“Mad Men”s Roger Sterling was a noted progressive of his time / Photo Credit: AMC
Tomorrow’s “Mad Men”
by Franklin Malloy
One of the great thrills that highbrow-minded Americans enjoy in critically acclaimed shows like Mad Men and Game of Thrones is Self-Righteous Indignation, that most American of character traits. Lacking a central racial, cultural, or religious unity like so many other nations of the world, it is America’s sense of moral superiority that defines its character. We are the best because we are united by the ideology of “freedom.”
And thus comes part of the appeal of the popular, award-winning shows Mad Men and Game Of Thrones. In Mad Men, the series’ entire arc turns on America’s cultural shift from post-war white male dominance to the (arguably) more pluralistic and equitable nation that we live in today. Through the lens of our own contemporary experience, show creator Matthew Weiner scrutinizes the viewpoints of the era while we, the audience, are invited to judge with him. And so, we are stunned when Don Draper drives blind drunk behind the wheel of his car. We are appalled when Roger Sterling performs a musical number in blackface. We are outraged when a female character is raped by her husband with impunity, because husbands are entitled to sex on demand from their wives, headaches or no.
The same principal applies to Game of Thrones. Yes it is a fantasy story, but it is also clearly intended as an analogue for own world’s middle ages, and serves as effective dissection on the nature of power. Our faith in modern age is reinforced when we see a child monarch capriciously order executions, peasants fighting and dying for the benefits of a ruling elite, and prisoners of war beaten, starved, drowned, burned, or flayed. After all, western liberal Enlightenment values have clear ideas about the limits of executive power, egalitarian wealth distribution, and human rights. Although, to be fair, the Lords of Westeros do at least lead their armies personally to war, and often fight themselves. This is not something that modern leaders do. Not really, anyway…
Which raises an important question: Which of our societal traits will future generations of Americans look back on and feel superior towards? What gift of self-righteousness are we passing to them? Your classic, knee-jerk liberal hypothesis would point to the nation’s pointless struggle over gay marriage, its post-9/11 lurch towards violent tribalism, its draconian drug policies, the growing gap between rich and poor, the privatization of public information, and the proliferation of film adaptations based on boardgames.
Sadly, that’s all bullshit. If history is any guide, then the major social issues of today will be taken for granted in the future. That it took us so long to come to terms with treating everyone equally will be seen less as an act of national heroism and more as a source of national shame. The defeat of American slavery is not so much a noble moment in American history as the closing of one of its most terrible chapters. And that’s not even examining what happened next.
No, our descendants are going to hate us because of the environment, which will affect denizens of the future quite personally. Our impotent, yet self-lauding efforts to enact any sort of forward-thinking environmental policy will seem woefully and laughably inadequate to future generations facing global warming, submerged coast cities, contaminated drinking water, and mass extinction. And that is only if laughter is not outlawed by Lord Humungus, which it almost certainly will be. Plus, as a recently resurfaced report from the early 70s points out, MIT scientists- although regarded as suspicious by many on account of their education and intelligence- have revealed what basic logic should already teach us: Earth’s resources are finite, and without realistic sustainability policies, they will all eventually be consumed.
Of course, instead of treating environmental matters as an issue of urgency, we have Earth Day. A manufactured calendar curiosity created to “raise environmental awareness” (e.g. allow Americans to feel good about themselves without actually altering their behavior in anyway). Meanwhile, we allow those who are economically invested in despoliation to dictate the terms of sustainability. Scientists are vilified as members of a vast conspiracy to harm global economics for the sake of lucrative grant money(?), while the most vocal of the fossilized elite will be corpses rotting in graves before things start to really take a take a dive.
Most people claim to love their children, and hope to one day dote on their grandchildren, but after that it gets a little fuzzy. Your grandchildren’s children? And THEIR grandchildren’s children? They are theoretical people who you will not get to meet, and thus are not worth worrying about.
And what is imminent disaster when faced with the soothing balm of myopia?
Nevertheless, those who of us who do live to ripe old age will be asked to explain to our descendants- in vitro offspring to our daughter’s lesbian pentad marriage structure that was legalized back in ’38- why we were so wasteful. What sort of Deus Ex Machina were we expecting to come and in and restore our lost resources or clean up our poisoned landscape? Were we waiting for The Rapture? Some pseudo-scientific magic bullet? That if we clicked “Like” enough, or wrote enough snarky blogs, our weak and pleading voices would somehow reshape the formless digital aether? And what did you think was going to happen to all of those non-biodegradable plastic bags you dumped in the ocean?
Then we’ll sigh and tell them that it was a different time. We were debating important issues like whether homosexuals should be entitled to marry, or whether poor people should have medical treatment when they are sick, or whether 40 years of stagnant wages would harm the middle class. We were calibrating our calculations of “freedom”. But hey! We gave you Earth Day. An ironic gift (we were very into irony) that will allow you to look back at us with the same self-righteous disdain that we look upon our savage ancestors. And every Sunday night they will insert that weird AppleFaceGE Matrix-thingy into the backs of their skulls and savor the new hit show Vid-Show about the charmingly amoral Oil Industry Lobbyists from the first half of the 21st century.
The dialogue will ring falsely, and we will harp on the inaccuracies. But the young will, naturally, ignore us. The era will no longer be ours to define or judge.