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Tag: Breaking Bad

Mad Men and Selective Censorship

“You can show a woman’s breast being cut off, but you cannot show her breastfeeding.”

Creator of Mad Men Matthew Weiner was recently in Paris to participate in a kind of yearly world fair of TV series.

(Unfortunately, I got wind of it only one week before the event, and tickets were long sold out.)

Weiner appeared on two panels, the first one to talk about Mad Men‘s coming finale (I’ll post an update to the review I wrote last year once the show is over), the second one on his cinematic influences.

In the latter, Weiner talked about the hypocrisy of his own network, AMC, which had no compunction in displaying very violent scenes in its show Breaking Bad, but deleted Mad Men scenes in which characters could be seen getting high or laid.

The fair was hosted by Paris’s city council, which might explain why the image and sound are mismatched in the second video. (In my libertarian days, I would have blamed it on public workers.)

I thus decided to extract the audio and repost it on YouTube with a static picture of Weiner. I also transcribed his statements.

It’s all below.

N.B.: Before you remind me: yes, I know that Weiner is not allowed to cook bagels on Saturdays. That doesn’t make his point wrong, nor does it prevent Mad Men from being high culture.

“I hated the control of language, and I hated the hypocrisy of the network.

They have their other show, Breaking Bad, which you’ve all seen and loved. They would shoot people in the face, and I couldn’t show somebody grabbing a boob!

They would tell me things like: ‘He’s squeezing her butt. Could you just have it happen outside the frame? Could he just reach to the frame?’

And of course, the minute you see that, you realise it’s so much dirtier! Because he’s squeezing her butt and she’s reacting to it with pleasure, and now that I can’t see it I don’t know where his hand is. And it just got a little bit dirtier.

They were doing someone teaching people how to make crystal meth, and I couldn’t show Peggy Olson inhaling a joint! We’re on the same network at the same time. Because people weren’t using the drug, they were just making it.

I don’t even know how to explain you the bullshit of American censorship. You have your own problems here, but we love violence, and we hate sex. You can show a woman’s breast being cut off, but you cannot show her breastfeeding! It’s really messed up.

[…]

Part of the story of Mad Men was the crudeness of the culture happening. You’ll see how much more explicit people become as the show goes on. The first time you hear the F-word — and it has to be bleeped in the United States — is around Season 5. These gentlemen were all in the Navy and the Army, and they know how to swear, and they swear a lot. They did not swear in the office, they tried not to. I had people tell me anecdotes about the first time someone swore in a meeting, and everybody just sort of being like: “Oh my God!”.

There’s a certain decorum, and as you watch the show go on, you will see it becomes cruder, louder, more explicit, less poetic. All of it was a deliberate journey into the modern world.”

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Keep Calm and Ride the Tiger

Islamic terrorism is the mirror image of liberal Modernity. Jihad advances on the rubble of the Post-Western Experiment, and the Post-Western Experiment needs formidable enemies like radical Islam to keep everyone in line.

This morning, when I left my hip Parisian studio to go to work, there was a parcel waiting for me at the lobby.

It wasn’t ticking, and it wasn’t a surprise either. I had been waiting for it for weeks. It was Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Soumission (Submission), which was released today. Soumission takes place in 2022 France. After Marine Le Pen’s close defeat in the 2017 presidential election, a vast coalition, including all mainstream parties, yet led by a French Muslim, Mohamed Ben Abbes, puts the last nail in Front National’s coffin. Now France’s Islamization will be allowed to proceed, unchallenged. (For once, I won’t make my usual — and yet never disproved… — point that Marine’s FN is not challenging it in any meaningful way.)

This was enough for the chattering class to complain for weeks that the book might be offensive and lack sensitivity, even if they couldn’t possibly have read it then. In our Age of Tweet, literary controversy, an old French tradition, doesn’t even require that one reads the book they criticize. One just has to comment on the book’s topic, or, in this case, title. As we know, the Arabic word for “submission” is… Islam.

I was reflecting on all that on my way to work, and I was already thinking about the mighty review I would post at Radix.

Later in the morning, one of my colleagues came to me and asked: “Have you seen what happened at Charlie Hebdo? There’s been a shooting. At least ten people have died.” The satirical weekly magazine’s headquarters being only 2,500 meters from where I work, my first reaction was one of surprise. I had been hearing no police or ambulance sirens. The neighborhood was quiet, at least as can be in Paris.

Once I realized what had happened, one of my first thoughts was that this shooting coincided with Houellebecq’s novel release. Another quick thought was that in Plateforme (Platform), published only days before 9/11, the story ended with an Islamic terrorist attack against a sex resort in Thailand. Houellebecq’s prophecy was that Islamic terrorists would make their last stand against Post-Western Modernity before the Islamic world, like Southeast Asia, would be absorbed and neutered in our Brave New World Order. Four years later, in La Possibilité d’une Île (The Possibility of an Island) Houellebecq developed this point and predicted that Islamism would be, much like the Beatnik or Hippie movements, a fad, waiting to be swallowed and reframed by Modernity.

I still believe this point to be correct, though there might be some upheavals in the meantime. And that’s what happened today at Charlie Hebdo.

And before I write negative things about this publication, I should state the obvious:

  • Yes, what happened today is atrocious; any decent Westerner should express solidarity with the twelve victims and their families;
  • Yes, Charlie Hebdo is free to criticize Islam, however it might upset the terrorists’ sensitivities;
  • Yes, said terrorists should be hunted down, shot dead, and turned into compost so they can be useful at last.

But have I said anything interesting here? Should I feel “brave” just because Charlie Hebdo‘s headquarters are only blocks away from where I live? Should I seek professional support to help me get over my grief?

When faced with such tragedies, the normal reaction should be the Walter White way. In the AMC series Breaking Bad, the chemistry teacher/methamphetamine “cook” unsuccesfully tries to call everyone to reason after the collision of two planes over Albuquerque, New Mexico.

A wrong analysis of this Breaking Bad scene would be that Walter White, being a sociopath, lacks empathy towards the victims and their loved ones. I would argue the exact reverse. The real sociopaths are the attention-seeking students and teachers who want to get the same sympathy as the plane crash casualties.

I am never comfortable with the inevitable public mourning when such tragedies happen. My feeling is that decency should force us to show restraint and discretion in front of the actual suffering of the victims’ families.

Instead, what we have is an outburst of sentimentalism that not only clouds the mind but also, in my opinion, is disrespectful to the people who died. The crocodile tears shed on Facebook and Twitter are not meant for the assasinated journalists and policemen. Rather, people who post “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) memes want others to look at them cry. Am I the only one to find this wrong?

Symetrical to this feminine self-obsessed digital weeping is the macho posturing political over-reaction. On Identitarian pages I stumbled across, there were guys, comfortably hidden behind their pseudonyms, who were already talking about civil war while the bodies were still warm. Drawing on their Carl Schmitt for Dummies quote collections, they were calling everyone to transcend their ideological differences, however fundamental, to defeat “the Enemy.” As if Schmitt’s analysis still applied to an atomized, disintegrated world where there are not two sides but, at the very least, three.

From the fact that everyone shall express solidarity towards the victims, it does not follow that we should seek an alliance with the likes of Charlie Hebdo.

— The Pope is pushing it too far! [pun intended] — — The Pope is pushing it too far! [pun intended] — “This is my body!”

For one cartoon criticizing Islam, Charlie Hebdo has been publishing dozens outright insulting Christians, Whites, conservatives, and men. It’s perfectly possible to defend Charlie Hebdo‘s right to publish such material without dreaming of a united “side” fighting against Islamic terrorism. Actually, it could even be argued that the latter is the mirror image of liberal Modernity. Jihad advances on the rubble of the Post-Western Experiment, and the Post-Western Experiment needs formidable enemies (Al-Qaeda and ISIS being more credible than the much-maligned “Far Right”) to keep everyone in line. It’s not our hill to die on, on either side of it.

Rather, what we should do is put our Julius Evola for Dummies manuals down and start applying to ourselves the slogans we drew from them. We are Men Among the Ruins who endeavor to Ride the Tiger, right? Then let’s see today’s West as it really is, i.e. a heap of rubble in the midst of which we must survive and whose dangers we need to overcome to create an alternative future for ourselves. There will be many tribes struggling for survival in these here ruins. The time for preservation and grand alliances is over.

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“Mad Men”: The Dispossessed Elite on TV

“All I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything.” – Roger Sterling

Some of my friends across the Ocean have asked me what I had been up to lately. Well, I’ve mostly been catching up with TV series.

TV drama is a genre I had neglected for years, mainly because of its inferiority to movies (or so thought I). However, being a movie buff is painful these days, with the obvious “creation crunch” that is crippling the industry.

So, before Marvel releases another Iron-Man 28 or The Avengers 42, I wanted to pay a tribute to some TV series I have been watching these last months. Most have made me reconsider the unjustified contempt in which I was holding fiction on TV.

Today I will begin with AMC’s Mad Men. This may not be the most obvious choice, compared to shows that have been far more successful, and that are maybe more relevant to our purposes: Breaking Bad, House of Cards, or Game of Thrones, among others.

Nevertheless, I think that for “craftsmen of the word” like us, the story of a creative director in an ascendent advertising agency is full of precious lessons. Besides, the whole show seems to revolve around a hidden theme that is familiar to Radix readers: the dispossession of the Old Anglo Elite by a new class using its verbal skills to gain power.

For a cultural contrarian, there is always a risk of overreading the producers‘ intent. However, while I believe they wanted to depict this Old Elite negatively, and express some relief about its downfall, I can’t help thinking that the initial expectation wasn’t fully met (think of Cabaret or American History X as similar failed attempts).

For the sake of clarity, I won’t recount the 85 episodes, as I assume most of you have watched the show (for the others, you can keep reading; there will be spoilers, but the general plot is not as important as the atmosphere).

That being said, a rough summary should be done. The story takes place in New York, in the 1960’s. When the show begins, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the creative director of Sterling Cooper, a relatively small ad agency on Madison Avenue. He’s tall, strong, handsome, always perfectly-dressed, smart (though not particularly educated), socially savvy and uncannily successful. Successful in his work, and, of course, successful with women. Despite having a wife that would be rated as a “9” if not a “10” in the manosphere (Betty Hofstadt, played by Nordic beauty queen January Jones), he enjoys the company of many other women, who enable him to escape the sanitized boredom of his white-picket-fenced suburban house®.

We don’t see Don Draper work much. He’s always late, even for meetings, spends most of his office time smoking, drinking (Canadian Club rye at work, “Old Fashioned” cocktails at bars), and taking naps to recover from it all. When the afternoon comes, he often calls it a day to join some mistress in a luxurious hotel room. Despite that, every one of his pitches to the clients is a home-run, making him the main money-maker of the agency (his jaw-dropping Kodak carousel presentation should be turned into a mandatory training in communication and marketing programs). This reminds us that creation requires laziness as much as hard work. All those who write for a living know that their best ideas pop up when they are doing something else, or doing nothing at all.

Alpha/Übermensch Don Draper is “just too good to be true,” to the point that NBC did a spoof “Don Draper’s guide to picking up women”, in which the viewer learns that all he has to do to be as successful as Don is… impossible to fulfill.

So, why do the opening credits show a cartoon version of Don falling from a skyscraper into a sea of advertisement junk? In a Hollywoodian clichéd way, the character can’t be that successful without having a secret flaw, which, in time, will be revealed to be fatal.

As we soon learn, Don’s secret flaw is nothing less than identity usurpation. His real name is Dick Whitman. Son of a prostitute (who dies giving birth to him) and a drunk farmer (who is killed by a horse), Dick grows up in a whorehouse. When he turns 25, he takes the opportunity of the Korean war to flee. There, a field officer named Don Draper is mortally burnt in a fire Dick accidentally starts. Since the officer is totally disfigured, Dick manages to switch the identification tags and become the man who just died, giving him his former identity. This identity theft is symbolized by Season 5’s finale, which ends with Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice.” The story takes place in 1967, which is the year the eponymous James Bond movie was released. (By the way, the song’s powerful lines “You drift through the years — And life seems tame — Till one dream appears — And love is its name” could summarize the dissident rightists’ increasing impatience; just replace “love” with some synonym, like “power,” “victory” or “glory.”)

This 92-episode series (the seven final ones will be broadcast next year) would get boring if it wasn’t for the supporting characters. Though Jon Hamm’s acting is excellent, the contradiction between Don Draper’s rise to success and his growingly incapacitating original sin wouldn’t be sufficient to support the show from Season 1 to 7. The main thing that can be said about Don Draper is that in the age of materialism, which has been the Postwar era so far, such a talented man couldn’t express his genius in a meaningful field. Rather than being an artist, a scientist, or a statesman, he had to devote his talents to selling laxatives, ketchup, and lipstick.

Still, being an outsider, Don Draper is generally benefitting from the cultural revolution of the 60’s, that he fully embraces, despite losing his own family in the process:

Completely different is the fate of other characters, who embody the declining WASP elite. Here are the most representative ones:

Roger Sterling

If there had to be a single one quintessential elite Anglo-Saxon on screen, that would be him. Heir of the original agency’s co-founder (hence his “name on the building” he’s so proud of), Roger always had it easy until the 60’s. To paraphrase one of my famous countrymen, Roger “took the trouble to be born, no more,” except during the Second World War. Roger’s wittiness and charms enable him to be very efficient in handling clients, but can’t shield him from the cultural tsunami that washes America throughout the 60’s. Unable to resist the sexual revolution, he repudiates his wife Mona in favor of an Ashkenazi secretary, Jane, who will give him no heir. Once high on LSD, Roger realizes it was a bad move, which will leave him with two alimonies to pay for. His former wife Mona only gave him a daughter, who ends up living in a rural commune with degenerates after having abandoned her “beta provider” husband and her son.

Drugs are not enough to make him forget his feeling of void, which results in an explicit recognition of his own dispossession:

Having received a Classical European education, Roger thinks he can afford the luxury of playing dumb, for example when he intentionally mixes Spanish conquistadores, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, and “Mexicans” in a single sentence. In an other episode, he explains to Pete Campbell what “Munich” (i.e., surrender) means when it comes to negotiation, only seconds before he attributes to his mother the famous Churchill quote “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Obviously, someone who knows what “Munich” means also knows who delivered this statement after the Munich Agreement of 1938. Unfortunately for Roger, the 60’s are no longer the time for playing dumb, especially since his leadership is under siege.

“Duck” Phillips

While he’s not a very important character, Herman “Duck” Phillips plays the role of a scapegoat in the official narrative about the ’60s. Everything in his behaviour is wrong, to the point that the whole character becomes rather incredible. Incapable of self-mastery when he’s drunk, “Duck” makes fun of the speaker during an adverstising awards ceremony and tries to defecate in Roger Sterling’s office (believing it’s Don Draper’s) after having been fired from the agency. In spite of all these flaws, he’s always impeccably attired, very charming, and quite well-spoken. He’s also a war hero, having killed 17 Japanese soldiers in the Battle of Okinawa. The message seems to be as follows: when a man is handsome, well-educated, and successful, there must be something deeply wrong about him. This should explain why such types have almost entirely been driven out of Western elites in favor of ugly, incompetent, and sociopathic ones . . . but I digress.

Bert Cooper

Cooper is the other co-founder of the initial agency. Unlike Roger Sterling, who is a generation younger than he, Bert Cooper is a self-conscious conservative. He is very skeptical of “civil rights,” and implicitly asks she-office manager Joan Holloway/Harris to make sure the receptionist girl remains White. Bert Cooper is why conservatives can’t win. Though he disagrees with the triumph of the Moral Left in the ’60s, he never dares express it. Quite symbolically, he lost his testicles in a surgical operation that went wrong. He dies childless and heirless, the day Neil Armstrong sets foot on the Moon. One small step for a man, indeed . . . and one giant leap to the dustbin of history for country-club Republicans.

Conrad Hilton

Speaking of the Moon, the only real character of the series, hotel chain-founder Conrad Hilton (“Uncle Connie”), is a very telling one. He randomly meets Don Draper at a . . . country club, and then becomes a client for a short time. He ends his contract with the agency when Don fails to give him “Hilton on the Moon,” a literal request Don thought was only figurative. In a monologue that leaves the viewer wondering whether Hilton is mentally ill, he displays a worldview that is actually quite typical of the postwar Right:

Can we see “Uncle Connie” as a member of the dispossessed elite? Yes, if we bear in mind who one of his great-granddaughters is.

Lane Pryce

In his three-part review of the series at Counter-Currents, James J. O’Meara defined Lane Pryce as the agency’s sacrificial victim. That is true, though in my opinion, O’Meara doesn’t really explain how Lane Pryce is so. Pryce is a former auditor from the British company that had bought the initial Sterling Cooper agency. Then he becomes a junior partner in the new agency started by Sterling, Cooper and Draper. Due to fiscal problems with the United Kingdom, he tries to steal money from the agency. When Don confronts him about his forged check, Pryce resigns and hangs himself in his own office. I would suggest that Pryce is sacrificed for his very Britishness, the same way the Cosmic America fantasized by Conrad Hilton was born out of the sacrifice of English and British heritage. Jared Harris, who stars as Pryce, looks like the usual caricature of the English people in rival countries: a toad face at the top of a fat, listless body.

Pete Campbell

Pete Campbell is maybe even more representative of this dispossession: being 10 years younger than Don Draper, he has been deprived of his birthright before he was even born. At some point in the series, the viewer learns that his ancestry in America goes back as far as the Mayflower. Yet his father found a way to dilapidate his family’s fortune before dying and leaving his two sons with crumbs. Still believing in the American myth of the self-made-man, Pete thinks he’s going to make up for his father’s failures with hard work, only to discover that the dices have been rigged from the start against young, ambitious men like him (which, of course, is more of a concern for our generation than Pete Campbell’s, who is a baby-boomer; this is not the only way the writers managed to inject contemporary issues into the series). In a half-drunk rant, Campbell expresses his impatience about being patronized by the former generation. That reminds me of something.


I could go on and on, since there’s no shortage of examples, from the clients to the employees, as well as their families.

I keep thinking that the producers wanted to celebrate the replacement of this Old Anglo Elite by a Rainbow Coalition including women, gays, and minorities, chiefly Jews, given that the production crew is predominantly Jewish. In the very first episode, Roger Sterling asks Don Draper whether the agency has ever hired a Jewish copywriter. “Not on my watch,” jokes Don. It’s 1960. In the coming decade however, the agency is going to recruit many Jewish copywriters and Black secretaries.

Nevertheless, to show how hard it was for the Rainbow Coalition to overthrow this Old Anglo Elite, the producers had to depict it as a formidable enemy: a caste of good-looking, refined, well-mannered, educated aristocrats. By thus doing, they made this elite appealing, and many viewers could conclude that they would rather be ruled by such a gang than by the current one.

That said, one could have the same feeling watching Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (which was arguably the last liberal movie Kubrick made, before he started making conservative films, or outright reactionary ones like Eyes Wide Shut). The 18th-century aristocracy was, in many ways, admirable by its style and its brilliance. But it adopted the set of ideas and values that would lead to the removal of English rule in the thirteen colonies and of the King’s head in Paris. In like manner, Roger Sterling’s capitulation before the sexual revolution and Don Draper’s abandonment of his own family were foreshadowing the Great Erasure that was just about to happen. In the early 60’s, the agency sells a patriarchal and hierarchical American Dream. At the end of this crucial decade, the agency promotes alternative lifetsyles, women’s independence from their husband and family and minorities’ march through the institutions, with the partners hardly noticing this radical shift, and completely ignoring that it might undermine their rule.

Don Draper may embody all a man could dream of being and may succeed in all ways imaginable. He is also the last specimen of a dying breed. Let’s hope that the next European elite will know better and not confuse the Will to Power with the suppression of the very institutions that make it sustainable.

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