Friday, 29 January 2010

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Phony political scientist sees morons at fake Independence Hall and is impressed. With all apologies to J.D. Salinger, I can't resist reading Donald Douglas's account of a Michele Bachmann event at Knott's Berry Farm in Holden Caulfield's terms. This is contemporary conservatism boiled to the bone: some morons convince a phony of their patriotism by speaking before a replica of an actual American institution. Douglas's photo-essay captures what history signifies when you subscribe to Tea Party logic even more starkly than those fake patriots who demonstrate their solidarity with the Founding Fathers by showing up at rallies with tea-bags. Did I say rallies? I meant "sparsely-attended speeches by purported conservative celebrities in the most conservative county in the country," because as Douglas's own photos attest, David Horowitz and Michele Bachmann have little drawing power within spitting distance of the birth place of Richard Nixon. Not that Douglas would care, mind you, because he can't tear his authentic eyes away from all the ersatz history. Even his grammar becomes ambiguous in the presence of all this fakery:As you can see, the park's Independence Hall is an exact replica of the original historic landmark in Philadelphia, PA. Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed there.The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed in Knott's Berry Farm's Independence Hall? According to Knott's Berry Farm, they most certainly were: Douglas then produces: [a] shot of the [Knott's Berry Farm's replica of the] bell's famous crack.The faked crack on the fake Liberty Bell is famous? All morons hate it when their grammar reveals that they're morons. Not that it's just the grammar, as his caption to this picture demonstrates: "[t]he sweeties at the gift counter, in 18th century dress." If you press your ear against the monitor, you can almost hear him declaiming: "That is too an authentic 18th century windbreaker!" But perhaps the best part of Douglas's account is the definitive evidence that Tea Party patriots don't know from English. He notes that Michele Bachmann came to California straight from Washington and the last night's SOTU. She reminded the crowd that this time last year the big talk was Joe Wilson's "you lie," while this week it's Samuel Alito's "not true," and she turned that into a little chant to fire up the patriots in attendence. If that chant sounds like Douglas suggests it does—"You lie! Not true! You lie! Not true!"—then those patriots sure told Joe Wilson a thing or two. Update. If you're going to pretend to be an academic, Donald Douglas, you shouldn't link to something that says I'm a "Doctor of Philosophy of English," then write that I claim to have "a Ph.D. in the 'Philosophy of English.'" People who work in academia should, after all, know what the letters "Ph.D." stand for. Moreover, survival in academia requires the actual refutation of points. It's cute that you noticed I made two typographical errors, but neither error was material to my argument, the substance of which you've yet to refute.
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More on the visual rhetoric of Mad Man (after a brief acknowledgment of the magnitude of my wrongness). In the first comment to my first post on Mad Men, Tom Elrod wrote: I definitely want an update to this post once you've finished the third season. I can't really respond much to this post until then, because I don't want to spoil anything[.] Nor do I. If you plan on watching Mad Men but haven't seen the third season finale, stop reading now. In a fit of remarkable wrongness, I wrote: So Peter and Peggy are not left behind because, over the course of two seasons, they learn to love and accept modernity in their hearts. They still seek Draper's approval, but they recognize that he's valuable in a way the world soon stop valuing. When the rapture comes, they know Draper won't be numbered among the chosen [...] Nor, for that matter, will Joan Holloway[.] Had Matt Weiner decided to re-shoot "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." after having read my post in order to maximize my wrongness, he wouldn't have had his work cut out for him. This shot alone refutes much of what I wrote: There sit Pete and Peggy, toiling into the future alongside Draper and Joan in the temporary headquarters of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Why was I so wrong? I didn't anticipate that Draper would recognize that he belonged to the past. He admits as much when Pete demands Draper tell him why he's needed: You've been ahead on a lot of things. Aeronautics. Teenagers. The Negro market. We need you to keep us looking forward. I do, anyway. In one respect, then, my claim that Pete and Peggy belong to the future is validated; but unfortunately for me, my claim's being validated by the very person I had claimed was constitutionally incapable of recognizing its validity. My argument went awry because I failed to account for the complexity of Draper's reaction to Betty divorcing him: without the illusion of a perfect marriage to stabilize his conception of self, Donald Draper is as free to reinvent himself as Dick Whitman had been. I think. More on Draper as a character later. For now I'd like to focus on just how effective Matt Weiner's direction of "Shut the Door. Have a Seat." was. Mad Men typically uses the angle and level of framing fairly conventionally. Consider the scene in which Betty leaves for her rendezvous with Henry Francis: The dominant character literally towers over the subservient one. When the shot shifts to them individually, the angle of framing reinforces their respective positions. Dominant Betty is shot from a slightly lower angle—you can tell the canting of the camera by the fact that the ceiling is almost visible: But although Draper is shot looking up at her, the camera is framed almost level to his head, meaning it is barely even tilted: In visual terms, he is only barely the lesser party, which is in keeping with the tone of the scene (if not the season): he may not be dominant, but he is...

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