WARNING: Do not read if you haven’t read Zero History and intend to (here be a giant spoiler). Also requires knowledge of not just the Bigend trilogy, but also the TV shows Mad Men and Sons of Anarchy.
Kevin and I came up with a counterpoint to Bigend-Draperism the other day. It is Pollard-Tellerism. Cayce Pollard being one of the main protagonists of the Bigend trilogy and John Teller being the former-leader of the Sons of Anarchy outlaw motorcycle club in the TV show Sons of Anarchy.
This discussion between Kevin and I started as we discussed merging the character of Truxton Spangler (another corrupting leader), from Rubicon, in with Bigend-Draperism. I made a short-lived argument to insert Mackeyism, The Shield being a show I’m currently gorging on. Eventually we settled on the world of Sons of Anarchy as a sharper counterpoint to Mad Men.
Where Bigend-Draperism is about control, Pollard-Tellerism is about freedom. Where Bigend and Draper embody The Man, Pollard and Teller are rebels with a cause.
Let me elaborate..
Hubertus Bigend and Donald Draper are about the manufacture and co-option of cool. They are in the business of persuading people; telling them what to think, often through trickery. Subcultures exist to be mined for new ways to sell people stuff they don’t need. They use people as tools to accomplish their goals. They sit above the masses.
Cayce Pollard and John Teller are about authenticity and pure ideals. They don’t seek power, just the chance to freely pursue what they believe in. Both creating alternate systems, outside the existing order, to accomplish this. They don’t want to change (or control) the world; just to build their own along with like-minded souls.
Cayce is about anti-fashion, wearing classic, muted, de-branded clothing, “things that could have been worn, to a general lack of comment, during any year between 1945 and 2000“ (Pattern Recognition). Bigend is about cutting-edge fashion; being loud and present and at the very cutting edge, nay defining just what is In. Hubertus rides the ‘wave of the new’ from outside for fun and profit. Pollard is the native tribe-member, reluctantly taking bribes for goods and access unavailable to her any other way.
Donald Draper is the epitome of a self-made man, climbing the social ladder at any cost; be it to the truth, his own self-worth, or the well-being of those around him. John Teller is a man that rejected society’s rules and set out to find his own way and protect his extended family of Fellow Travellers.
Bigend-Draperism is some value of Evil. Neither are nice people, though they each delude themselves into thinking what they do is necessary, that if they aren’t doing it someone else will; someone worse than them. Perhaps the best thing they do is identify talent and support it through patronage. But they also corrupt it in doing so. Cayce is the perfect example – finding herself having a career based on her unique allergies and sensitivities – she is forced to betray, even if it’s ever so slightly, what she loves. Bigend as the Devil-in-a-nice-suit offering her support to fulfil her own goals (solving the mystery of the Footage in Pattern Recognition), using the knowledge she finds for his own impure ends. Even in Zero History, creating the perfect ‘brand’ existing completely outside the existing fashion system, she concedes that she must join it in the end, in order to continue.
Likewise, Mad Men‘s Peggy constantly flirts with the bohemian lifestyle, but resists it, always returning to help Don sell woman new pantyhose or change brands of floor cleaner. In fact, by the time she encounters the alternate living New Yorkers the damage is already done; she is grateful to Don for the chance he has given her and is slowly becoming him. Her corruption complete, she will join him on the DarkSide.
The concept was pure, simple, true, it inspired me, led a rebellious fire, but ultimately I learned the lesson that Goldman, Prudot and the others learned. That true freedom requires sacrifice and pain. Most human beings only think they want freedom. In truth they yearn for the bondage of social order, rigid laws, materialism, the only freedom man really wants, is the freedom to become comfortable
John Teller‘s vision in founding the outlaw MC club with his friends was to create and control their own existence, apart from a world they saw clearly and wanted no part of. But ‘this life’ of theirs, as they refer to their outlaw lifesystle (and I can’t help but make the association between them and the outlaws of The Sopranos, who used the phrase ‘this things of ours’), led to his own destruction (or so it has been implied).
His outlaw crew became less an anarchist group than just another type of criminal organisation. This is the tension that drives the show, as his son Jax Teller discovers John’s secret manuscript detailing his original vision, how it all went wrong and how it could perhaps be fixed. Can Jax restore the Sons to it’s original vision, or is the damage already done?
Coupled with this is the strange fact that the outlaws’ strongest ally is the local sheriff, himself corrupted by the club, in the name of protecting the town they share and love. In the Sons of Anarchy everyone has been forced to comprise their ideals.
Cayce, driven by love of authenticity and purity, has to ‘give in’ to the Real World to take her “de-branded” brand, Gabriel Hounds, to the ‘next level’. (Sadly, how this plays out is an exercise for the reader.)
Cayce Pollard and John Teller both have moments in which they achieve that which they desperately seek, but they are fleeting and doomed to end. They are idealists in an imperfect world that will never let them win for long. This is their message and in studying them we learn to be wary, to watch for corrupting influences in pursuing our own pure agendas.
At this point though it’s necessary to step back, get a little meta and speak about just what Bigend-Draperism and Pollard-Tellerism are. A case could be made that what we’re doing here (we being myself, Kevin and others seeing the world in terms of Bigend and Draper) is deifying these fictional characters. That we’re creating deities in a Hyper Real religion, something Cat Vincent, who I count amongst this number, referred to in this post on Otherkin and the Na’vi religions. A new pantheon for a new era. That what I have been doing on this blog of late is treating the Bigend trilogy as a sacred text; searching it for Truths.
If we are doing this, it’s in a very self-aware way, that I would count equally as an act of what Cat has named The Tribe of the Strange – “to assemble our personal instruction manuals from found work. “
Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles is another work that fits neatly within the Pollard-Tellerism framework. Via this it is tempting to try and wedge the show Rubicon in again. The character Miles having framed covers of the comic mounted on his office wall.
So many connections can be made between different works it can verge on apophenia. And to be clear, villain that Draper is, I still long for the little bits of philosophy that leak out through the show. Just as I wait anxiously in each new episode for Jax to quote once more his father’s manuscript.
Clearly I have a thing for the hidden texts that drive characters. The ZFT manifesto in Fringe was my most favourite thing of all (sadly that seems to have been abandoned). And we also have The Darkening Sky novel haunting the comic book universe of Doktor Sleepless.
More than the shows itself, it’s these I long to read. I yearn for their publication, yet so far the Laura Palmer Dairies from Twin Peaks seems to be a rare exception.
Art casts a mirror on society as it is, as it has been and as it could be. How we use these visions and what connections we make is up to us. I contend that Bigend-Draperism and Pollard-Tellerism are two powerful ways to frame this world we find ourselves in.