Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish
James J. O'Meara
Part Two: The Country of the Blind
Part 2 of 3
“Here Punch does a mean trick, very unworthy of his Satanic character. He tells the hangman that he has never been hanged before; and though he would be only too glad to be hanged he does not know which way to put his head into the loop, and asks the hangman to show him, which he does. And Punch suddenly fools the rope, and the hangman, who is the sole representative of legal vindication, is himself hanged! Hangman hanged, all law and authority defied, and every restraint annulled, Punch bursts out into triumphant song.” — Count Eric Stenbock, The Myth of Punch, edited by David Tibet (London: Durtro Press, 1999)
“American politics used to be fun. Powerful men making decisions. Now it’s just who has the most money and avoiding decisions.” — Comment at Classic Film and TV Café, February 2, 2012
In Part One of this essay (“Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish”), we suggested that just as long-running pop culture items, especially television series, will eventually reach a point where originality and creativity are displaced by clichés and gimmicks in a desperate attempt to maintain a profitable popularity — known colloquially as “jumping the shark” — so there is a related phenomenon, more directly interesting to our readers, in which the Judaic background and intentions of such programs (and note the interesting use of the word “program” for such works) gradually comes to the fore and is apparent for all to see, at least those Those Who Can See — not unlike the Masonic idea of The Revelation of the Method.
To illustrate this idea, we looked at the increasingly Judaic content of the TV show Mad Men; not merely the introduction of more and more Jewish characters and themes — positively portrayed, of course — but also an increasingly negative and even contemptuous handling of the main WASP characters in what is, after all, supposed to be a look at the early 1960s, when, for good or evil, America was still an overwhelmingly White country.
In particular, we looked at the antepenultimate episode, in which we were expected to accept the idea that the partners in a Madison Avenue company, even one involved in the suspect business of advertising, would offer a partnership to their office manager, Joan, in return for her prostituting herself to obtain a client. We identified this as a typical Judaic strategy of attacking the validity of WASP authority structures by “revealing” them to be “really” selfish and corrupt; and since selfishness and corruption are inherently Judaic characteristics, also removing any objection to their admission.
Since such Judaic “inversion” has become a part of our cultural fabric, a Judaic-created and sustained reflex of cynicism, a kind of “automatic gainsaying” as Monty Python might call it, we tried to find a point of reference by contrasting the way WASP collegiality is portrayed in a film made at the time portrayed in Mad Men: Otto Preminger’s film of Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent. We chose the film because, although it takes place in the US Senate rather than an ad agency, the plot, characters, and especially actors suggest a kind of “doubling” of the later TV show. This method of discovering hidden meaning resembles what Dalí called his paranoiac-critical method in which images are mapped onto each other to create, or discover, new levels of significance.
Although cynicism is the default attitude today, fans, to judge from the Internet blogs and chat, where shocked and distressed by the treatment of the popular Mad Men character Joan. Perhaps the writers had gone a little too far, perhaps “jumped the shark” too soon? It was this reaction that suggested to us that what we had here was an opportunity to see The Revelation of the Method in real time.
And indeed, with typical impudence, the writers decided to double down and, in the penultimate episode, have a somewhat less-liked character meet an even more grisly, but, as we shall see, even more revealing, fate.
1. “Haven’t had so much fun since the cayenne pepper hit the fan!”
By using Dali’s method of mapping Advise and Consent over Mad Men, we’ve seen how the cultural picture has been changed; the Judaic falsifies and cuts down to size the world of WASP collegiality, re-imagining it as being as mean, venal, and materialistic as his own kind.
Now let’s look at the micro picture, how the Judaic distorts the models that society provides for the individual‘s spiritual development.
In my second look at The Untouchables I added to the idea of doubling the motif of sacrificial death. Both motifs appear again now. Advise and Consent and this season of Mad Men each end in suicide. Advise and Consent’s Vice President Harley Hudson of Rhode Island doubles Mad Men’s Lane Pryce; but while in the film he also doubles the doomed Sentator Brigham (“Brig”) Anderson of Utah, offering the viewer a superior modus vivendi. In the TV show Harley’s double, Pryce, is simply identified with Brig and given Brig’s shameful death — rather than rising to the top, he kills himself in his office.
In Advise and Consent, an ailing, unnamed President of the United States nominates Robert A. Leffingwell as Secretary of State. The nomination is controversial, sparking a great deal of public debate and behind the scenes maneuvering. In the end, the Senate vote is tied. Vice President Harley Hudson refuses to break the tie; so the nomination fails. Then he informs them that the President has died during the vote. Hudson then leaves the Senate chamber with the Secret Service to take over as President.
Harley Hudson is the wimpy guy that stands up to the demagogue Senator Fred Van Ackerman of Wyoming, just as Mad Men’s Lane Pryce punches out Ackerman’s sneaky, blackmailing double Pete Campbell. Harley is the first major character we meet in the film, though at first he hardly seems like one: a little man in a big chair down on the Senate floor, gazed at with mild curiosity by foreign tourists who are confused as to how he can be President — of the Senate — but not President; he’s almost the last one we see, striding off the floor after becoming, in fact, the — new — President, surrounded by Secret Service agents, after using his last act as Vice President — or rather, refusal to act — to casually sweep aside all the clever and fatal political machinations of the “more powerful” Senators.
Harley got where he is presumably through some kind of convention compromise, rather like Joe Biden of Delaware, and oddly enough, he seems to be popular with the ladies, at least in a “dear sweet boy” kind of way. But his contribution to his party, and to his country, will be far more significant.
He is what Jack Donovan calls “the runt” — “He’s from one of those little states” explains the wife of the French ambassador — again, like Biden — and is sometimes called “little Harley” — who, like Wallace in The Untouchables , makes up for his size with moral courage and a keen mind, supplying the parliamentary maneuvers that saves the day — or, in this case, sets up the next round of the cosmic spiral.
In the film-world, both Harley and Brig are eager to do the President’s bidding. They are loyal and have been rewarded – Harley with the Vice Presidency, Brig with a coveted committee chairmanship. But loyalty has its price – or its “Pryce.” Harley seems to increasing chafe under the confines of his position, openly mocking Senate Majority Leader Bob Munson of Michigan by confessing to a murder — another secret! — knowing he’s not being listened to. For Brig — or “brig,” the closet where this ex-Navy man is confined — his brief elevation to committee chairman results in his death, to avoid public exposure, but it also results in the downfall of his tormentors Senator Seabright “Seeb” Cooley of South Carolina and Van Ackerman — the old and the new.
Seeb is forced to publicly admit his vendetta against the President’s nominee was largely personal, not patriotic, and Van Ackerman, despite “his kind of patriotism” is defeated, privately rebuked and forced to flee chamber, perhaps to resign or found a peace institute. As we have seen, in the ante-penultimate episode Joan is forced to commit moral suicide, but the partners triumph by getting the client. We might say that Joan is reborn as a partner, but it seems a hollow achievement — which is the Judaic’s point.
In the film, we see a different, more uplifting kind of re-birth when Harley, Brig’s double, reveals a final, last inch of inner hardness that Brig lacks.
At first, the movie seems to be about the President, and whether his nominee, Leffingwell, will be confirmed. About a third of the way in, this Hiss/Chambers mummery is completely forgotten, having merely served to set up the real drama, Brig’s secret homosexual fling in the Navy.
Then Brig kills himself, and we spend the rest of the film on the floor of the Senate, dealing with Seeb and Van Ackerman. It’s only when Van Ackerman’s shame-filled flight from the chamber results in a tie vote that we remember Harley has been presiding, thwarting Ackerman and aiding Munson, and suddenly we realize that the whole movie was about him. Or at least, contrasting his manhood, his spiritual virility as Evola would call it, to Brig’s.
The night before, two scenes ago, Brig and Harley had met on a flight from New York. As in The Untouchables, air travel, still relatively primitive in the early ’60s, is a dangerous, liminal situation calling for shamanic powers; on Mad Men, it’s been the scene of shape-shifting experiences for Don in Los Angles and Rome, and the schlubby Judaic who handles the TV accounts cultivates his LA sunburn as a status symbol. While in New York, Brig had been confronting his homosexual past and Harley speechifying to a women’s garden club. Our attention, of course, is on Brig, not Harley. He starts to impart some words of advice to Brig — is Harley another closeted homosexual, older and wiser, who recognizes Brig’s problem? — but they are interrupted, and the moment passes. Instead, the next development we expected is Brig returning to his office and killing himself.
Back to the climax of the vote, and the movie. Here, things play out differently than they did in Brig’s office. Van Ackerman is driven out, and when the vote draws to a close, Harley is privately informed that the President has died, making him, presumptively, the new chief executive. Like the shape-shifting corpses and sacrificial doubles we saw in The Untouchables, Harley, unlike Brig, has succeeded in escaping death by handing it to another – he does not die for the President, the President dies for him.
The vote ties, and Harley refuses to cast a vote; unaware of the President’s death, the Senators assume he has been defeated, stabbed in the back by his Vice President. As in The Untouchables, in the climactic scene when the juries are switched at the last minute and Capone’s lawyer changes his plea, chaos breaks out (although no one, like Robert de Niro’s Capone, starts swinging punches).
Seeb, who loves drama and upsetting apple carts more than winning, sits back, hands on big belly, smiling like a Buddha: “Something’s haaaaa-pened” he drawls to Munson.
Indeed, something has happened; the only thing that really happens, all else being illusion: the change of cosmic cycles, engineered by the Superior Man.
As René Guénon points out frequently, death is always and only simultaneous rebirth at another level, whether of the individual or of a whole cosmic cycle; a principle reflected in the saying “The King is dead, long live the King.” The same, somewhat un-democratic principle underlies the idea of Presidential succession.
The little man has revealed himself as having been, if not ostentatiously “in charge” all along, like the preening Munson and the uppity Van Ackerman, certainly as the one with the final say. He is the chakravartin, The King of the World who, motionless in the center (the Senate rotunda) causes all things to move. Seeb Cooley, looking on in pleased wonderment, drawls “I haven’t had so much fun since the cayenne pepper hit the fan” — an interesting, Southern-fried version of the traditional symbol of the fan, or swastika, whiling at the center of the universe, dispersing the various states of being.
Brig undertakes all sorts of actions — agreeing to head the Leffingwell committee, which upsets Ackerman and leads to the whole disaster, trying to confront his accusers in Washington and New York, ultimately failing and committing the last act, suicide.
But Harley, like the chakravartin or the Taoist Superior Man, acts effectively by taking no action at all — “The Vice President [like all realized men, he has no personality, and so refers to himself in the third person] will not exercise his Constitutional privilege to break this tie with an affirmative vote.”
As he makes his stately exit from the chamber, he deigns to explain himself to Munson: “I’d prefer to name my own Secretary of State.”
Like Bartleby, he prefers not to . . . accept the choice presented to him from the dead hand of the past. Unlike Brig, who allowed his past to control him, Harley will chose for himself. As Carl Schmitt’s would say, that one is the sovereign, who can choose during the State of Exception.
One might feel that what handicaps Brig, or simply manifests the same flaw in a different way, is his religious faith. As Nietzsche’s favorite historian, and Basel colleague, Jacob Burckhardt wrote regarding the moral sense of the great figures of the Renaissance, who served as the models for the Nietzschean Übermensch, they:
show, in respect to religion, a quality which is common in youthful natures. Distinguishing keenly between good and evil, they yet are conscious of no sin. Every disturbance of their inward harmony they feel themselves able to make good out of the plastic resources of their own nature, and therefore they feel no repentance. The need of salvation thus becomes felt more and more dimly, while the ambitions and the intellectual activity of the present either shut out altogether every thought of a world to come, or else caused it to assume a poetic instead of a dogmatic form.
Those who feel capable of making good any felt lack through “the plastic resources of their own nature” have no need of salvation from outside; those who do, are ripe for Christianity . . . and destruction.
Thus we see the meaning of the title: there are those who Advise — Harley to Brig, Harley to the Senate, ultimately, Harley to himself — and those who merely Consent — as Brig allows his enemies to control him through his past.
1. “You were kind of a double kid, I bet, right? Huh? One kid with your old man, one kid with your mother. You’re upper-middle class during the weeks, then you’re droppin’ your “R”s and you’re hangin’ in the big, bad Southie projects with your daddy, the fuckin’ donkey on the weekends. I got that right?” — Dignam, The Departed
2. See “Of Costner, Corpses, & Conception: Mother’s Day Meditations on The Untouchables & The Big Chill” both here and in my new book The Homo and the Negro: Masculinist Meditations on Politics and Popular Culture (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).
3. See Chapter Two of his The Way of Men (Milwaukee, Or.: Dissonant Hum, 2012).
4. See “’God, I’m with a heathen’: The Rebirth of the Männerbund in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables“ both here and in The Homo and the Negro, especially pp. 115-16. While, as I point out there, Wallace’s courage is shown when he enters what I call “full Berserker mode” and attacks Capone’s men with a shotgun, still swinging it when the bullets run out, the outwardly more placid nature of the Senate is shown by Harley’s equivalent outburst: “Hey, what got into Harley?”
5. Bogart‘s doctor during his final illness said “When a man is sick, you get to know him. You find out whether he’s made of soft wood or hard wood. I began to get fonder of Bogie with each visit. He was made of very hard wood indeed.” See my essay on Bogart here and in my book. One also thinks of Bunny Roger, WWII hero and legendary window decorator, who according to Nicky Halson‘s memoirs, Redeeming Features, was “was made of burnished metal. Physically very fit — I saw him run up mountains in Scotland, at the summit adjusting his makeup from a compact kept in his sporran — he was also fearless. As a captain in the Italian campaign, even if his tent was lined in mauve with gilt chairs, and his army overcoats altered to look like Garbo’s redingotes, he was revered by his men for the number of Germans he shot — “some right up the arse” — and after the war even refused ever to set foot in Germany.” See Chapter Five of The Homo and the Negro.
6. In Gabriel Over the White House, which Jef Costello calls “the feel-good fascist movie of 1933,” the President, modeled on Franklin Roosevelt, dies after achieving his greatest aim, world peace under American hegemony. In our film, the President is also modeled after Roosevelt, tries to achieve world peace by nominating an ex-Communist as Secretary of State — Henry Fonda as Alger Hiss — but dies before even knowing the outcome of the ultimately failed vote. That president is played by Franchot Tone, who played the president’s secretary and romantic rival in the earlier film.
7. Audiences no doubt expected the movie to feature the big star, Henry Fonda, as Leffingwell, to continue to hold the field, but he completely disappears; just as that same year Hitchcock definitely upset audience expectations by killing off “the star,” Janet Leigh, after spending the first third of the movie Psycho focusing on her story.
8. In Derek Marlowe’s A Dandy in Aspic, which I will be reviewing soon, the death of the titular double agent is referenced in code as “the passing of the buck” which suggests President Truman’s slogan, “the buck stops here.” The sequence here echoes the inaugural speech of President Kennedy – another FDR double – and eerily foreshadows his own, possibly sacrificial death.
9. A year or so after the film, this would be impressed on the public mind by Lyndon Johnson’s very publicly witnessed taking of the oath of office in mid-flight from Dallas, a photograph of which was speedily sent round the wire services. Throughout the Cold War there was some paranoia about being “leaderless” for even a moment, even if the President were under anesthesia during dental treatment, perhaps culminating in Alexander Haig’s bizarre announcement that he was “in charge” after Reagan’s shooting.
10. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Part Six: Morality and Religion.
Chapter 5, “Religion and the Spirit of the Renaissance,” available online here.
11. Though not particularly Nietzschean, the actor, Lew Ayres, is an interesting choice, according to this blog: “A whole generation was haunted by Lew Ayres reaching out for that butterfly in the final scene of one of the worthier Best Picture Oscar winners (All Quiet on the Western Front), but Ayres himself suffered for taking the lesson of that anti-World War One movie to heart. At the onset of World War Two, Ayres declared himself a conscientious objector and suffered savage criticism from all sides. He served honorably in the war as a medic, but refused to put himself in any situation where he would have to kill another human being. After the war, Ayres’ film career petered out, and he made most of his living from television guest appearances. As an older man, he devoted himself to a labor of love, a documentary about Eastern religion called Altars of the East (1955), which eventually grew into Altars of the World (1976), an intelligent, judicious look at faith of all kinds. In that engrossing film, Ayres shows that all religions are based around the precept that we must love our neighbors as ourselves, do unto others as you would have done unto you, and so forth. He spends a lot of time weighing the pros and cons of each faith; by the end, Buddhism wins out as the best and most challenging of disciplines. . . . This was a man so touchingly sensitive that the infamously grudge-holding Joan Crawford ended a book of interviews with Roy Newquist on a pained mea culpa for yelling at Ayres when he was late to the set of a movie they were making.”
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The Sand Pebbles