Friday, December 14, 2018


Whatever Greenwich Village may once have been or may now be supposed to have been, anyone who has recently strayed down MacDougal Street on a Saturday night knows that now it is a playground. What Coney Island was once to the honest workingman, Greenwich Village is now to the unmarried or ex-married young professional. The Village streets, pads, coffee houses, and bars are jammed with people who look a million times more sensitive, artistic, and "interesting" than William Faulkner or Igor Stravinsky, but who live by teaching economics, analyzing public opinion, writing advertising copy, practicing psychoanalysis, or "doing research" for political candidates. They are not intellectuals, but occasionally dream that they will be. That is their secret ambition. Meanwhile, being young and frisky, they are not yet the "managers" in our highly organized technical society. But they have the skills someday to become managers. Just now they don't want power any more than they want marriage. They want a good time, and a good time is what they go to the Village for, and a good time in the Village is what they get. [i]
“The Village Today: or The Music the Money Makes” Alfred Kazin, in 1960 reviewing a book of Village Voice columns by Bill Manville.  Kazin like MacDonald, a writer from the older tradition, not an academic, a reader of literature not strictly newspapers and social science, a friend of Arendt, still a humanist, a reader for subtext, of the words on the page and not only the arguments they’re claimed to make. “They are not intellectuals, but occasionally dream that they will be. That is their secret ambition.”.  My mother divorced her first husband, she said, because he didn’t understand the tragedy of life. He was an optimist.  He went on work in the White House flacking the Great Society and the Vietnam war. And now almost 60 years later a college graduate with the same optimism can designate himself a “public intellectual” and people will take him at his word. 
Mad Men is a flat screen Disney World for people who grew up on reruns, made by suburban infants of the 60s for an audience of the suburban infants in the 70s and 80s. It’s dirty and sterile. Todd Haynes’ films, the older highbrow version of this are a mashup of Douglas Sirk and Ozzie and Harriet, second hand history and fetishist misogyny. The real subject of course is always the present, but the present is embalmed too, and that specifically is notthe subject. There’s so much art, meaning artifice, there’s no room to breathe, and darkness is twisted through technical mastery that the end is not less observation than projection. Haynes' films are worse than a bad Coen brothers film, crueler, because no strained attempt at comedy, just Americans finding ways to avoid responsibility while watching other people fuck up. But there are also good Coen brothers films, and The Wire and Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, and like Warhol, those are black as pitch.   
“Mailer was a left conservative.”[ii]Didion was a Goldwater Girl. MacDonald mocked his own past as a Trotskyite. Liebling, Herr and Page lived through extremes, You can indulge as a craftsman and admit that you’re indulging; you can fight so much to deny something that it shows up in everything you do, but art doesn’t work as symptom. It needs to be made so that someone without the fixations can feel their pull. Works can be  popular when they’re made because the tastes, desires and fears, are common. That doesn’t mean the work will last.  Haynes and Matthew Weiner are like Talese and Wolfe. The perversity is as clear as the desperation to avoid the subject. The problem isn’t the kink; it’s the dishonesty. Didion indulges journalistic sleaze. She’s a voyeur, passive, condescending, but she’s cruel to herself too. That’s enough to keep your sympathy. Art is conservative, or it’s reactionary.

[i]Alfred Kazin, “The Village Today: or The Music the Money Makes”, in Contemporaries, Atlantic-Little Brown, 1962
[ii]  Norman Mailer, The Armies of the Night, Penguin, 1995 

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