I am currently watching Mad Men Season 6, and enjoying it. Like everyone, I am taken in by the casting, writing and acting. As far as my memory goes, they do a good job recapturing that era with desks and hair and props. But they have complete control there, as my memory is triggered by their props and I do not know what is not triggered.
Woody Allen had a nice message in his movie Midnight in Paris: nostalgia is pointless. The past was just like the present. Back then we thought we were on the cutting edge of consumer technology (we were). So did Mark Twain, who thought the telegraph and electricity were the bomb. We forget that people then were as smart as people now, and better informed. (In 1969 perhaps 30% of the American public thought the moon landings were faked. Now it’s only 7%. We are dumbed down considerably.)
I don’t care about moon landings – that is Lincolnesque log-splitting stuff, the mythology that binds countries together. We all have it everywhere, and we need it if we are to have political boundaries and cohesive cultures.
The episode of a Mad Men I just watched included the Martin Luther King assassination. I was fortunate to have had a phone conversation with James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable, last week. He and my cousin are close friends, and she put me on the line. He had a good message for me.
More important than details here and there, he told me, is why they murdered JFK. I’ll add RFK, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King? Why did they murder or imprison every Black Panther leader? Why did Stokely Carmichael take refuge in Cuba? Ever hear of Mary Sherman? Gary Webb? Mike Connell? Mary Jo Kopechne? There are not scores of unsolved murders in our history. There are not hundreds. There are thousands, most names not well-known.
But take just one, Martin Luther King. With JFK and RFK, we fell into deep sadness. But killing MLK risked insurrection and revolution. Mad Men captures some of that. I remember when it happened that the Rat Pack entertainer, Sammy Davis Jr., came on The Tonight Show to beg everyone to stay calm, not to riot and tear down the cities. He was the epitome of the good negro, hair straightened and hanging out in Vegas with Frank and Dean and the boys. Take it in stride he said. Don’t get uppity.
There were riots, anger and angst, but the King murder was salt on the earth, the end of an era, and civil rights died with him. In its place we got the Rockefeller Drug laws and every potential black leader either in jail or dying. You might argue that blacks have made great progress in the years since, but killing MLK kept them in their place. He was uppity, and worse yet, was talking about Vietnam. Some say that was the trigger, the final scene in the play called Killing Hope. (One more high-profile assassination lay in store before the close of the era, George Wallace.)
Why did they kill Martin Luther King? They knew the risks. They thought it had to be done. Every assassination and every witness murdered, every journalist and crusader removed dampens our expectations. The good really do die young. By design.
We can have our nice cars and computers and social media, we can have music if it is empty of meaning. We cannot have hope or change. Those two things are not allowed. Ever. The words are no more than an empty ad slogan.