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Category: TV Reviews

Gilmore Girls: An American Tragedy

“This whole thing is dead to me, anyway. It died with Richard.” – Emily Gilmore, Fall. Was the death of Richard Gilmore the death of White America? It’s not that…

This whole thing is dead to me, anyway. It died with Richard.” – Emily Gilmore, Fall.

Was the death of Richard Gilmore the death of White America?

It’s not that the Gilmore Girls revival is less White than the original show; it’s that it’s more honest. The original Gilmore Girls was a White liberal utopia: a single mother raising her young daughter in an idyllic, wacky, all-White village in Connecticut (except for some Koreans and one disdainfully snobbish mulatto Frenchman—we’ll come back to him). Known for its snappy dialogue and charming absurdity, it was a difficult show not to like—anecdotally speaking, I know almost as many men as women who quietly enjoyed Gilmore Girls, usually introduced to it by their daughters or girlfriends.

But of course, the original Gilmore Girls was a lie. In the real world, a sixteen-year-old pregnant rich girl who ran away from home wouldn’t stumble upon a Brigadoon-esque village and grow up to become a successful businesswoman while her genius daughter/BFF goes to the equivalent of Choate and then Yale. In the real world, women who make as many bad decisions as Lorelai Gilmore does aren’t happy, nor are they seemingly rewarded for all of them. But the world of Gilmore Girls was a world set apart, a frozen episode that looked like early 2000’s America on the surface but really hearkened back to a more idyllic time.

I went into the revival expecting more of the same. In the final episode of the original series, we’re left with a Lorelai who has finally gotten back together with Luke the diner owner, and a Rory who has turned down a marriage proposal from her long-term boyfriend Logan Huntzberger, in order to pursue a career in journalism. This latter decision was one of the more signal-y moments in Gilmore Girls history: the girl-power ending where she proved she didn’t need no man! I predicted a revival that showed a plucky reporterette, fully satisfied with her career; a script that covered over the reality of culture that tells women they don’t need marriage, of the sick society in which we live where ‘empowered’ women slowly eat themselves to death after returning from their desk job every evening, alone except for a cat or two.

But I was wrong. The Gilmore Girls revival, wittingly or otherwise, reveals the rot of American society—especially in comparison with the original. The difference is so striking that I have to believe it was not entirely intentional on the part of the show creator; rather, it is indicative of a distinct change in social mood that has taken place between when the show ended, in 2007, and today.

The new Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life takes place over the course of a year, broken into four 90-minute episodes: Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall. (Obligatory disclaimer: I am going to spoil the ending.)

In the original show, there was very little political propaganda. This was one of the most appealing things about it. Lorelai made the occasional George Bush joke, sometimes mocked her wealthy WASP parents for being Republicans, and Rory had a Planned Parenthood poster in her dorm room, but that was basically it. (Of course, the original premise of the show was pro-life, so they had to balance it out somehow). In general, this was incredibly refreshing compared to the constant political signaling in network television shows at the time, and compared to what’s on television now it’s like a different world. But the reboot is a different story. Suddenly, the town of Stars Hollow is engaged in gender activism, with earnest plans to put on a gay pride parade that never materializes due to a lack of homosexual town residents. (Hard to believe given the sudden prominence given to homosexual townsfolk.)

But far more striking is the change in the character of Michel Gerard. Michel, an overbearing, impeccably-dressed Frenchman with a thick accent and a penchant for Celine Dion, is a White-presenting mulatto who works at Lorelai’s inn, The Dragonfly. The original character of Michel was infamously sexually ambiguous; he of course fit a certain gay stereotype, was a little too close to his mother, etc. Nevertheless, there were occasional references made in passing to dating women, and never any made to male liaisons. Within the first 20 minutes of the reboot, in the first scene involving his character, Michel is discoursing scornfully about his male partner Frederick’s desire to adopt children. Why the dramatic change?

The answer is pretty simple: the original Gilmore Girls was a break from reality, while the reboot is almost unbearable in its reality. The past 8 years have been dramatic in their psychological effect on American society, and it is reflected here. But it’s more than that, in the world of the show. The mirror has crack’d from side-to-side; Richard Gilmore is dead. And with the patriarchal Gilmore gone, the order of things begins to break down, especially for the three female Gilmores.

Emily

You don’t move or change ever. There’s a picture of you in the attic that Dorian Grey is consulting lawyers about.” – Lorelai to Emily, “Spring.”

The change in Emily is the most dramatic over the course of these four episodes. Unlike the two younger Gilmore girls, Emily is marble-constant, an American matriarch to make Tocqueville proud. As she points out to her unwed daughter Lorelai, who has been “roommates” with Luke the diner owner for 8 years, she, Emily, was married to the same man for fifty years. Her loss at his death is incomprehensible to someone like Lorelai. Ever her husband’s champion, after Lorelai makes a characteristically embarrassing scene at her father’s funeral, Emily chides her thus: “Your father was a great man, a pillar of the community, a man amongst men. And you dishonored him today like this in his own house.” None of the other males in this world come close to Richard Gilmore. The implication runs throughout the show: we shall never see his like again.

Much like the unappreciated WASP patriarchs who held America together for so long, but who also oversaw its slow doom, Richard died having paid for his illegitimate granddaughter’s education at his alma mater, Yale, where she learned—what, exactly? Richard died without having to seriously confront the fantasy he built around Rory, Yale, and ultimately, America itself.

Over the course of the year, Emily is in a tailspin. “I don’t know how to do this,” she says to Lorelai at one point. “Do what?” “Live my life.” It is a jarring thing to watch: Emily Gilmore, the woman who knew every customary form, the woman of exquisite taste, who could never bear to let anyone see her falter: spiraling.

Even her beloved Daughters of the American Revolution chapter holds no joys for her now. (This is where I think the show breaks continuity with the original character, but for the sake of argument, we may chalk it up to grief.) The DAR, of course, represents another aspect of the collapse of the American regime; we may recall that it was one of the only national organizations that fought the 1965 Immigration Act tooth and nail, alongside the American Legion. And if there is one thing Emily devoted her life to, besides her family, it was the DAR. Finally, in an outburst at a DAR meeting, Emily says the most un-Emily line of them all: “I can’t spend any more time and energy on artifice and bullshit.” This betrays more about the script-writer than about Emily, for Emily Gilmore before this would never have really considered her work for the DAR to be artifice: the seemingly frivolous work of choosing curtains and tablecloths and china patterns was an expression of an attempt to hold a fraying society together. As Emily says before she walks out the DAR doors, “This whole thing is dead to me anyway. It died with Richard.” Without Richard Gilmore, there’s no point in trying to save America anymore.

Lorelai

You never do anything unless it’s exactly what you want to do. You never have. You go through life like a natural disaster knocking down everything and everyone in your path.” – Emily to Lorelai, “Winter.”

Fact check: True.

Lorelai is as flighty and selfish as ever, so there isn’t much new ground to cover here. She and Luke have lived together since the end of the series, never married, and apparently never even discussed having children, so it suddenly becomes an issue now. With Lorelai nearing the age of fifty, she can’t have children, and so surrogacy becomes a plot device that goes nowhere (but allows for some great scenes with the inimitable Paris Gellar, who breathed life into the whole depressing mess). Between the surrogacy drama and going to therapy with her mother, Lorelai works herself up into a real midlife crisis, deciding to go and hike the Pacific Crest Trail a la the book and movie Wild. Granted, I know nothing about either, but while the whole adventure seemed out of character—until she doesn’t actually go through with it—there was a certain pathos to the conversations she had with other women seeking solace in the wilderness. As the lonely ladies sit around a fire drinking boxed wine, one of them says, “I’m so glad I’m doing this. I almost did ‘Eat Pray Love,’ but my miles were blacked out. So here I am.” She later adds: “God, I hope this hike works. I need a new life so badly.”

Lorelai realizes that she doesn’t actually need a new life, and goes home to Luke having discovered that all she wants is to get married to him, leading to one of my favorite lines of the show: “I’ve gotta tell ya, before this thing goes on, the only way out is in a body bag.”

As infuriating as Lorelai is, she finally grows up enough to marry the man she loves. That’s something.

Rory

You’re glowing! You must be in love.” – Emily to Rory, “Winter.”

But Rory isn’t in love.

She’s not in love with her boyfriend Paul, whom she has dated for two years and whose existence she regularly forgets. (The callous treatment of forgettable Paul is supposed to be funny, but comes off as cruel.) She’s not in love with her work. She doesn’t even seem to be in love with her lover, Logan Huntzberger, who, it turns out, she has been having an extended sexual relationship with, we can assume for many years. Logan is engaged to a French heiress, but Rory stays with him whenever she’s in London, which seems to be quite often. In the series finale Rory turned down his offer of a diamond ring and a life together—apparently only to exchange it for the life of a mistress, a high-class call girl. This is why it is almost impossible to have any sympathy for the girl when Logan tells her that his fiancé is finally moving in, and that they’ll have to conduct their liasons in a hotel in the future. It suddenly dawns on Rory that she is, indeed, the other woman—and that rather than romantic, her life looks tawdry.

Lacking sympathy for Rory is the popular thing to do in reviews of the reboot, but for the wrong reasons. Sure, it’s true that Rory comes across as a spoiled child who has never been called to account for her poor choices. And yeah, her career isn’t going well. But it seems to me that that’s not because she’s arrogant or entitled: it’s because her heart just isn’t in it anymore. Even when she steels herself to get something done and goes out into Manhattan to interview people for a ridiculous story, instead of successfully completing her task we are treated to the cringiest scene of the entire show, when she returns to tell her mother that she’s had her first one-night stand with a man in a Wookie costume. (Yes, at this point she’s still supposedly dating Paul and sleeping with Logan.) She expresses no horror at her own disloyalty, but only at her choice of partner.

So who, or what, does Rory love?

She expresses a sincere nostalgic love for her ex-boyfriend Dean when she runs into him in the grocery store. And she drops everything to save the Stars Hollow Gazette from extinction, even taking over as editor—a truly thankless task.

It’s clear that Rory is in love with her childhood. Stars Hollow, her first boyfriend, and her mother are all emblems of this. Other reviewers see this as a failing; I do not. There’s nothing wrong with loving a place and trying to make it better, even sacrificing more prestigious dreams in order to do so. In some ways, Rory makes peace with this over the course of the episodes. She finally makes a clean break with Logan; she begins writing a book about the story of her relationship with her mother; and of course, in the shocking final scene, she tells her mother, “I’m pregnant.” While the show creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, has suggested that Rory might have an abortion, the reviewer at Vox was horrified that Rory might actually think of keeping the child:

“Is this really what Rory wanted for herself? Or is she too deeply wedded to the mythos of Stars Hollow to know what her own desires are at this point?

The narrative’s cheerful, almost totally uncritical sublimation of millennial women’s individual agency to the cause of more babies is utterly enraging. To accept this plot as a natural conclusion to the show means either rewriting Rory herself into a passive noncommittal bore, or twisting Stars Hollow itself into something unrecognizable: a distorted version of American life where individual dreams and goals are repressed and subsumed into the larger collective. Stars Hollow, in this view, becomes a pro-life argument for the need to continue the legacy of Stars Hollow at any cost — even if it means dismantling the dreams of one of Stars Hollow’s finest.

It’s an abysmal, bittersweet way to part with a beloved fictional town. Rory will have the illusion of happiness, surrounded by community and family. But if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that false comfort won’t make America great again, and it definitely won’t make Rory Gilmore great again.”

You see, the real tragedy would be having a community and a family, and thinking of yourself as happy. The horror!

Conclusion

The transformation of the town and its characters shows us that nothing is free of politics after the era of Obama, not even Stars Hollow.

Emily Gilmore is never really going to recover, because her world is gone.

Lorelai is getting married but isn’t going to have a child, while Rory may have a child, but isn’t getting married. It’s unclear whether or not she’ll have her baby, but either way, it won’t be raised with a father, just as Rory wasn’t raised with one. It’s a fatherless world. No fathers, no kings, no Richard Gilmores.

And yet the show isn’t really capable of pretending that everything is fine. The darkness shines through the charming humor, which isn’t as charming as it used to be. The gods left the earth a long time ago, but this seems to be a world entirely bereft of men. The result isn’t a feminist fantasy: it’s just sad.

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“Vikings” and the Pagan-Christian Synthesis

“In the gentle fall of rain from Heaven I hear my God. But in the thunder I still hear Thor.” (Brother Athelstan)

Ragnar: So have you returned to your faith, renounced ours? Athelstan: I wish it was so simple. In the gentle fall of rain from Heaven I hear my God. But in the thunder I still hear Thor. That is my agony. Ragnar: I hope that some day our Gods can become friends.

Ragnar: So have you returned to your faith, renounced ours? Athelstan: I wish it was so simple. In the gentle fall of rain from Heaven I hear my God. But in the thunder I still hear Thor. That is my agony. Ragnar: I hope that some day our Gods can become friends.

Whenever political activists talk about culture, they need to be careful about not over-reading the artist’s intent.

Rather than guessing what he meant politics-wise, activists have to look for the influences, heretical or mainstream, he drew upon. Unlike the intended message, which is subject to interpretation, cultural influences can be identified with sufficient likelihood.

Though it cannot be proven—and culture industry creators would likely deny it—it is more than plausible that James C. Russell’s The Germanization of Early Medieval Christianity has had an important influence on popular culture.

In Canadian-Irish TV series Vikings, this influence is close to obvious. Though the show’s screenwriters may not have read it—I would be very surprised they haven’t at least heard of it—they seem to have been influenced by it at least through an intermediary text, or person, which/who conveyed Russell’s message.

Russell established in his book that the Christianization of Germanic Europe (in the broad sense, including Scandinavia) was two-sided: the indigenous Pagan faith was replaced, by fair means or foul, by an exogenous one; and in doing so, Christianity was altered by its prey, a process which had actually already begun in the Roman empire.

The ubiquity of Pagan symbols and rituals in European Christianity

This is a reality that is hard to talk about with Christians—and the more conservative, the harder. It is like Edgar Poe’s Purloined Letter: what is right before one’s eyes is what they cannot see. The omnipresence of Pagan rituals and symbols in European Christianity is such that many Christians see them as having always belonged to their faith, even in its first stages, when it was still a markedly Oriental religion.

In some countries, “king cakes” are baked for the celebration of the Epiphany, and crepes are cooked for the day of Candlemas. Both symbolize a Sun disk, and these two Winter feasts were, before Christianity phagocytated them, meant to prepare the return of the Sun.

Of course, we also know that the Christmas holiday was established to replace the celebration of the Winter Solstice, which was a solar cult in various European indigenous religions, most notably in Rome (Sol Invictus).

Interestingly, since the fracture between Catholicism and Protestantism roughly corresponds to that between Latin and Germanic Europe (please note my emphasis on “roughly” before mentioning Catholic Flanders or Calvinist Romandy), Protestants are usually more aware of this unholy origin. As Richard Rives at WND proudly reminded us, Christmas used to be illegal in many Protestant countries. Below is a screenshot from Rives’s video:

That Rome has influenced Christianity is made evident by the fact that the Catholic Church is established in the Eternal City, that the Pope is called “Pontifex Maximus” as the Roman Emperors used to be, and of course that Latin is the main liturgic language. But do all Catholics know that cardinals wear purple cassocks just like Roman senators used to? That priests (in Western churches) are clean-shaven and keep their hair short like the Romans? And that nuns cover their hair as Roman free women did, to distinguish themselves from slaves?

Christianity didn’t merely conquer the Indo-European world. It was also molded by it, almost beyond recognition after centuries of reciprocal acculturation.

This is chiefly what the two first seasons of TV series Vikings are about.


Ragnar (left) hands his plunder over to Jarl Haraldson.

Ragnar (left) hands his plunder over to Jarl Haraldson.

When the story begins, Ragnar Lothbrok is an under-achieving farmer, who occasionnaly goes raiding with other Norsemen in the Baltic lands. He resents the authority of Jarl Haraldson, who is a generation older than he.

Every year, after the harvest, Haraldson orders his men to raid East. The plunder is meager, since Balts are not really richer than Vikings. But even though their farms are hardly sufficient to support their families, Ragnar and the other young raiders have to hand over all the booty to Haraldson, who comfortably stays home. If the story was taking place in today’s West, Haraldson would likely be a baby-boomer expecting his children to pay for his retirement pension after a pat on the back, and then wonder why they, unlike him, cannot make both ends meet. But I digress (or do I?).

Ragnar has enough, and so does his brother Rollo (not to be confused with the founder of the Duchy of Normandy; the story is contemporary to Charlemagne, over a century before the Norsemen’s settlement in France).

Ragnar buys a sun compass to a merchant, which enables him to find his way West, beyond the strait that separates the Baltic Sea from the North Sea. There, the merchant told Ragnar, fabulous riches await him in a place named England. Further South is the even-richer “Frankia” (the Kingdom of the Franks).

Since all the ships belong to Haraldson, Ragnar needs a new boat. He asks his friend Floki (reminiscent of the God Loki), to build a flat-bottomed one, that can both navigate on rivers and high seas. The Scandinavian drakkar is born. Floki’s odd appearance and erratic behavior are a nod to Heath Ledger’s Joker (Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight), as illustrated by a scene in the second season when Floki tells Ragnar’s son that he’s “just a joker”.

“All things begin and end as stories”

Compass, boat… Ragnar now needs a crew. Rollo gathers the region’s best warriors and sets up a meeting. Wary of Ragnar’s intentions at first, and afraid that Haraldson might punish them for disobeying him, the men are, one by one, taken by Ragnar’s Tyler Durden-like speech. Ragnar doesn’t try to convince his audience by way of factual arguments or logical demonstrations. Rather, he inspires them with a dream, a story they’ll tell their children. As Ragnar puts it, “all things begin and end as stories”:

As could be expected, Ragnar’s raids on Northumbria (one of England’s seven kingdoms at the time) significantly increase his prestige and power in Kattegat, still under Haraldson’s rule. This inevitably leads to a conflict between the two men. Being hunted down by Haraldson’s men, Ragnar challenges Haraldson in combat and, predictably, kills him and becomes Jarl.

“Why are we not looking outwards to the West?”

Being now an important ruler, Ragnar will try to unify the Vikings, still spending most of their formidable energy fighting each other (something Madison Grant lamented). After an epic battle leaving no victor between two Viking armies, one led by Ragnar, the other led by his brother Rollo, Ragnar delivers a speech in which he urges all men to “look outwards to the West:”

During his first raid on Northumbria, Ragnar met with a Saxon monk, named Athelstan. He spared his life not out of mercy, but because, Athelstan speaking Norse in addition to Old Saxon, Ragnar thought (rightly) that he’d be of great use to him.

At first a hostage and then a slave, Athelstan soon became Ragnar’s protégé, and even his main advisor, due to his cleverness, courage, and wits.

This symbolizes the encounter between Nordic Paganism and Christianity. At first disgusted by the Pagans’ uncouth manners, Athelstan will more and more forget his Christian faith and convert to the Vikings’ Pagan religion (or maybe I should say “revert,” since continental Saxons had only recently been Christianized under the iron fist of Charlemagne, who was not always the gentle-hearted, loving king both popular and elite culture have pictured along the centuries).

Of course, the acculturation goes both ways: Ragnar is impressed by the Christians’ ability to build wealthy, efficient societies, while his people are still wasting their tremendous strength in suicidal, internecine berserk.

Christianization, a “come-together” moment for Europeans

For all the legitimate criticisms that Pagan or Nietzschean alt-righters can have about Christianity (especially today’s Christianity, whether Catholic or Protestant), they souldn’t forget that it was the first religion that gave a feeling of kinship and a common purpose to Europeans.

Descendants of the long-forgotten Indo-European people, Europeans had scattered across the heterogeneous continent they conquered and branched off into a number of peoples, speaking many different languages, to the point where they saw each other as foreigners, and even “Barbarians.”

(And it happened again during the first half of the 20th century. Then, Europeans worldwide nearly annihilated each other in wars driven by petty nationalisms that were wrong on all counts: genetic, cultural, moral.)

Christianization, despite Christianity’s extra-European origins and universalistic outlook, was for Europeans a “come-together” moment, and this encounter between two Germanic peoples once separated by faith illustrates it well.


Odin on the Cross

Back to the series, this back-and-forth between Paganism and Christianity reaches a higher level when Athelstan is captured by King Ecbert of Wessex during a new Viking raid. Recognized as a Saxon and thus as an apostate, Athelstan is crucified (see picture on the right) by the local bishop (likely a historical inaccuracy since Emperor Constantine had outlawed crucifixion in the 4th century A.D. and none were documented afterwards).

What struck me when I saw the scene was the way Athelstan was represented. Look at the picture closely. Having been beaten up by the Christian populace, his eye is so black that he looks one-eyed, just like Odin. Given the emphasis on his appearance on the cross, I doubt it is coincidental.

Luckily for Athelstan, King Ecbert arrives just in time. He orders the bishop to cut him down, and once again, Athelstan becomes the ruler’s protégé and counsellor. (Priests advising kings was commonplace then: one of Charlemagne’s main advisors was Alcuin, an English monk.)

Of course, King Ecbert wants to know more about the Vikings to be able to defeat them. He is a symetrical character to Ragnar’s: like the latter, Ecbert rules over a portion of a divided country, and hopes to unify England under his rule. The war with the Vikings must be a way, thinks he, to assert his legitimacy, since he is the only one able to resist them. As we know, however, it is two centuries later a Norseman, William the Conqueror, who will succeed in this endeavor at the Battle of Hastings.

The second reason why King Ecbert takes interest in Athelstan is because as a former monk, he is fluent in Latin. Ecbert wants Athelstan to translate and read him aloud the lives of the Roman emperors (likely Suetonius’s Twelve Caesars), thinking Roman civilization was superior to Early Medieval Europe, which is another historical inaccuracy. The very idea of the “Dark Ages” is a modern fabrication devised by French revolutionaries to justify the Enlightenment’s tabula rasa. Roman basilicas and Gothic cathedrals still stand to testify that the “Dark” Ages were actually bright.

The similarities between Paganism and Christianity

Being forced into returning to Christianity, Athelstan has a hard time forgetting Paganism, as if the latter was a natural faith to him while Christianity necessarily needed constraint. During Mass, he almost falls out when a crucified Christ appears to be bleeding, which reminds him of a Viking, Leif, who was sacrificed at the Pagan temple of Uppsala:

Increasingly, Athelstan is struck by the similarities between Paganism and Christianity. When King Ecbert asks him to tell him more about Odin, Thor, Loki or Freyja, Athelstan responds in a way that both thrills and frightens him:

“Their gods are very old… and sometimes I could not help noticing some similarities with our own God… and His Son.”

Later, when Ragnar and Athelstan meet again (King Ecbert and Ragnar are seeking a truce), Ragnar asks Athelstan whether he has returned to Christianity and abandoned Paganism. But things are not so simple:

Ragnar, who unlike his brother Rollo has not received baptism at this point (this was one of King Alle of Northumbria’s conditions for the peace talks), takes a growing interest in Christianity, which foreshadows the Vikings’ conversion. This of course is a historical short-cut, given that Norsemen would not become Christians before the 10th and 11th centuries.

But religious acculturation is a long march, which proceeds with seemingly benign but, in retrospect, irreversible and accelerating steps. Over three centuries passed between Nero’s persecutions against Christians and Theodosius I turning Christianity into the Roman Empire’s official State religion (380). The latter happened “only” 43 years after Constantine’s conversion on his deathbed (337).

In the series, such benign step is the scene in which both Ragnar and Athelstan recite a Pater Noster before going into battle against King Horik of Denmark. Once victorious, Ragnar becomes the uncontested ruler of the Vikings. A Promethean figure, Ragnar proves that boundaries exist to be tresspassed.

The second season ends on this note (Season 3 will be released in 2015) and I could finish my review here, but I think that beyond the depiction of the Pagan-Christian synthesis, Vikings asks a capital question for us, which is:

Which religion for 21st century Europeans?

Three questions seem to arise here. Should we return to the faith of our ancestors? Should we save Christianity from itself? Or should we overcome both Paganism and Christianity with a futuristic religion that would set space conquest as our “Manifest Destiny?” (I’m leaving aside the question whether we should stick to materialistic Modernity. The absence of Transcendence of the latter obviously argues against such an option. If the status quo was a viable one, our legacy would be guaranteed.)

Returning to Paganism poses a major problem. As Karl Marx famously put it, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” And I fear a return to Paganism would be such a farce, from what I can judge when I take a look at recent forms of Paganism. Pagans can’t act as if Christianity hadn’t vanquished their faith. I hear the argument that Paganism was just in a state of dormition, and that for most of European history (including when Europeans had no consciousnness of being one people), Europeans were Pagans.

But then, how would it not contradict the imperious necessity of a European Brotherhood? The absence thereof was arguably Paganism’s main flaw, and Christianity, for all its vices, allowed Europeans to get together.

Most readers of this article would return to Germanic and Nordic religions, while the author would have to choose between Gallic and Roman ones (the latter would be more to my liking, by the way; I consider myself a Roman rather than a Gaul). Slavs would be separated from the rest of us. Again.

The same argument works for Christianity. Once united by faith, Christendom has been torn apart by the wars between Catholics and Protestants. These Wars of Religion ended on a “draw,” leading to the triumph of the secular State, which paved the way towards Modernity. That’s where we are now.

Critics of Christianity on the Alternative Right usually blame it for its universalism, but I think the main problem with Christianity is the belief in the Apocalypse. Whether we precipitate the End of the World or wait for it, we can’t have a future (a future far beyond the death and rebirth of our own individual souls, a selfish concern if there ever was one) if we don’t believe that something awaits us (“us” being the long chain linking our ancestors to our descendants) after the Earth has become inhospitable for human life.

Enter this futuristic religion I was mentioning as the third option. The main trap for it would be to amount to “Modernity on life support,” with the West, now encompassing all of Mankind, escaping to new worlds after having made the original one unwelcoming. This would happen only if Europeans keep refusing to drink at Tradition’s rejuvenating spring.

Tradition that comprises both Paganism and Christianity as sucessive, necessary steps in European Man’s upward journey. Yes, that presupposes a belief in linear time. For our mortal planet’s lifespan is linear, too.

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“Mad Men”: The Dispossessed Elite on TV

“All I’m going to be doing from here on is losing everything.” – Roger Sterling

Some of my friends across the Ocean have asked me what I had been up to lately. Well, I’ve mostly been catching up with TV series.

TV drama is a genre I had neglected for years, mainly because of its inferiority to movies (or so thought I). However, being a movie buff is painful these days, with the obvious “creation crunch” that is crippling the industry.

So, before Marvel releases another Iron-Man 28 or The Avengers 42, I wanted to pay a tribute to some TV series I have been watching these last months. Most have made me reconsider the unjustified contempt in which I was holding fiction on TV.

Today I will begin with AMC’s Mad Men. This may not be the most obvious choice, compared to shows that have been far more successful, and that are maybe more relevant to our purposes: Breaking Bad, House of Cards, or Game of Thrones, among others.

Nevertheless, I think that for “craftsmen of the word” like us, the story of a creative director in an ascendent advertising agency is full of precious lessons. Besides, the whole show seems to revolve around a hidden theme that is familiar to Radix readers: the dispossession of the Old Anglo Elite by a new class using its verbal skills to gain power.

For a cultural contrarian, there is always a risk of overreading the producers‘ intent. However, while I believe they wanted to depict this Old Elite negatively, and express some relief about its downfall, I can’t help thinking that the initial expectation wasn’t fully met (think of Cabaret or American History X as similar failed attempts).

For the sake of clarity, I won’t recount the 85 episodes, as I assume most of you have watched the show (for the others, you can keep reading; there will be spoilers, but the general plot is not as important as the atmosphere).

That being said, a rough summary should be done. The story takes place in New York, in the 1960’s. When the show begins, Don Draper (Jon Hamm) is the creative director of Sterling Cooper, a relatively small ad agency on Madison Avenue. He’s tall, strong, handsome, always perfectly-dressed, smart (though not particularly educated), socially savvy and uncannily successful. Successful in his work, and, of course, successful with women. Despite having a wife that would be rated as a “9” if not a “10” in the manosphere (Betty Hofstadt, played by Nordic beauty queen January Jones), he enjoys the company of many other women, who enable him to escape the sanitized boredom of his white-picket-fenced suburban house®.

We don’t see Don Draper work much. He’s always late, even for meetings, spends most of his office time smoking, drinking (Canadian Club rye at work, “Old Fashioned” cocktails at bars), and taking naps to recover from it all. When the afternoon comes, he often calls it a day to join some mistress in a luxurious hotel room. Despite that, every one of his pitches to the clients is a home-run, making him the main money-maker of the agency (his jaw-dropping Kodak carousel presentation should be turned into a mandatory training in communication and marketing programs). This reminds us that creation requires laziness as much as hard work. All those who write for a living know that their best ideas pop up when they are doing something else, or doing nothing at all.

Alpha/Übermensch Don Draper is “just too good to be true,” to the point that NBC did a spoof “Don Draper’s guide to picking up women”, in which the viewer learns that all he has to do to be as successful as Don is… impossible to fulfill.

So, why do the opening credits show a cartoon version of Don falling from a skyscraper into a sea of advertisement junk? In a Hollywoodian clichéd way, the character can’t be that successful without having a secret flaw, which, in time, will be revealed to be fatal.

As we soon learn, Don’s secret flaw is nothing less than identity usurpation. His real name is Dick Whitman. Son of a prostitute (who dies giving birth to him) and a drunk farmer (who is killed by a horse), Dick grows up in a whorehouse. When he turns 25, he takes the opportunity of the Korean war to flee. There, a field officer named Don Draper is mortally burnt in a fire Dick accidentally starts. Since the officer is totally disfigured, Dick manages to switch the identification tags and become the man who just died, giving him his former identity. This identity theft is symbolized by Season 5’s finale, which ends with Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice.” The story takes place in 1967, which is the year the eponymous James Bond movie was released. (By the way, the song’s powerful lines “You drift through the years — And life seems tame — Till one dream appears — And love is its name” could summarize the dissident rightists’ increasing impatience; just replace “love” with some synonym, like “power,” “victory” or “glory.”)

This 92-episode series (the seven final ones will be broadcast next year) would get boring if it wasn’t for the supporting characters. Though Jon Hamm’s acting is excellent, the contradiction between Don Draper’s rise to success and his growingly incapacitating original sin wouldn’t be sufficient to support the show from Season 1 to 7. The main thing that can be said about Don Draper is that in the age of materialism, which has been the Postwar era so far, such a talented man couldn’t express his genius in a meaningful field. Rather than being an artist, a scientist, or a statesman, he had to devote his talents to selling laxatives, ketchup, and lipstick.

Still, being an outsider, Don Draper is generally benefitting from the cultural revolution of the 60’s, that he fully embraces, despite losing his own family in the process:

Completely different is the fate of other characters, who embody the declining WASP elite. Here are the most representative ones:

Roger Sterling

If there had to be a single one quintessential elite Anglo-Saxon on screen, that would be him. Heir of the original agency’s co-founder (hence his “name on the building” he’s so proud of), Roger always had it easy until the 60’s. To paraphrase one of my famous countrymen, Roger “took the trouble to be born, no more,” except during the Second World War. Roger’s wittiness and charms enable him to be very efficient in handling clients, but can’t shield him from the cultural tsunami that washes America throughout the 60’s. Unable to resist the sexual revolution, he repudiates his wife Mona in favor of an Ashkenazi secretary, Jane, who will give him no heir. Once high on LSD, Roger realizes it was a bad move, which will leave him with two alimonies to pay for. His former wife Mona only gave him a daughter, who ends up living in a rural commune with degenerates after having abandoned her “beta provider” husband and her son.

Drugs are not enough to make him forget his feeling of void, which results in an explicit recognition of his own dispossession:

Having received a Classical European education, Roger thinks he can afford the luxury of playing dumb, for example when he intentionally mixes Spanish conquistadores, Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama, and “Mexicans” in a single sentence. In an other episode, he explains to Pete Campbell what “Munich” (i.e., surrender) means when it comes to negotiation, only seconds before he attributes to his mother the famous Churchill quote “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Obviously, someone who knows what “Munich” means also knows who delivered this statement after the Munich Agreement of 1938. Unfortunately for Roger, the 60’s are no longer the time for playing dumb, especially since his leadership is under siege.

“Duck” Phillips

While he’s not a very important character, Herman “Duck” Phillips plays the role of a scapegoat in the official narrative about the ’60s. Everything in his behaviour is wrong, to the point that the whole character becomes rather incredible. Incapable of self-mastery when he’s drunk, “Duck” makes fun of the speaker during an adverstising awards ceremony and tries to defecate in Roger Sterling’s office (believing it’s Don Draper’s) after having been fired from the agency. In spite of all these flaws, he’s always impeccably attired, very charming, and quite well-spoken. He’s also a war hero, having killed 17 Japanese soldiers in the Battle of Okinawa. The message seems to be as follows: when a man is handsome, well-educated, and successful, there must be something deeply wrong about him. This should explain why such types have almost entirely been driven out of Western elites in favor of ugly, incompetent, and sociopathic ones . . . but I digress.

Bert Cooper

Cooper is the other co-founder of the initial agency. Unlike Roger Sterling, who is a generation younger than he, Bert Cooper is a self-conscious conservative. He is very skeptical of “civil rights,” and implicitly asks she-office manager Joan Holloway/Harris to make sure the receptionist girl remains White. Bert Cooper is why conservatives can’t win. Though he disagrees with the triumph of the Moral Left in the ’60s, he never dares express it. Quite symbolically, he lost his testicles in a surgical operation that went wrong. He dies childless and heirless, the day Neil Armstrong sets foot on the Moon. One small step for a man, indeed . . . and one giant leap to the dustbin of history for country-club Republicans.

Conrad Hilton

Speaking of the Moon, the only real character of the series, hotel chain-founder Conrad Hilton (“Uncle Connie”), is a very telling one. He randomly meets Don Draper at a . . . country club, and then becomes a client for a short time. He ends his contract with the agency when Don fails to give him “Hilton on the Moon,” a literal request Don thought was only figurative. In a monologue that leaves the viewer wondering whether Hilton is mentally ill, he displays a worldview that is actually quite typical of the postwar Right:

Can we see “Uncle Connie” as a member of the dispossessed elite? Yes, if we bear in mind who one of his great-granddaughters is.

Lane Pryce

In his three-part review of the series at Counter-Currents, James J. O’Meara defined Lane Pryce as the agency’s sacrificial victim. That is true, though in my opinion, O’Meara doesn’t really explain how Lane Pryce is so. Pryce is a former auditor from the British company that had bought the initial Sterling Cooper agency. Then he becomes a junior partner in the new agency started by Sterling, Cooper and Draper. Due to fiscal problems with the United Kingdom, he tries to steal money from the agency. When Don confronts him about his forged check, Pryce resigns and hangs himself in his own office. I would suggest that Pryce is sacrificed for his very Britishness, the same way the Cosmic America fantasized by Conrad Hilton was born out of the sacrifice of English and British heritage. Jared Harris, who stars as Pryce, looks like the usual caricature of the English people in rival countries: a toad face at the top of a fat, listless body.

Pete Campbell

Pete Campbell is maybe even more representative of this dispossession: being 10 years younger than Don Draper, he has been deprived of his birthright before he was even born. At some point in the series, the viewer learns that his ancestry in America goes back as far as the Mayflower. Yet his father found a way to dilapidate his family’s fortune before dying and leaving his two sons with crumbs. Still believing in the American myth of the self-made-man, Pete thinks he’s going to make up for his father’s failures with hard work, only to discover that the dices have been rigged from the start against young, ambitious men like him (which, of course, is more of a concern for our generation than Pete Campbell’s, who is a baby-boomer; this is not the only way the writers managed to inject contemporary issues into the series). In a half-drunk rant, Campbell expresses his impatience about being patronized by the former generation. That reminds me of something.


I could go on and on, since there’s no shortage of examples, from the clients to the employees, as well as their families.

I keep thinking that the producers wanted to celebrate the replacement of this Old Anglo Elite by a Rainbow Coalition including women, gays, and minorities, chiefly Jews, given that the production crew is predominantly Jewish. In the very first episode, Roger Sterling asks Don Draper whether the agency has ever hired a Jewish copywriter. “Not on my watch,” jokes Don. It’s 1960. In the coming decade however, the agency is going to recruit many Jewish copywriters and Black secretaries.

Nevertheless, to show how hard it was for the Rainbow Coalition to overthrow this Old Anglo Elite, the producers had to depict it as a formidable enemy: a caste of good-looking, refined, well-mannered, educated aristocrats. By thus doing, they made this elite appealing, and many viewers could conclude that they would rather be ruled by such a gang than by the current one.

That said, one could have the same feeling watching Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (which was arguably the last liberal movie Kubrick made, before he started making conservative films, or outright reactionary ones like Eyes Wide Shut). The 18th-century aristocracy was, in many ways, admirable by its style and its brilliance. But it adopted the set of ideas and values that would lead to the removal of English rule in the thirteen colonies and of the King’s head in Paris. In like manner, Roger Sterling’s capitulation before the sexual revolution and Don Draper’s abandonment of his own family were foreshadowing the Great Erasure that was just about to happen. In the early 60’s, the agency sells a patriarchal and hierarchical American Dream. At the end of this crucial decade, the agency promotes alternative lifetsyles, women’s independence from their husband and family and minorities’ march through the institutions, with the partners hardly noticing this radical shift, and completely ignoring that it might undermine their rule.

Don Draper may embody all a man could dream of being and may succeed in all ways imaginable. He is also the last specimen of a dying breed. Let’s hope that the next European elite will know better and not confuse the Will to Power with the suppression of the very institutions that make it sustainable.

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