The stupor of modern life

20 07 2010

AG and I love to watch and discuss the show, Mad Men. So I was pleased to find the following essay by Heather Havrilesky concerning the upcoming fourth season of the show (found through the Conservative Blog for Peace). Cutting through the excessively florid prose that almost borders on pretentiousness, I found that the following passages capture why this show appeals to a certain educated sector of the American public:

Americans are constantly in search of an upgrade. It’s a sickness that’s infused into our blood, a dissatisfaction with the ordinary that’s instilled in us from childhood. Instead of staying connected to the divine beauty and grace of everyday existence — the glimmer of sunshine on the grass, the blessing of a cool breeze on a summer day — we’re instructed to hope for much more. Having been told repeated stories about the fairest in the land, the most powerful, the richest, the most heroic (Snow White, Pok√©mon, Ronald McDonald, Lady Gaga), eventually we buy into these creation myths and concede their overwhelming importance in the universe. Slowly we come to view our own lives as inconsequential, grubby, even intolerable.

Meanwhile, the American dream itself — a house, a job, a car, a family, a little lawn for the kids to frolic on — has expanded into something far broader and less attainable than ever. Crafty insta-celebrities and self-branding geniuses and social media gurus assert that submitting to the daily grind to pay the mortgage constitutes a meager existence. Books like “The 4-Hour Work Week” tell us that working the same job for years is for suckers. We should be paid handsomely for our creative talents, we should have the freedom to travel and live wherever we like, our children should be exposed to the wonders of the globe at an early age…

While “Mad Men’s” detractors often decry the empty sheen of it all, claiming that it has no soul, clearly that’s the point. The American dream itself is a carefully packaged, soulless affair. This is the automobile a man of your means should drive. This is the liquor a happy homemaker like yourself should serve to your husband’s business guests. As absurd as it seems to cobble together a dream around a handful of consumer goods, that’s precisely what the advertising industry did so effectively in the ’50s and ’60s, until we couldn’t distinguish our own desires from the desires ascribed to us by professional manipulators, suggesting antidotes for every real or imagined malady, supplying escapist fantasies to circumvent the supposedly unbearable tedium of ordinary life.
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