Cynical coda of ‘Mad Men’ finale: Coke is the real thing

An acquaintance of mine posted this question on Facebook last week: “Does anybody else find Mad Men‘s writing to be vapid, direction glacial, acting somnambulatory, and the cultural references boring?”

I asked my friend Swamp Rabbit if he’d like to respond, knowing he’d had plenty of time to watch TV while in rehab these past few months. “You jokin’ me?” he said. “I got a life, Odd Man. Got no time for TV.”

So I posted an answer of my own: Yes, I suspect most discerning viewers who followed Mad Men noticed that some of the plotting sagged and that many of writers’ references to the cultural milieu of the 1960s were laughably superficial.

So what? TV is a diversion. The most you can hope for in a TV series — in this case, a TV serial — is writing that’s good enough to occasionally generate scenes that illuminate the human condition. The same is true of most long novels. Viewers will encounter a lot of filler, no matter how good the writing, but they continue watching a serial for the same reason readers persevere with a long novel. They become emotionally invested. They stick around for the story-telling and, in particular, to witness how their favorite characters behave at critical moments.

I didn’t watch all of Mad Men, but I was a fan. The show had an unusually charismatic lead character — Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm — a quirky supporting cast, and a thoughtful head writer, Matthew Weiner, who focused on the world of commercial advertising to dramatize the socio-economic forces that metastasized into contemporary American culture, such as it is.

Weiner and his co-writers juggled a lot of sub-plots, some compelling and some not so much, and they seemed in early episodes of the final season to not know how to successfully resolve most of them. But give Weiner a lot of credit for how he handled what looked like the total crackup of his enigmatic anti-hero. In the final show’s final scene, Don Draper, after hitting bottom, is shown having an epiphany while chanting “Om” in a meditation group at some New Age-y spiritual retreat. His epiphany involves conceiving what will become a famously insipid TV commercial (circa 1971) that uses touchy-feely cliches to sell Coca-Cola, “the real thing.” Mad Men ends with the showing of the actual TV commercial.

I’d thought Don might kill himself or be killed in some sordid way, or maybe even find redemption in a good cause. Instead, he apparently is reborn as a sleazier version of his former self, selling a nutritionally empty icon of a spiritually bankrupt culture. The real thing.

Not bad for a TV show.

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Happy Ides of March, and watch your back!


If you want to get into the spirit of the occasion, give your friend a big smile and a high-five as you cross paths, right before you sneak up on him with knife in hand. Works even better when you conspire with your friend’s other friends and take turns stabbing. An individual backstabber is likely to be perceived as selfish, not to mention treacherous, but a group of backstabbers seems purposeful and, well, group-minded.

And keep in mind that backstabbing is only fun when the victim seems genuinely surprised by the first knife thrust. That’s why Julius Caesar is such a great role for certain actors. It calls for magnanimity as well as arrogance. And gravitas, of course. Louis Calhern is well-cast in the old film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the one with Brando as Antony. Rex Harrison is a grand Caesar in the movie Cleopatra, but he sometimes seems on the verge of belting out “Talk to the Animals.” The best Caesar on film is Ciaran Hinds in the HBO series Rome. The man has gravitas and is too sure of himself to heed warnings. He looks convincingly shocked that his friend and protege Brutus is among the conspirators. And the writers were smart enough to leave out the unnecessary et tu.

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Let’s rate news analysts on their track records

Too late, Friedman. You scored Minus 15 on Iraq alone. You're fired.

Friedman, you scored Minus 15 on Iraq. You’re fired.

The New York Times recently issued a “Libya is falling apart” editorial. As Glenn Greenwald noted, The Times failed to mention it was an enthusiastic supporter of U.S. air strikes that helped topple Moammar Ghadafi and destabilize Libya to the point where ISIS now has a foothold there. In fact, after Ghadafi fled, The Times went so far as to publish a front-page news analysis headlined “U.S. Tactics in Libya May be a Model for Other Efforts.”

Swamp Rabbit read Greenwald’s story and chuckled. “Glad them Times analysts are on the case. Without ’em, we might know what’s really goin’ on in the world.”

He scratched his mangy hide and added, “‘Scuse me fer bein’ so dumb, but how come they don’t just own up when they’s wrong?”

Good question. You would think The Times would not only own up to colossal errors of judgment but also fire the people responsible for such judgments, or at least demote them to the SundayStyles beat. But you would be wrong. Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman, the editorial board and so on are still going strong.

It seems the only real sin you can commit on the news side at The Times — at least when it comes to U.S. foreign policy — is to refuse to blindly accept the government’s version of events leading to military actions. Inaccuracies are acceptable, especially when a story is breaking. Corrections are made later, sometimes, after the bombs are dropped and thousands are dead and the government’s rationale for its large-scale act of destruction has been exposed as fraudulent. This is true not only at The Times, but at all mainstream news outlets.

We talked solutions. The rabbit proposed a self-policing system for the media run by some more-or-less reputable rag, maybe the Columbia Journalism Review. Stories written by Times staffers would automatically link to their other stories on the same subjects. Staffers would gain or lose points according to how accurate their stories turned out to be. Their ratings would be listed next to their bylines. For example, a reporter or pundit who was wrong on WMD in Iraq and U.S. tactics in Libya would merit a Minus 2. He or she could gain back points by admitting, in print, to their errors. Anyone who fell to Minus 10 would be fired.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “Who’s going to stick his neck out writing a report that might get him fired?”

The rabbit spit on the frozen swamp and said, “That’s the point, Odd Man. How else you gonna keep liars and fools out of the news business?”

Posted in humor, Iraq war, liar, mainstream media, New York Times | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Friday the 13th begets Valentine’s Day


The early morning sun glared through leafless trees and into my shack, urging me to action. “Go out and slay dragons,” Swamp Rabbit said. He was hungry and out of bourbon. There were supermarkets and liquor stores to rob. There was money to be made, if I could find a place to sell magic electricity.

“It’s Friday the 13th, I should stay home,” I told the rabbit. “But I feel like I’m stagnating here.”

“Of course you stagnatin’,” he said. “You live in a swamp, Odd Man.”

So I jumped into my rusty Honda and hit the road. A black cat crossed my path before I was even out of the swamp. Then I sideswiped a parked car on Chemical Road, breaking its side mirror. But my luck seemed to hold. I set up my table at a popular emporium on the Main Line, where the buildings are less tacky and the people supposedly more hip to the eco-benefits of magic electricity.

No luck. The shoppers were grumpy old men and housewives seeking air freshener and hipsters staring at their phones as they walked, as if taking directions from an unseen taskmaster. Everyone had to run a gauntlet of heart-shaped holiday balloons.

I called it a day and somehow ended up driving west on City Avenue, straight into the low-hanging sun, looking for a SuperFridge. I found a Shop-Rate, which is even better. You can usually count on them to have cameras that don’t work.

Back at the shack I unloaded fruits and greens and canned beans from my overcoat. The rabbit was happy when I pulled out a bottle of Wild Turkey, but then he twitched his whiskers and made a face.

“Ain’t no balloons or candy for my valentines,” he said. “You goin’ out again?”

I thought of former valentines and shivered. “I do Friday the 13th but not Valentine’s Day,” I said. “Don’t want to push my luck too far.”

Posted in economic collapse, fiction, Great Recession, humor, life in the big city, mainstream media | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

If you can’t do this exercise, you will die!

blonde exercising

You gotta love online news features, especially when they come from TV. This is from Fox 8 News in Cleveland:

It’s being called the exercise test that can predict your death. A physician in Brazil used something called the sit/rise test to show his aging patients the risk of losing strength and flexibility. The study found strength and balance are pretty good indicators of longevity.
Dr. Marc Gillinov, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist, said the sit/rise test is a simple way to measure your overall health. “This is what we call an observation study, which means it’s not of highest level of medical evidence, but I believe it to be true…”

A scoring system for the sit/rise exercise indicates how fit you are. If you do the exercise and score 8-10 points, you’re in great shape. If you score 0-3, “you’re 6.5 times more likely to die than those who scored high.”

I asked Swamp Rabbit what the latter statistic means. He said, “It means what it says, I guess. If you score high, you ain’t likely to die.”

“That’s a relief,” I said. “I’ve always wanted to be immortal.”

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Jon Stewart, the Rodney King of TV pundits

Can we all just get along?

Can we all get along?

Elias Isquith on Jon Stewart:

It’s the shallowness of Stewart’s politics that leads to his other notable weakness as a political pundit… his tendency to fall prey to the trap of blaming “both sides.”

Exactly. Stewart will end his run as host of “The Daily Show” this year, but he lost Swamp Rabbit and me back in 2010, during his “Rally to Restore Sanity,” an event based on the false premise that loud extremists on both sides “here [Washington, D.C.] and on cable TV” were to blame for government gridlock and the sad state of political discourse in America.

It was all very lofty and self-promotional and willfully ignorant of the fact that Republicans were in lockstep, blocking halfhearted efforts by Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress to pull the country out of the Great Recession. They were doing then what they’re still doing, except they now have a majority in both houses of Congress and are up against a lame-duck president. (OK, he was pretty lame to begin with.)

The point is, Stewart was and is a master of false equivalence, which our ostensibly centrist media uses to avoid the hard work of evaluating the information they gather. As Paul Krugman noted, long before Isquith:

America, it goes without saying, has a powerful, crazy right wing. There’s nothing equivalent on the left — yes, there are individual crazy leftists, but nothing like the organized, lavishly financed madness on the right.
But centrists have a very hard time acknowledging this asymmetry; they love to assert that both sides are equally wrong — and often seem to feel the need to invent extreme positions when they don’t actually exist.

That’s Stewart, always lambasting the obvious knaves on the right and straining to find their counterparts on the left. Always disingenuously echoing Rodney King’s plea that “we all get along.” In the end, the message of Stewart’s cutesy style of comedy and his fake news is hey, they’re all knaves, you’re better off just sitting on your asses watching my mildly amusing TV show than taking an active stance against the people who are wrecking your country.

Posted in Great Recession, humor, mid-term elections, Occupy Wall Street | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It takes a village of ‘experts’ to craft Hillary’s POV

Swamp Rabbit explains Hillary's quandary regarding income inequality

Swamp Rabbit ponders Hillary’s quandary regarding income inequality

The headline — “Economic plan is a quandary for Clinton ’16” — was provocative. The lede was downright bizarre:

With advice from more than 200 policy experts, Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to answer what has emerged as a central question of her early presidential campaign strategy: how to address the anger about income inequality without overly vilifying the wealthy.

“The laws that are too favorable to the wealthy,” I said. “At this point, the wealthy should understand this. It shouldn’t take 200 experts to state the obvious.”

“She’s betwixt a rock and a hard place,” Swamp Rabbit said. “Ain’t gonna be easy, solvin’ that there quandary.”

I wondered why I felt so worked up about Hillary’s campaign strategy. Then I remembered I’m one of the poors, living in a shack in the Tinicum swamp with an alcoholic rabbit. It galls me that she is trying to successfully mimic Elizabeth Warren’s call to fix income inequality, but without endorsing any of Warren’s remedies.

“She’s just another Democrat-in-name-only, trying to win without changing the status quo,” I said. “She’d rather alienate millions of poors than risk alienating her hard core of wealthy campaign contributors.”

The rabbit shoved some twigs in the wood stove and looked at me funny. “What’s so odd about that, Odd Man? If the rich quit givin’ her money, how’s she gonna afford all them experts to make sure she don’t piss off the rich?”

Posted in campaign finance reform, economic collapse, humor, liar, mainstream media, New York Times, plutocracy, The New Depression, unemployment, Wall Street | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments