Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Original Don"

I love everything about this image.

It's more than just a visual pun. Here's the thing about Don Draper that makes the image work: Draper is so clearly intended to stand for midcentury America. He's in charge, and likes being there; he came by it dishonestly; he has no past; things come easily to him; so easily he's a little paranoid about them; his wartime heroism is false, but having people believe in it is crucial; he manufactures commodity desire, but doesn't believe in happiness; he's fascinated by a counterculture that he'll never belong to, so he hires it--contract, not salary--and takes credit for its ideas.

So what does this image get about Don that we don't already know? It reveals the secret history of American prosperity, or the thing that made hyper-commodification and Madison Avenue possible in the first place. The American Century was structurally dependent on exporting capital to third world military dictatorships. This is a lot easier to see today, after Afghanistan and Iraq, but keeping the world safe for democracy always required gunpoint. And coups. Juntas. The Truman doctrine. Client states. The Domino Theory. United Fruit. Import substitution. Armas. Park Chung-Hee. Suharto. Pinochet.

I want to say the song gets this, since it slips into an almost military march about halfway through, as if the veil is being pulled back. But this might be giving Diplo and Switch too much credit; I'm not sure they ever stick with one idea for that long.

But when I look at this image, I feel like I've put on x-ray specs. Or Noam Chomsky's glasses. Same difference.

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