Thursday, 28 June 2012

Mad Men: "It's not your tooth that's rotten," it's "The Phantom." (Clearly another installment in this never-ending series.) My previous post, on "The Wheel," discussed in great detail the relationship of Don Draper to his past via the fading photographs of him and Betty and the children. "Nostalgia," Draper says,"literally means pain from an old wound." The "twinge" Don describes to the Kodak Eastman people is tinged with sadness—the life projected on the wall is one his actions have destroyed—but it is also a pain that's tempered by the knowledge that it can be compartmentalized. The Kodak Carousel is more than a projector: the titular wheel effectively functions as a container for captured moments that can be opened and reexperienced at a whim or it can be a simple storage device for memories a person wants to know are safely preserved. This second person doesn't necessarily want to reexperience their lives one twinge at a time, but the thought of being unable to do so could cause a pain unmitigated by memory. This would be a powerful pain, a constant reminder of itself by virtue of its absence. In "The Wheel," Don feels remorse for transforming the family projected on the wall into something that evokes no more than the twinge of memory. He claims that twinge is "more powerful than memory alone," but clearly it isn't. In the fifth season finale, "The Phantom," directed, like "The Wheel," by Matt Weiner, the problem with Don's definition of nostalgia is immediately challenged by, of all things, a toothache: But his toothache isn't an ordinary toothache. As his dentist informs him later in the episode, his tooth had formed an abscess, which means that its core has become rotten and the tooth must be pulled. It's an absence that can only be treated by the creation of a larger controllable absence. Early in "The Phantom," the abscess functions as a physical manifestation of the guilt Don feels about his complicity in the suicide of Lane Pryce in "Commission and Fees." Weiner signals as much in the form of the phantom that accompanies Don's pain: The reverse from Don's swollen jaw and tired eyes to Adam's calm and open face connects the pain to its source: Lane's the second person who came to Don for help and, after being turned away, committed suicide. Don can feel a "twinge" of nostalgia for the family he fathered under his assumed identity, but his feelings for his younger brother, Adam Whitman, are complicated by the fact that he tried to store them in a wheel he knew he'd never attach to a Carousel. Adam had been stored and compartmentalized, incapable of causing a "twinge," at least unil Lane's suicide forces Don to remember his complicity in Adam's. In keeping with the carousel as a central image, Don's abscessed tooth is the equivalent of being forced to watch Adam meet his end a la Once he questions his role in Lane's death, Don is incapable of thinking about his life in the neatly compartmentalized way to which he'd...
Every fancy must one day run amok. If you know any conservatives, you've likely come across this "witticism" recently: The Food Stamp Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is proud to be distributing the greatest amount of free meals and food stamps ever. Meanwhile, the National Park Service, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior, asks us to 'Please Do Not Feed the Animals.' Their stated reason for the policy is because the animals will grow dependent on handouts and will not learn to take care of themselves. This ends today’s lesson. It originated, as best as I can tell, as a letter sent by Billy Fleming to the Miller County Liberal on 13 June 2012, but in the three weeks since it's been shared over 29,000 times and extensively cited with praise by conservative bloggers. I'm not going to link to the sites individually because the appeal of Bill Fleming's logic is obvious: it validates the belief that people who find it difficult to feed themselves during one of the worst economic downturns in American history are no better than wild animals. If poor people are like wild animals, this argument insists, they deserve none of the sympathy reserved for the suffering of human beings, nor do they deserve succor from the taxed income of upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming. So instead of thinking along the lines of the Biblical injunction to be stewards of the planet, upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming conclude that the poor, like wild animals, should learn to fend for themselves. Moreover, they should do so just like wild animals do, under the auspices of the National Parks system, which is funded by the taxed income of upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming. But unless upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming are able to transform their analogical dehumanization of the poor into a legal reality, the poor inhabiting the National Parks will not be wild animals playing parts in the Darwinian daydreams of upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming. They will be displaced citizens with the right to petition the government for temporary housing and access to potable water and edible food. Instead of being minimally dependent on the federal government for meager food subsidies, the displaced poor would be maximally dependent on the federal government for all the necessities of life. Schools would have to be built. Police departments would have to be formed. Sanitation departments would have to be funded. Roads and bridges would have to be improved. The entire infrastructure of modern American society would have to be recreated in what had been the wilds of the National Parks. This means that the tax burden the poor place on upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming would actually increase if upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming had their druthers. The only way to prevent this from occuring would be declare that poor people are not like wild animals, but that they are wild animals. In which case, upstanding citizens like Bill Fleming are simply terrible people who barely merit membership in the...

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