Wednesday, April 17, 2013


No captain steers the ship that we’re aboard;
We’ve floated past the now forgotten beach,
And hipsters mock where once the lion roared,
And stupid teachers kill whom they should teach.
I need an ogre in my soul to keep
The mindless hordes from cutting out
My heart to feed it to the dogs that leap.
I need an ogre in my soul to doubt.
Beneath the surface swims the waiting shark.
The ocean everywhere – which way to row?
The water leaks in, soon will sink the barque,
And Yeats’s centre gave up long ago.
In five-twenty-nine AD did they know
The lamps that lit the world were burning low?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

"Mad Men"

I just finished a "Mad Men" binge. I had never seen the show before last week. Now I've seen seasons 1-5 and the first two hours of season 6. I caught up.

The show is well written, directed and acted. It is interesting, although I completely disagree with the show's point of view. The theme -- if I may be so bold as to state a theme when the naturalist writers of the show would maintain there is none -- is the conflict between the New Leftist culture and the older, less egalitarian culture it replaced. It's squares vs. hippies, and the show assumes that the hippies were on history's side. In a way, they are right: the squares are dead and political correctness reigns unchallenged in the present age. Whether history will show this to be a good thing remains to be seen.

The decade of the '60s is great for drama because it is so different, and yet so familiar. You get both worlds -- the other, as in science fiction, fantasy and historical; and the realism of contemporary life. I believe much of the show's appeal is a guilty fascination with life before the New Leftist/egalitarian cultural revolution. The clothing fashions, the attitudes and the furniture are appealing and deliciously non-PC. But even as the show uses the smoking, drinking and male-dominated office culture to keep viewers interested, it looks down on these ways with irony and sneers. The implication is that the nanny state was justified in outlawing tobacco smoke from the workplace, and of course all the isms of the New Left -- multiculturalism, environmentalism, feminism, PC -- are assumed to be positive advances.

There is a broader theme about man's nature that is shown mostly in the lead character, Don Draper, played perfectly by Jon Hamm. Draper is a man who lives a lie. To avoid spoilers, I won't go into his backstory. In the tradition of noir crime fiction, the character made a stupid decision and he struggles to live with it. Moreover, he lies to his wife and screws just about anything in a skirt. By one count he has sex with 13 different women.

The show asks if Don has a choice and if he can change. He is a tormented soul who struggles with these questions. The answer so far is unknown. Maybe the show will decide one way or another as to whether Don has free will. Jon Hamm says the underlying message about right and wrong is,
"There ain't none of us on the planet that are perfect. And I think that people recognize human frailties and foibles and f***-ups and identify with it, honestly. Superman is a cartoon character. He's not a real person. And no one is without sin, without mistakes."

Don is neither black nor white, but very gray -- and exasperatingly stupid, in my opinion. So the show is naturalism, which Ayn Rand defined as literature based on the premise that man does not have volition. If the show's creator, Matthew Weiner, reforms Don in the next two seasons, it will be interesting to see if he can pull it off believably.

As with most serious dramatic writing today, all ideas are delivered in subtext, but sometimes they are buried so deep that I wonder if I'm missing the point. (Subtext itself is a naturalistic technique; it makes characters inarticulate and incapable of consciously stating and pursuing their goals. It makes all characters ironic in Northrop Frye's meaning of the word: we look down on them, rather than admire them. Subtext is held as the the highest kind of writing today.)

The show is too slow for my taste. To have a good plot, you need more purposeful action. Not only are there no heroes in this show, there are no villains -- although in season 5 Betty Draper, Don's ex-wife, gets a little twisted by envy. I fear I might get bored in season 6.

There is one character who is supposed to be a fan of Ayn Rand, and who pushes Atlas Shrugged on his employees. This is hardly worth mentioning, because the writers show no understanding of how an Objectivist thinks. Nothing in this character sounds right. He comes off as an eccentric who liked Rand but didn't think about her philosophy for two minutes. (A typical conservative! No wonder he makes no sense.)

Anyway, it's nice to live for a while in a world where people smoke at the office, men wear hats and women wear dresses. Sadly, this world has disappeared from America and can only be experienced now in costume dramas.

UPDATE: Watched the third episode of season 6. Something snapped in me and I became bored and disgusted with the show. Those characters for whom I feel no contempt I am indifferent to. I have especially lost patience with Don Draper. Who cares about that weak, lying bastard? Same with Peter Campbell. Weiner has said he does not want to repeat himself, but men cheating on their wives gets old fast. I think they made a mistake trying to push the series into a sixth season.

Monday, April 01, 2013


I watched Kumare on Netflix. It is a documentary by Vikram Gandhi, an American of Hindu Indian descent. He is dubious of gurus, so he grows his hair and beard long, wears an orange monk-like costume and speaks in a phony Indian accent. He moves to Phoenix to operate as a guru, and actually gains a small group of followers. He creates a cult, but his followers do not know it is phony.

So far so good. As an Objectivist, the film strikes me as a dramatization of the absurdities contemporary Americans go through to find values and fulfillment (a profoundly selfish pursuit) when they have been told all their life that selfishness is evil. One woman cries because (as I remember it) she fears people will say she is selfish. Several others make a big show of saying that "helping others" is what life is all about.  All this nonsense results from altruism separating ideals from the reality of existence. The people in this film are seekers of ideals, but hopelessly lost in a sea of mysticism because modern philosophy teaches us that ideals cannot exist in reality. There is no logical thinking on display among the cultists in this documentary.

But an odd thing happens about halfway through the film. Mr. Gandhi loses his nerve. He sees that these vulnerable people believe in him, and he wants to help them. In a way, he begins to believe his lie. He gives them psychotherapeutic counseling.

He tells them to write down five things they want to accomplish and then take action to accomplish them. This is not bad advice, and many of the cult members do improve their life. Gandhi wants his followers to look within for solutions, not to a guru -- and this is good advice indeed. But one wonders if a filmmaker perpetrating a hoax, like Sasha Baron Cohen but not funny, has the right to change people's lives.

Gandhi plays a dangerous game with real people's lives, and it shows on his face as he nears the time he is supposed to reveal who he really is. In his first attempt, with his cult gathered around his backyard pool, he fails to come clean. He can't do it.

The second time he tries to reveal himself, some 40 days later in what seems to be a banquet room or community center, he does tell his real name, but the ending does not satisfy. He should have said something like, "I must apologize for perpetrating an elaborate hoax on you." But no apology comes. Instead, he maintains that he has done this for their good. He says his "ideal self is Kumare" instead of admitting that Kumare was a lie.

It is the eternal cry of meddling do-gooders: I lied to you for your own good! Sorry, I don't buy it. The most deluded fool in this film is Vikram Gandhi, who believed his own lie.