Archive for the BUNKUM Category

Humbuggery & Hat Tricks: How 400 Years of American Con Culture Paved the Way for Trump

Posted in AMERICANA, BUNKUM, CULTURE & POLITICS with tags , , , , on February 21, 2017 by travsd
"The Duke", who was nothing of the sort, from Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn"

“The Duke”, who was nothing of the sort, from Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn”

In November, 2016 America elected a reality television star and periodically bankrupt heir to a real estate fortune to the most powerful office in the world, purportedly on the strength of his blunt honesty and business acumen. Yet during the 2016 Presidential campaign, non-partisan fact-checkers determined that Donald Trump lied 75-85% of the time (the average for a politician, including all his rivals in the 2016 primaries and general election, is about 25%). When not lying outright, the remainder of Trump’s discourse tends to live in the realm of the quasi-lie, peppering his speech with boasts, and hyperbolic, easily refutable rebuttals on the order of “I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met.”

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Trump’s mendacity is palpable, in fact, brazenly unhidden, and yet close to 62 million Americans chose him to be the man who will steer the United States for the next four years. They literally put their lives in his hands. This, in an age when it is unprecedentedly easy to catch a public figure in a dishonest statement; the history of everything up to about five seconds ago is available online. Trump says he respects Mexicans? The footage of him disrespecting Mexicans is a click away for anyone to see.

Many of us were and continue to be astounded by the fact that any adult American, let alone millions of them, would give credence to anything this man says. But perhaps we shouldn’t be.

"Ten beads, huh? Will you take seven?"

“Ten beads, huh? Will you take seven?”

America’s traditional relationship to such bunkum as Trump routinely spouts hasn’t been exactly critical. In point of fact, “admiring” tends to be the more apt descriptor. For better or worse, ever since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from the Indians for a handful of trinkets, the Art of the Swindle has been a beloved American tradition. It’s a national archetype of sorts, one that cuts across nearly every field of human endeavor. We don’t just tolerate but embrace quack doctors, fraudulent preachers, crackpot inventors, patent medicine salesmen, sham artists, tabloid reporters, used car dealers, and cheating politicians.

Not that similar characters haven’t always been present in every nation, particularly in recent years as the globe becomes increasingly Americanized, but perhaps nowhere so pervasively, so cheerfully, as the United States. The question is why? Why here? Why us?

I’ve made a study of such characters, even going so far as to name my theatre company, formed in 1995, “Mountebanks”. A mountebank is a con artist. The term dates to Medieval times when hucksters would “mount the bench” at fairs and open air markets to sell their miracle cures using nothing but the magic of their oratory. He is the ancestor of the television commercial. I believe a combination of factors came together to make America the ideal habitat for this tradition:

Burt Lancaster as "Elmer Gantry"

Burt Lancaster as “Elmer Gantry”

PROTESTANTISM: America privileges the subjective over the objective, the individual “testimony” rather than the “official authority”. This has its roots in the invention of the printing press, which lead to widespread literacy, which lead to Protestantism, which lead to a culture of ever-dividing sects. In relatively unpopulated (or depopulated) early America, this process was metastasized. In early America, if you felt differently from your local religious authorities, all you had to do was move away and start a new town or colony or camp or cult where you could worship as you chose. The ultimate culmination of this is the evangelical tradition of “testifyin’”– personal revelations, faith healing, and latter-day miracles. Ironically, in the end, within the subculture there is social pressure to believe the individual who testifies. No testimony can be false. This tradition extends beyond religion. Our scientific heroes are the independent descendants of the heretical Galileo, not the pettifogging bureaucrats of The Academy. We love individuals, eccentrics and mavericks.

"Who am I to sell you medicine? Why, CLARK STANLEY, of course! Says so, right on the flyer!"

“Who am I to sell you medicine? Why, CLARK STANLEY, of course! Says so, right on the flyer!”

DEMOCRACY: A related phenomenon is America’s leveling democratic tendency, again starting with Protestantism. It began with breaking with the Pope, then Kings, then “politicians and fat cats”, and lately, it’s been ALL government or expertise of any sort: scientists, journalists, and the like are all under suspicion. At the same time (on the positive side) we have this social mobility…it is well known that anyone from any walk of life can apply himself and become a scientist, clergyman, lawyer or what have you. Of course, in the past, such people, if not educated, were at least self-educated (such as scientific inventors or lawyers, like, say, Abraham Lincoln). In the Information Age, the leap has been that even THAT is not required. “My opinion is as good as anyone else’s”. The ironic result has been an erosion in the belief in authority. The practical trouble with that is, in our complex society we frequently require the services of people with skill and knowledge we don’t have, people who can do things like draw up a contract or diagnose an illness. Ironically a skeptical disbelief in legitimate authority makes us vulnerable to those who claim to possess the knowledge we need, but actually don’t.

Davy Crockett -- once wrassled a b'ar

Davy Crockett — once wrassled a b’ar

THE FRONTIER: This has become less a factor since the mid 20 th century, but it played a crucial role during our culture’s formative years. Geographical isolation, with no long-distance communication was a fact of life for most Americans. This was a condition most of Europe had not known for several centuries, and it resulted in an echo of a phenomenon that had appeared in Europe in ancient and Medieval times: the generation of native “tall tales” and folk tales. The land was Terra Incognita. In fact, often enough true reports would appear far-fetched. There was nothing like the rattlesnake or the grizzly bear or the giant redwood in the Old Country. People would return from their travels and return with incredible sounding stories. If one’s story were not incredible, it was a simple matter to make it so with scant fear of fact checking.

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CAPITALISM AND COMMODIFICATION: This factor, too, was an outgrowth of Protestantism, by way of the Calvinist Work Ethic, resulting in the gradual erosion of Christian social prejudice against the profit motive. Social permission to make a buck, and the competitive environment in which that happened resulted in a great leap forward in the art of salesmanship. Grandiose claims on behalf of products were made through a variety of media. The Industrial Revolution increased the scale and pace of this process even further. There was now much unprecedented temptation and incentive to lie, or at least “puff” and exaggerate. The boast on behalf of your product may be thought of as “acquisition by other means”: dreamstuff as literal money in the bank. Further, the constant competition for consumer dollars resulted in incentive to pursue, niche, novelty in order to stand out from competitors. People who got in on the ground floor of innovative new products made fortunes. But it has always been impossible to tell in advance what the Next Big Thing would be. The important thing is the CLAIM. “I’m telling you– put your money in ostrich farms. You can’t lose!”

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INVENTION: Another factor is an idea identified by author Neil Harris in his book Humbug: The Art of P.T. Barnum which he calls “the Operational Aesthetic”. Because of the technological and informational boom in America (made possible by all sorts of factors), there came an ironic tendency to trust jargon-spouting self-made experts. Literal “miracles” seemed to be happening every day: inventions like the hot-air balloon, electricity, etc etc etc. This left room for all manner of crackpots and quacks to exploit the credence of people who’d come to cease being shocked at ANY new discovery that might come along, whether it was psychic healing, or miracle tonics, or a race of people with two heads, or what have you. You wouldn’t even need to be “ignorant” per se to have such a weak spot. Rich people were taken in by charlatans all the time. ALSO: ironically (also from Harris) our cult of truth makes us vulnerable to lies. Americans are junkies for “facts”, not just from journalism, but also (in the 19th century) lectures; self improvement; entertainment that purports to be derive from fact (folk ballads, films, plays, performance art, and the like). Ironically the mania for truth makes it possible to more easily disguise falsehoods by cloaking them in the trusted language of fact. The ultimate fruit of that is Fake News.

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“Greatest Show on Earth”, eh? How do you back that up? How do you confirm or deny it?

THE CONSTITUTION: A certain amount of wiggle room for embellishment is baked right into our law. The First Amendment gives such wide scope, such “permission” in our speech. Not that there weren’t charlatans and false advertisers back in Europe, but never so MANY of them. America has a whole CULTURE of them. One reason why there may be or may not have been fewer of them in Europe may be the chilling effect of their laws. You can’t just get away with “saying things” there. There are ways in which the First Amendment is analogous to the Second Amendment, in how Americans stretch and test and abuse it. To egregiously oversimplify, the former invites us to be a nation of liars just as the latter invites us to be a nation of murderers. Just as America is the first universally armed people, we are the first universally self-expressive people (whether its testifying in church, writing letters to the editor and politicians, or composing handbills and posters for your business).

And so we come to the 21 st century, which seems to have increased these formerly manageable tendencies to a potentially fatal degree. It’s one thing to lose a single paycheck to a shell game operator at the county fair once a year. It’s quite another to hand over the earth to a guy who promises the moon, has no intention or means of delivering it, and really only wants to plunder the earth anyway. That this crime against humanity is happening with cooperation of countless men and women who really ought to know better is no less appalling. Our only hope lies on the old Latin legal aphorism Caveat Emptor: “Let the Buyer Beware.” Believe nothing Trump or his minions tell you. Try to get the real facts to as many people as you can in an effort to remove him from office. And start shopping for a replacement.

Happy Valentine’s Day from the Littlest Lovers: Tom Thumb & Lavinia Warren

Posted in BUNKUM, Dime Museum and Side Show, Little People, STEAMPUNK/ VICTORIANA, Valentine's Day with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2017 by travsd

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“There’s someone for everybody” goes the old matchmaker’s expression, and perhaps no words rang truer on February 9, 1863, the day that professional little person Tom Thumb (Charles Stratton) married Lavinia Warren at Grace Church, New York. (I believe that’s Lavinia’s sister Minnie Warren as Maid of Honor; and Commodore Nutt as Best Man). This little stunt, the “Fairy Wedding” by the press, lightened people’s hearts during the depths of the Civil War. We present it to you in the same spirit today.

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It wasn’t just a publicity stunt, however; the two were a real couple. But even so, their boss P.T. Barnum was probably not too unhappy when the big event resulted in coverage like this:

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“I love you completely, my own, my all. But above all, I love this front page coverage in Harpers!”

Films of Fields #2: His Lordship’s Dilemma

Posted in BUNKUM, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, Silent Film, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on November 16, 2016 by travsd

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We’ll be blogging about comedian W.C. Fields all through November and December as part of our tribute to the comedian called Fields Fest.  For a full list upcoming live Fields Fest events go here. 

W.C. Fields’ second film was the 1915 silent short His Lordship’s Dilemma.

Sadly, this movie is considered lost and very little is known about it. Probably of most interest to Fields’ fans, His Lordship’s Dilemma was where he committed his famous golf routine to celluloid for the first time (later resurrected in So’s Your Old Man (1926), The Golf Specialist (1930) and You’re Telling Me (1934).

Like his first film Pool Sharks, this film was made by the American branch of the French studio Gaumont. This brief early experiment in the cinema was clearly not successful enough to lure Fields away from his flourishing stage career. He went back to the theatre, and would not return to films again for a decade, with Sally of the Sawdust. 

Good news though! A short fragment has been found and we are delighted to be able to share it with you today:

Of Flim-Flam and Falstaff: Fields as Fictional Character

Posted in BUNKUM, Comedians, Comedy, Hollywood (History), Movies, W.C. Fields with tags , , , , on November 4, 2016 by travsd

 

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Over the past few decades the public has come to have a vague, simplistic and inaccurate image of the formerly-universally-beloved W.C. Fields — an image I call “the bobble-head on the bar” — a red cheeked and red-nosed inebriate leaning on a lamp-post, an American Silenus.

As far as I’m concerned, booze was the least imaginative and most uninteresting part of his act. The Fields I fell in love with is quite different — I think of him as the archetypal vaudevillian, with a steamer trunk crammed full of Dickens and Shakespeare, stickered on the outside with his far-flung ports of call: Berlin, Singapore, Sydney, Johannesburg, San Francisco. And then, in a manner that is one part P.T. Barnum and one part Mark Twain, he exaggerates his adventures, the places he’s been, the people he’s known, the superhuman deeds he has committed. “Why are you called ‘Honest John’?” he is asked…and out comes a long, rambling, impossible story that never actually answers the question. Like Falstaff (to whom critics often compared his character), he is not just a drunkard, but the drunkard as storyteller, a frightened little man who needs the steady diet of Dutch courage to transform himself into a make-believe super hero. He embodies the magic and tradition of American humbug. The irony of course is he spins his yarns off his REAL experiences. In an era when few human beings had traveled more than ten miles from their front door, he had lived a life of adventure, crossed seas and continents many times, had played to crowned heads in world capitals. It provided the raw material, but then he would transform that material into something miraculous, in much the same way as he would hold large numbers of balls, clubs or cigar boxes aloft in his early days as a vaudeville juggler.

But, like Falstaff, he seesaws betwixt bluster and deflation. He boasts of impossible skills and exploits but in every day life his character can scarcely accomplish anything. If not under the thumb of a controlling wife, his character is constantly on the run from creditors, the sheriff, process servers, the landlady. He is a physical coward. His ill-gotten gains are never gotten through the heroic methods of the highwayman, but through sneakery and subterfuge. He is a liar and cheat, not a pirate. He likes pretty women, but only as most men do – furtively, ineffectively, pathetically. He’s not a bold skirt chaser or a Lothario – more a guy who can’t resist a second look out the corner of his eye.

This double nature, this measurable difference between his real and presented self is both a rich mine of humor and a source of layers of complexity. There are always at least two “Fieldses” going on at any one time — again, just like juggling. This is what makes him three dimensional and eternal, and worthy of contemplation, an attribute which can’t be said to adhere to just any comedian. Helping re-educate the public about the genius of Fields is  my main mission in putting on Fields Fest this Fall, the 70th anniversary of his passing.

We’ll be blogging about comedian W.C. Fields all through November and December as part of our tribute to the comedian called Fields Fest. For a full list upcoming live Fields Fest events go here. 

 

 

The Riddle of the Monster Sized Monsters

Posted in BUNKUM, Halloween, Horror (Mostly Gothic), ME with tags , , , on October 3, 2016 by travsd

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I came across the photo below on ebay about eight months ago, and I’ve been saving it up ever since then for Halloween month. It cleared up a riddle I’d stored in the back of my brain since I was about 7 or 8 years old, a mystery which had its origin in the ad you see above. Comic books had advertising sections in their back pages, and that unconscionable pitch was always among them. It was an early lesson in reading between the lines. I begged my father to send in the dollar on my behalf so that I could obtain what sounded to me like a real 7 foot tall monster. He assured me that it was a scam. That there’s no way a dollar could buy some sort of working automaton that any kid could buy. Though I understood what he was telling me, I didn’t quite WANT to believe him. And at any rate, I was very curious to see what it was (if not an actual monster) that you actually got when you sent in the dollar. But my dad wouldn’t hear of wasting the dough. (A dollar was more than it is now, but it still wasn’t THAT much). All these years I’ve wondered what the postman would bring to your door if you sent in the buck. And here is what it was: a 7 foot tall vinyl banner you hang on the wall of your room. It’s about what we figured. Someone was auctioning it off as a collector’s item. Frankly, now that I look at it, it doesn’t seem like such a swindle.

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Davy Crockett, Man of Letters

Posted in AMERICANA, Asian, BUNKUM, ME, My Family History with tags , , , , , , on August 17, 2016 by travsd
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Portrait of Crockett by John Gadsby Chapman

Today is the birthday of Davy Crockett (1786-1836).

Because he has been so heavily mythologized I think there has been an unfortunate tendency to regard this important American figure as a total “folk hero”, like Johnny Appleseed (also a real guy), or perhaps more like, say, Mike Fink or Pecos Bill. One hears of exploits like wrestling bears and contemplates the costume which has since become so iconic and arrives at a verdict of “unreality” even when so many of the historical things he did (served in Congress, died defending the Alamo) are a matter of record.

Last year I chanced to read his 1834 memoir A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett, Written by Himself (ironically co-written with fellow Congressman Thomas Chilton.) I was drawn to the book by two opposite but related impulses. One is that I am working on a piece of writing inspired by the American tradition of humbug and Tall Tales, a theme I have been seriously exploring for a couple of decades now. But the second attraction was the facts. I am related to Crockett (through his great-grandmother, who was a Stewart) and (by marriage) to his first wife Polly Finley. And he lived where my family lived (Eastern and Middle Tennessee) and fought in the same battles in the Creek War and War of 1812. I thought I might pick up useful details, and I indeed did.

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But I found myself especially impressed with the book as a founding American cultural document of sorts. Crockett is like a missing link in American politics, and a pioneer in letters. In this highly entertaining book I heard a VOICE, a voice that I feel must have influenced everybody from Mark Twain to Abraham Lincoln to Will Rogers. Crockett’s voice is humorous, earthy, folkish, steeped in the hilarious, outlandish metaphors and hyperbole of the frontier. It manages to be both boastful and honest “Always be sure you are right, then go ahead” was his motto).

I say “missing link” because Benjamin Franklin had been our first politician to walk around in a coonskin cap and fringe jacket, although he did that in Paris and purely for a calculated effect. Crockett would become one of our first national political figures to make a virtue out of being rustic, paving the way for all those “log cabin” presidential candidates who came in his wake. If he had lived longer, I have little doubt, his national ambitions would have continued to bear fruit. Interestingly. his arch-nemesis was Andrew Jackson, also from Tennessee. He hated Jackson’s Indian removal policy and his autocratic tendencies. This hurt him at home politically.When Crockett was voted out of Congress in 1835, he went to Texas to take part in the Revolution, which is where he met his end. (“The voters can go to hell; I’m going to Texas” I’ve tweaked that a little but that’s essentially whet he said). Had he not died, it’s likely he would have been right there with Stephen Austin and Sam Houston as one of the founders of the Republic, and then the State, of Texas.

In the Narrative, Crockett plays both Ned Buntline and Buffalo Bill. It’s this tooting of his own horn that makes him so American. His early childhood was uncommonly hard: indentured servitude, farm labor, starvation and more than one incident of running away from home to go on long distance cattle drives — all before adulthood. He made a legend for himself as a bear hunter (the amount of bears he claims to have killed can’t help but strike you as gross) and an Indian fighter, and his leadership and manly prowess was what propelled him to success in local politics despite his lack of formal education (he was sent to school but played hooky for a long stretch, a phase of life one can’t help associating with Huckleberry Finn). His tales of the difficulty of courting his wife (over the objections of her mother) are quite touching.

The success of the book and his martyrdom at the Alamo led to dime novels and stage plays about him, then movies, and finally the tv show, which truly cemented the legend. Surely, people think to themselves, this guy can’t have been real. But he WAS.

 

 

 

Another Don (Some Stock Taking Inspired by “Mad Men”)

Posted in BUNKUM, ME, My Family History, Television with tags , , , , , on March 25, 2016 by travsd
This has to resonate with anyone with a dad from this generation

This image has to resonate with anyone with a dad from that generation

Today is my late father’s birthday

I got the idea for this post as we binge watched Mad Men for the umpteenth time in preparation for the series finale a few months ago. My father was around the same age as the fictional Donald Draper, and was also named Don. He came from a similar rural, poverty-stricken Depression-era background, served during the Korean war, was a man’s man with movie star looks (a bit of Robert Mitchum, Elvis and Rock Hudson) and then wrecked his appearance with alcohol, bad food, and chain-smoking. But most importantly, when he was young, he had taken correspondence courses to be a commercial artist.

When I was a kid, I used to sneak into the old carriage house/ barn we used as a garage and look through trunks containing my father’s youthful artistic efforts. Some of them were samples of advertising art he’d done during the 1950s, on poster board, depicting gleaming refrigerators, televisions with rabbit ear antennas, and smiling housewives serving tv dinners and jello. (In his aspirations, dad was thus more like the character of Sal than the pitch man Don Draper). My father’s draftsmanship was sometimes a little off, but he drew with a great deal of wit and personality. He had even been accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design.

For reasons that remained mysterious my father turned drastically away from a career in art, even commercial art, some time before I was born. All he would say was something about relatives (his mother? his brother?) accusing him of being a “sissy” for pursuing art. But surely the hang-up was all his, because if you were really talented and really wanted to do it (both seemed to be true of him) you wouldn’t let that stop you. But my father was also very strange about questions of duty, obedience and tradition. I really think if one of his parents had asked him to jump in front of a moving train, he would have done so. His people were extremely clannish, and really about the only socializing I ever saw my father do, at least on his own initiative, was with extended family. I think he would really rather do anything in the world rather than alienate his family, including deny his own identity, whatever that may have been.

But he was not one of those quiet sufferers. We heard about his sacrifices daily, and his resentments expressed themselves in violence with regularity throughout my childhood. The hyper-awareness that comes with fear was my constant companion. You become alert to every warning sign, every facial or body movement was like a tell for potential explosion. When I was quite young — seven maybe? — I decided that while I loved my father, I also hated him. For a great many years, I only hated him, feigning the love as a dumb-show of duty.

He gave ample reason for me to be standoffish, thus I could never let him know that I was interested in his art or cared about it. In reality, I was of course thrilled and mesmerized by it, inspired by it, it determined the whole course of my life in certain ways, but I could never show him more than a polite, perfunctory interest. And then he would be stung and hurt that I didn’t do jigs and cartwheels to show my approval. Mostly because he needed it so badly and it was one of the few powers I had over him, who had such sway over me. It felt necessary to hurt the old man and hurt him hard. I mainly regret it now because at a certain point he moved to a smaller house and chucked out most of his old art and of course now I would love to have ALL of it.  I only have a couple of odd doodles I managed to swipe in earlier years, and some of his later painting (in his retirement he finally allowed himself to return to his art). Many people never knew he had ever been an artist. To others, he would often let it slip out, and then be mysterious about it. But in retrospect, he was always leaving things around for people to find, doodles and things. He wanted his talent to be seen and admired, but he was afraid to take the risk.

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One huge difference between dad and Don Draper was my father’s lack of polish, and a seeming disinterest in conventional markers of success. My father remained the farm boy, and constantly professed hatred of all rich guys, elected officials, bosses and (from his military days), officers. The films of John Ford have helped me understand this contradictory, almost pathological attitude of his: he understood his role in life as to slavishly do your duty and be obedient and follow orders — and to hate and resent the people in power who gave those orders. This is an antique attitude, sort of unique to Southerners, I think. “I hate having to follow these orders, but there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll do it. I don’t ask any more of life than the shortest possible exposure to this misery.”

But this is America. Of course there is something you can do about it. You can BECOME the boss. You can get an education, even if it’s a self education, and gain experience and confidence, and talk yourself into better situations in which you’re not quite so powerless. To be fair, my dad did make a half-hearted attempt to climb the ladder out of manual labor. When I was about ten he began taking business courses on the G.I. bill at Johnson & Wales college. This was on top of a full time day job in the stock room at Woolworth’s, and having a family and all the responsibilities that go with that. The stress was too much for him; he melted down before graduating. And that was that. I’ve often wondered what he would have been like if he’d managed to trade his forklift for a white collar job. His appearance as a grown college student was a little unsettling. With his brief case and nerdy shoes, he gave off a vibe not unlike Charles Whitman. When he got really spruced up, he looked like he was from Bugtussle: an off the rack suit from Penny’s, and lots and lots of cheap cologne. My father was a smart guy. I have often thought his natural bent was philosophy. But he didn’t know how to play the role. 

Then it occurred to me that the Don (I am also named Donald) who possessed the missing Don Draper ingredient was me, a generation later than the one who matched him in age and background. It was me, the actor, who liked to put on a fitted suit and tie and shed the earthy trappings of my class, and spoke with attempted erudition at parties, and married a congressman’s daughter, and landed a job that put me on speaking terms with nationally important journalists and historians, and allowed me to move among the likes of Henry Luce III and David Rockefeller and get to eat dinner with the Patakis and my colleagues at the Governor’s mansion. If you didn’t grow up in this environment, playing it cool takes a lot of energy, and looking backwards breaks that cool, so you do it as little as possible.

What is that thing that allows you to do that, that allows you to invent another self? No one of any depth is completely okay with it. It causes an internal tension. Successful actors and other show biz people are the most visible people who do this; I made it a sub-theme in No Applause for a reason. The private lives of performers are often a shambles, I think maybe because, having invented one self, they continue to keep inventing others when the new situation doesn’t work according to fantasy, and it’s almost like trying to outrun your own shadow. They’re in the habit of discarding old lives they don’t like. But it’s not possible in this world to have a gleaming, perfect, fairy tale one. You will hit more bumps. This is reality. So an invented life is not a solution. There really isn’t one. My father hated himself, stewed in his own juices and in some respects that bad energy killed him. Don Draper’s solution was to hate himself, then invent other, better selves only to self-destruct again many times.

And yet there were moments on Mad Men when glimpses of a third way, and a possible path to happiness emerge. There’s that scene at the end of season six where Draper shows his kids the dilapidated house of ill-fame where he grew up. There’s the scene (in the same episode) where he drunkenly spills his whole life story during a pitch to Hershey’s, which, yes, does jeopardize his professional life but does have the purgative virtue of him spilling the truth.  And while it is hinted that he does eventually come back to being the old Don Draper we see a path he might have taken.

Like so many people I know (hundreds maybe) I’ve been trying for many years now to be a brand because we’re told this is a nation driven by marketing and that’s how you get ahead. But I’ve been really chafing at the expectations and restrictions of trying to be that brand for a long while.  It has repeatedly interfered with and occasionally even hurt my art. It’s unsatisfying and false and even really boring at this stage. Inanimate, insensate THINGS are good at living up to their brand. Coke? That’s a brand. You’ll always get the same bottle of Coke, every time. But human beings (at least any worth knowing) are complex and rich and contradictory, like all products of nature. An “image” or a reputation is like a straight-jacket. It is less than the reality, and it is false. Artists need to transcend that garbage, know who they are, and be it.

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