By coincidence I’ve been catching up on the past three seasons of “Mad Men” while working on a magazine story that involves interviewing a handful of the area’s bona fide .1%-ers. In the context of whether there is enough money and media machinery to sell the country a caricature of plutocratic cluelessness as dense as Mitt Romney, it’s been an interesting confluence of fiction and fact.
I’ve just finished Season 4, and all I know about the current year is that at some point Lane Pryce decks baby-faced Peter Campbell in an ill-considered office duel, sending the poor guy into an existential spiral. Personally I’m more interested in how bombshell Joanie thinks she’s going to foist off Roger Sterling’s bastard child — conceived in the apres throes of a mugging — as her husband’s. But as I left it Don has taken up with another child bride, the elegant Megan of the swan neck, and the world of hard-drinking, heavy-smoking, secretary-schtupping clod maleness was teetering on a brink.
While I regard “Mad Men” as a much less relevant and compelling show than “Breaking Bad”, a bona fide TV classic for its rampage through several layers of 21st century American zeitgeist, the saga of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce is terrific story-telling about a supposedly long-ago lost age when “The Business of America Is (Was) Business”.
Except of course very little of that has changed. We are still all about selling stuff.
Women and minorities are treated better in the business culture of 2012. Cigarettes aren’t advertised on TV. And even a guy as dapper and charming as Don Draper would be eviscerated in cyberspace for even one of his office transgressions, not to mention what HR would have a legal obligation to do to him, private company or not. So there’s been some improvement.
But the reason I continue to tell people that Mitt Romney is the conversation this country should have right now is because he represents — in his wholesome Mormon way — the clear and logical extension of Don Draper and the ’60s Mad Men. Like them, the ends — more sales, fatter profit margins — is an end that justifies the means. And like a slippery ad man blithely contorting truth and logic, Romney has proven himself willing and able to say anything — and I mean anything — to move his product, which of course is Mitt Romney and (implicitly) the protection of the enfranchised elite.
All the CEOs I’ve been chatting with — bankers and retailers — have up-from-middle-class pedigrees. None of the bunch was to the manor born. Although, a couple had business-savvy fathers and most had a talent for math. Politics per se hasn’t been on the agenda, but re-floating the economy has, and the consensus is that more regulation and “uncertainty” is perilous for a full recovery.
Romney was an inevitability given the spectacularly inept competition the modern conservative movement put up against him. And while I seriously doubt it, it is possible he could win. His positions on financial reform/regulation and other significant government-regulated money issues have sympathetic ears in executive suites because … they hew to a familiar, established model that large businesses used (not illegally, necessarily) to prosper. Dramatic change is an expense every EBITDA-anxious executive prefers to avoid, and truth be told, once you rise to the .1%, nothing that any mere President does is going to effect you all that much.
Not so everyone else, of course. But unlike your average bank CEO, you and your neighbors can only pretend to understand economics on a titanic scale. Most people buy into the quaint but hopelessly out of touch correlation between “a family working their budget over the kitchen table” and providing guidance and transparency to the $15 trillion American economy.
In an ideal world, the presence of Mitt Romney in a presidential campaign would be an opportunity for a six month course in high finance, on the value (or lack of it) of leveraged buy-outs, exotic financial “instruments” and products”, mechanisms beyond the understanding of even Alan Greenspan, once a guru of high finance, now justifiably regarded as a feckless enabler of anonymous savants with a much higher aptitude for math than he or 99.99% of the rest of the planet.
It goes without saying that I doubt we’ll get anything like an adult conversation in the value of maintaining our highly/inordinately financialized economic model, where so much money is kited back and forth as gambling bets and not nearly enough is directed at capital expansion. One reason is that this sort of conversation is far too arcane and dull for the media that most people prefer to consume. I love the Seamus the Dog on the Roof stuff as much as anyone. But how the likes of Bain Capital used perfectly legal maneuvers to unload pension obligations on the government/taxpayers while exploiting (perfectly legal) tax advantages (that they lobbied in to place) to exempt themselves from liabilities you and I would have to pay on the profit from selling Mom and Dad’s house is a lot more relevant to my idea of a “robust recovery”, as the CEOs like to say, than a doofus mistreating his dog.
Still, the possibility is there and a serious conversation about how we do business in 2012 America is far more likely with Romney on the scene than, say Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. Either of those two at the top of the ticket (or any of the other “candidates” save Jon Huntsman) would have meant an entire lost year of eye-rolling stupidity, pandering to the dimmest and angriest and breathtaking cynicism.
Ok, you got me. Romney will deliver all of that. But with his bankroll his style of cynical pandering will come with a Don Draper gloss where the others would continue to look and sound like an infomercial produced on the cheap by someone’s alcoholic uncle.
Finally, in the realm of show biz … I can’t tell you how many times a day I’m stopped on the streets and asked about my performance in “Patti Rocks”, the dramedy shot by my old buddy David Burton Morris back in the ’80s. (Actually I do know the number.) Though I was crushed when Morris cut my nude scene — the MPAA is such a bunch of prudes, each of those acts was dramatically valid — I was pleased to learn the other day that David has a new movie in the works. Titled, “Full Cleveland”, it is set up with Ransom Pictures in LA for an early 2013 shoot.
And what, you ask is “Full Cleveland”? It is, he says, “a road movie romance between two totally mismatched characters”. David will be partnering with Guy Louthan his producer on “The Price of Love”. Louthan is finishing up a thriller with Halle Berry and little Abigail Breslin called “The Hive”.
And yes, I will be auditioning for a lead role. Although, frankly, I was younger then, and I don’t know if my skin can tolerate all the hair removal and bleaching again.