And now from the file of "just when you thought it couldn't get any worse." If you will remember, for some reason I stooped last year to critiquing the AskMen magazine list of 2008's most influential men (I think I was angry that my vote for the Cookie Monster had been disqualified for a hanging chad). Of course I don't subscribe to any of these magazines, or read them online, but my startpage is at one of those big webservers that serves up a pile of propaganda posing as news everyday, for our edification (brainwashing). Out of sheer curiosity, I click on these items occasionally, to see how far gone we are as a species this week (a scientist must keeps tabs on everything, including that). So last year I came up with a few recommendations based on my reading of the list, leading with the recommendation that you don't ask the modern man anything, if you want a sensible answer (not that I am anti-male: I could say the same for women and their magazines, but that is another paper).
Now here I am once more, a glorious year later, wasting another hour in between real projects that take real concentration, amusing myself and possibly you by addressing again the preposterousness of modern culture (and making up words). I was led into this by the headline at Yahoo that Don Draper had been voted the most influential man of 2009. Since I don't watch TV (except occasional reruns of Bewitched on DVD), my immediate reaction was, "huh?" It turns out Don Draper is a fictional character, the lead of the TV show "Mad Men," currently airing at AMC. This slapped me in the face with irony without having to know more, since we find the mad men of the 21st century yearning to be fictional characters, despite the fact that the majority of them already are. For the most part and in general, modern males look, act, and speak like androids improperly programmed to mimic human behavior; like holograms beamed to the earth by aliens--aliens not fully versed on the complete creature; like two-dimensional, slick-paper punch-outs from a Dick and Jane story. I find myself feeling the edges of people I meet, to see if the perforations are still intact. This tells me how long they have been out of the book (or novelization, actually).
This is another reason we find Don Draper at the top of the fake poll. Yes, Don Draper is a top advertising director in the show. So we may guess that real advertising directors--the ones making or recommending these bids--are the biggest fans of Don Draper. They love to see their own business glorified.
I have let the modern man off the hook to a small degree, since this election, like all modern elections, was stolen. If there were any votes from actual human men, they were stuffed and padded and extended by votes from big business. The votes were counted by Diebold. However, it remains true that "Mad Men" is a very popular show, so we must reel in the modern man once more, hooking him heavily in the cheek. I took the time--the subtle and mischievous gods know why--to study this Don Draper, and he is not the sort of fake person a real person would choose to be influenced by, or even entertained by. First of all, we have that advertising thing. Not to put too fine a point on it, most big advertisers are scum. They are professional liars, paid to sell useless and often harmful products to people who don't need and don't want them. Don Draper is based on the real-life (I say that generously) character Draper Daniels, the head of a big Chicago agency in the 1950's that created the Marlboro Man campaign. QED: Point proved. Draper Daniels was paid big money to make lung cancer look sexy, and the producers of "Mad Men" are paid big money to make a shallow phony like Don Draper look sexy.
Don't pretend this is what the show is teaching them, because it isn't. It is teaching them just the opposite: it is teaching them to want all these things. The advertisers behind the show need them to want all these shiny plastic things, because that is what they sell. They sell suits and hats and gym memberships and hair transplants and make-up for men and so on and on. The show is glorifying the American male, hiding that glorification a bit by taking it back to the '50's. But by going back to the past, the glorification can be extended and heightened, since the human mind has always been a sucker for nostalgia. There may be something wrong with the contemporary male, but Oh! if we could just go back to the '50's, when men were men.
Infantile, pathetic, deluded, yes, but it sells like hotcakes. Sell the American male a earlier form of himself, a Hemingway-ified, John Galt-ified paean to manhood, to keep him from noticing that his current form of banal narcissism is a direct outcome of these earlier forms.
And, hey, we can now sell him hats, too! I know without even looking that the hat is making a comeback in NYC and LA, since I can see that this was one of the goals going in. We have no new ideas, in fashion or anywhere else, so recycle the old ideas. The hat is a product that costs money, so bring it back! If the advertisers were really thinking, they would bring back watch chains and ruffled collars and shoe buckles and handkerchiefs and gloves and monocles and codpieces and anything else that was ever worn in history. What they want to do is load the modern man down with products, so he should be wearing at least 50 pounds of garments, toiletries and dry goods at any one time, even while asleep.
Just to show you what a farce this all is from the word go, let us return to the backstory. We are told that Don Draper was in the Korean War. That figures, since war is always part of the story of the American man. But he isn't any sort of hero. That would be too obvious. No, Draper actually killed his army buddy in an accident, but rather than take responsibility for that, he switched identities, changed the story, and was awarded a purple heart. To say it another way, he found a way to be rewarded for killing a friend. And he was doubly rewarded, because this friend was upwardly mobile, while he was not. The show doesn't dwell on this; rather, it spins it. This doesn't make Draper a creep, we are made to feel, it makes him "mysterious." Like Gatsby and Ted Bundy, his good looks allow him to get away with this and a lot more, but the audience never calls him on it. Why? We may assume it is because they wish to be good looking enough to get away with stuff. They wish to buy a suit, a hat, and a position, so that they may dodge responsibility indefinitely. That's a positive influence for you.
As per the modern advertising blueprint, AskMen sells all this as just the opposite of what it is. The blurb for number 1 leads with this: "Draper values personal honor." No he doesn't! He has a purple heart for killing his friend. That is the opposite of honor. He works in advertising. That is the opposite of honor. Then we are told this: "Don Draper's business culture might have its share of viciousness and intrigue, but it's also one in which identity and personal accountability is sacrosanct." Advertising in the '50's was about the sanctity of accountability? Hardly. Advertising in the '50's was the same as it is today, when these advertisers at AskMen can lie right to your face. As long as the lie has a picture of George Clooney and Brad Pitt next to it, you will take it and thank them for it.
Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook's face) is at number 4! He shelled out some major dough for this placement, I would guess, but, hey, the CIA is paying him very well. He can afford it. Does anyone over age 8 actually believe that a human manchild, no matter how braindead, would vote for Zuckerberg without the CIA waterboarding him first?
Simon Cowell is at number 5. Gee, Obama must be pleased to be on the same list with Simon Cowell. The President is only marginally more influential than the host of The Gong Show, and marginally less influential than a phony actor playing a phony character on a soap opera. AskMen says, "You can't help but admire the man behind American Idol." Somehow, I can help it. I guess I am just like that: I never had to eat a whole bag of Lays potato chips, either, and I never did like-a that spicey meatball, and I never wanted to be an Oscar Meyer wiener.