suffer from cultural claustrophobia. What is “cultural claustrophobia?” It is the feeling of being imprisoned in a culture that is basically anti-freedom, anti-capitalist, anti-American, anti-reason, and anti-value. In short, of being marooned in an alien, hostile, leftist culture determined to wear or beat down anyone who won’t yield to its propaganda and beseechments and stealthy osmosis and refuses to get with the collectivist program. Writing critiques like this one is my way of pushing away the moldy, fly-specked walls that threaten to suffocate me, of kicking down the closet door, and breathing some fresh air, before the walls close in again, and I push back anew.
I do not think I am alone in suffering this phenomenon. It is quite common among men who see the civilized world slipping into anarchy and tyranny and cannot understand why. Ayn Rand called it “our cultural value- deprivation.”*
Oft times, as an antidote to contemporary culture, and feeling lonely for a cleaner, rational, and more honest world, I will re-read a classic novel or nonfiction book, or watch an older movie (pre-1965, when the last of the epics was made), or just listen to music that was meant to be listened to and enjoyed, and not endured. Mostly classical, some popular, but rarely contemporary.
“One can feel nostalgia for places one has never seen,” remarked Greta Garbo in Queen Christina. And, of course, one can feel it for times one has lived through.
But, some sojourns of nostalgia do not necessarily take one back to happier times. It all depends on who is tinting the photographs. A Marxist will blur Rockefeller Center and call it a slum. The creators of “Mad Men” populate it with scoundrels, prostitutes, neurotics, power-lusters, and fools, and call it “life in America.”
AMC’s “Mad Men” is a lavishly produced instance of literary naturalism, “things as they were” in the early to mid-1960s, with no real plot direction, no real resolution or denouements of any of the plot or subplots, posing as “social criticism.” Actually, is it a super-sized nighttime version of a daytime soap opera. There are no heroes in the series; virtually all the characters are manipulative, dishonest, repressed, or blindly avaricious frauds. If a character isn’t a villain, then he is a victim of the villains.
But then, literary naturalism cannot tolerate heroes. Heroes overcome conflicts and solve problems. There is a multitude of conflicts in “Mad Men,” but no defining resolution or closure of them, except by happenstance or on the whim of the director; there is no way to distinguish which. All the principal characters repeatedly succumb, and without much resistance and often with relish, to their flaws, foibles, and amorality.
I watched all five available seasons of “Mad Men” on Netflix. There are plot spoilers ahead, for anyone who has not seen any of the series episodes. The sixth season has already debuted, which I have not yet seen. A seventh is in the works.
When I lived in New York City, I worked on Madison Avenue, in the 1970s, for two large firms as a teletype agent and as a proofreader. I recognized the trade culture in the series, and the ads, the brand products, the offices, the smoking, the drinking, the clothing styles, and all the other recreated concretes that went into lending “Mad Men” a large and credible dose of verisimilitude.