties into the seventies the counter-culture spawned organizations such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). This New Left and the semi-allied arts bohemia seemed at first to run on misogyny and the radical feminist organizations emerged as a reaction from within. In such contexts there was no fighting for the integrity of the woman’s biological clock since society no longer regarded the child-bearing female as vulnerable and needing protection.

If you were trying to fight for your biological destiny, political correctness was claiming every step of the way that you didn’t have one. The experiment was taking a strange twist as sexual freedom spread to all classes, races and ages and any arguments to the contrary were ascribed exclusively to religious right straw-men. Birth control was not only assumed but a girl not on it triggered contempt. Hesitation was not acceptable without an ideology. And instinct was not your own but defined for you.

This turnaround in feminism was the separatist phase, whether it was the lesbian separatist or the other radical feminists who saw intrinsic male domination as the root of the evil. The radical feminist embraced separatism, at least as a strategy. The one-night-stand became their solution -- ending in a draw -- and was a last nihilistic reaction at the end of their biological clock. This failure coincided with the waves of acceptance shared by mainstream of all ages, marital status and genders, for all variety of reasons. Ideological success; personal failures. The personal was not political after all.

Everyone was liberated. You could all meet at the same bar, divorced, married, single, the woman who has three children, it could be Betty Draper, or it could be Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda, students, Maoists, homosexuals, all sharing one mind one body. That is why, by end of the seventies, it all ended in an orgy sharing happily in the same pool. Exemplary was Plato’s Retreat, the club that opened in 1977 in the Ansonia hotel in NYC. It was visited by pop stars such as Bette Midler and Barry Manilow and was famous for its many rooms filled with bodies engaged in all varieties of sexual activities, including the nude swimming pool where groups of men stood on the side synchronizing ejaculation as the music played on.

Plato's Retreat was eventually closed down in the early 80s as the Aids epidemic began. The sexual revolution was over in the middle of the orgy. But the break-up of the family succeeded. Murphy Brown was the new TV heroine who by 1992 showed that politics had come full circle when Vice President Quayle criticized her character as "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice." And she mocked him back on her show.

Post-feminism gives us more characters in "Sex and the City" that claim to be liberated and enjoying their sexuality no matter how indiscriminate. But they have accepted that it’s alright as well to look for a man to make things work out by the last tick of the clock.

But the instinct is now so lost that reigning post-feminism has calibrated attraction to be three dates past the one-night-stand. This was illustrated in the Washington Post advice column recently:

Downtown D.C.: Carolyn-- So, I met a man at a bar, and had a good old-fashioned one-night-stand. Or so I thought. Postcoital, we chatted and chatted and realized we had so much in common (same interests in books, independent films, cooking). Exchanged phone numbers and he called for a proper date… And things fell flat. I have completely lost any attraction I had for him that first night, and can't figure out why… What to do?

The advice given to “Downtown D.C.” was to follow her instinct and to politely tell the poor guy she’s not interested in a romantic relationship.

“So did you watch the latest “Mad Men”? I said to the woman with whom I was sharing a cab, as the preview for it was flashing on the cab’s TV screen. “Even back then,” she answered, “a good man was hard to find.” We had both been to the same doctor, a gynecologist, I for postmenopausal problems, and she for reasons which I couldn't quite discern. She looked about 40. “Thanks for sharing the cab,” she said, “I have to take care of this.” She was carrying a package about the size of a birdcage, holding it carefully with one hand on the handle and another arm surrounding it. “This precious commodity,” she explained was being transferred to another incubator at another office, -- her egg being fertilized outside of her body. "You know,” she said, "things started going wrong. It took me that long to find Mr. Right, but by then it was too late." She was happy she claimed and said she thought now she had it all.

“Where have we come, and how did we get here?” I asked getting out of the cab, and imagined the cabbie’s answer, “You went where you wanted to go.”

Perhaps…. Maybe there will be clues in the next episode of "Mad Men".

[Photograph: January Jones as Betty Draper (AMC); Three Collages by Rosetta; NYC Collage by Steve Harlow]

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

Notes from an Ongoing Study
by Chris Collins

• Politics is war by other means. The atomic unit of politics is the faction, and each faction is at odds with every other faction. An alliance between two or more of these groups is a ceasefire of mutual advantage.

• Subcultures trend toward homogenization by enforcement of consensus and the ease with which the noncommittal are driven out. By this process they produce less variation than an overculture, which is shaped more by geographical/racial happenstance and so, until its dotage, is less ideological. As a traditional or national culture is preserved by language and natural barriers, so a subculture is preserved by doctrine, and as such has more in common with religion. The line between subculture and ideology (secular religion) blurs. If America no longer has a culture, but rather a constellation of subcultures (mainly partisan, some racial, some religious), it might explain why American minds have concomitantly become calcified and thought-averse. In the collapse of national identity, identity becomes bound up in subcultures and their tyrannies of consensus.

• Silent majorities: For every one person engaged with (phenomenon x), ten people are disengaged. The invisibility of the disengaged, and the psychological desperation of the engaged, conceals this fact. (Those who seek engagement cannot comprehend those who do not seek it. People tend to project their worst traits onto everyone else; those under a psychological compulsion assume such compulsion is universal.)

The Framers vs. The Farmers -- Free Our Food! Bust the Corn Trust!
by Joe Carducci

Last Thursday an op-ed in the NY Times by Michael Pollan spun through the likely scenario that follows any new health-care bill. Pollan writes, “even if we get a health care bill that does little more than require insurers to cover everyone on the same basis, it could put us on that course.” Writing as the author of a book called, “In Defense of Food,” this course he celebrates is the enlistment of Big Insurance in campaigns against soda pop and “America’s fast-food diet.”

As Pollan sees it “Agribusiness” is producing cheap food and charging social and environmental costs to the future. What he’s trying to do is “bell the cat” for the NY Times. Unfortunately, this anticipated enlisting of the Insurance industry in the social engineering to follow from President Obama’s health-care reforms is one of the main threads of opposition to it. The resistance understands that the text of any legislation is only the beginning and what then follows from the changes merely point toward an end no-one can see -- they probably appreciate this confirmation, a reversal of weeks of news analyses and fact-checks pretending otherwise. Pollan thinks we can’t afford the Man’s corporate death-burger, but can we afford the New Man’s Sustainability, is the question before us.

Young Americans -- new to their political ideas -- are the first to wonder why we can’t have national health-care and, as I wrote in NV #6, they will be among the first to find out what behavioral autonomy they will surrender to make it achievable. The behavior of the young and the care for the elderly are the only savings-give in these brave new proposals. It is also likely that cost pressures due to the advances of medicine will lessen as state-control slows down research and medical progress.

I lived on First Street in Laramie overlooking the main Union Pacific east-west rail-line for a decade. It was an interesting perspective on world activity to look out the window, with the Snowy Range forty miles beyond (where I now live), and see the relative strengths of the coal industry, the auto industry, the military, construction, and agriculture. In the build-up for the Iraq war there was a blip of heavy traffic of tanks and military vehicles on flatbeds heading east. Most of them were already painted for the desert but every once in awhile there’d be a green vehicle painted for cold war-era locales. Otherwise the winner by my eyeball study of UP train traffic in those years was surely agriculture, specifically Cargill and ADM, most specifically: High Fructose Corn Syrup. Tanker train after tanker train of the goop.

But what Pollan calls Agribusiness is really the kind of state-directed enterprise he favors -- he simply wants his agenda served rather than somebody else’s. Or as with this new NYC health campaign he may actually favor state-prompted mayhem so that the state has a more ready rationale for doubling down on its involvement. The Corn Trust is the product of yeoman farmers seeking stability ever since the Panic of 1857. This they sought through grange socialism, new deal nationalism, cold-war internationalism, and anything else they could wield against the serendipity of weather and grain prices. The futures markets in Chicago were the laboratories for new securities and investment tools and hedges, and these were first designed to ward off the chronic boom-and-bust cycle of farming on the American scale in a roiling economy laying railroad track in all directions.

The farm states are not so powerful in the House of Representatives, but in the Senate, North Dakota’s two votes are the equal of California’s. And since Jimmy Carter used the Iowa Caucuses to upset the 1976 Democratic primaries and win the nomination and White House this corn-belt contest has become a Corn Trust veto on all such issues. There was talk in a number of states of jumping ahead of Iowa but when they wimped out the chance to stop burning 150 BTUs of energy to create 100 BTUs of Corn-Ethanol ended.

We got High Fructose Corn Syrup in about all of our processed food. Why? To engineer a guaranteed price for too much product. The Federal government continues to fund research at farm-belt ag schools to find new applications for corn product. The Sugar Trust was too successful in keeping the price of cane sugar up and this opened the door to corn syrup mayhem. It isn’t just the Cuban-Americans in Florida that keep America anti-Castro, it’s also the Sugar Trust’s fear of Cuban cane sugar driving down prices.

Wal-Mart recently began importing Coca-Cola from Mexico where it’s still bottled in the original formula using cane sugar rather than corn syrup. Can you imagine the expansion of the bottling plant capacity in Mexico necessary to fill the order from Wal-Mart? Can you imagine the palm-greasing it took in Atlanta, and Washington, and Arkansas, and Mexico to effect this sale?

Pollan is only a UC Berkeley Professor of Journalism so one can hardly be surprised to hear him relish the day soon-come when the health insurance industry begins “buying seats on those agriculture committees and demanding that the next bill be written with the interests of the public health more firmly in mind.” The left loves social engineering so much they favor the prerogatives of public corruption over private freedom and the probity it asks of them. One hopes the counter to this would have the new localist small-scale organic-or-merely-healthy agriculture out there demanding equal consideration if not actually a level, free market playing field as they compete with state-favored behemoths. Pollan will by then represent his own problem and free-market cranks at the WSJ, the IBD and Reason will become the health-food producers best editorial allies.

Pollan might read Sunday’s NYT cautionary dissent by Tyler Cowen, “Where Politics Don’t Belong”, which is a quick run-through of how Washington exacerbated the banking-financial-mortgage crises, with an eye toward warning off what he sees as the final crisis resulting when Obama uses the same deal-making m.o. on health care reform which will break the government itself:

We have made a grave mistake in politicizing the economy so deeply, and should back away now. In health care, the Obama administration should drop its medical sector deals and try to sell a reform plan -- in whatever form Mr. Obama chooses -- on its own merits. That’s not only good for health care, but also good for the American polity. And in the longer run, that will be good for banking, too.

Cowen -- a Professor of Economics and the author of some of the more disinterested and therefore stirring books and essays on globalization and what follows from it -- is a bit cavalier about whatever an Obama might propose outside of his deal-making pol guise, because frankly there’s nothing but this guise. Like Pollan the President recognizes nothing “on merit”, just the game of the deal. As with JFK, Obama considers ideological sedition the mark of a grown-up. Only the Supreme Court might have stopped this politicization of the economy but as long as we officially celebrate an expansive reading of the Commerce Clause, which is what opened the door for petty constituent service/favor-dealing to metastasize beyond the productive economy’s ability to pay the cost, we will never walk back this cat whether its bell tolls flat, sharp or true.

[Window photograph: Joe Carducci]


"Package Dramas in a Theatre of Despair" by Ajai Sahni reviews one of the more forlorn corners of the world, Gilgit-Baltistan, which because it's occupied by Pakistan we're probably going to be hearing alot about it sooner or later.


Will this be a popular history, or for the specialist do you think?


Jacques Delacroix in Santa Cruz: "It takes really intelligent people to see honesty as deceit and conformity as freedom."


Jim Blanchard's seventies portraits preview


Plastic People of the Universe - Prague was a cultural second city to Vienna during the Austro-Hungarian empire, a multi-national state kept together by the threat from Ottoman Turkey; there is something a little too eastern and perverse in the PPU sound for most who come to their music all jazzed by their their crazy story.


Musician-writer Alan Licht interview

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

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