Thursday, June 24, 2004

General Mills

So, having finally taken the measure of Mills's Power Elite I can now say that I was not mistaken in my premonition of just under three weeks ago that it would induce in me a fit of a peculiar sort of plus ca changism. Of course, though, to say that my reading of the book ended up making me feel exactly as I had expected it would is not at all to say that I learned nothing from it; and in fact I learned a great deal. But before explaining what it was I learned (and in order to explain it) I should perhaps first give the reader some sense of the plus ca changeism I'm talking about as against the ordinary garden-variety plus ca changism that consists in the simple recognition of the past in the present or vice versa. I learned a great deal less, mind you, about the world the book purported to describe than about the world that preceded it and the world of the present. Received plus-ca-changeist wisdom about the 60s is concerned with debunking the myth of the 50s as the golden age of the nuclear family, the era of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, et cetera et ad nauseum; it is in other words, presentist in its polemical slant. "We may think of the 50s as the 'Good old days,' the conventional plus-ca-changeist "but statistics show that the rate of out-of-wedlock births was as high as/nearly as high as/ higher than it is today." But my form of plus-ca-changeism takes the following form: "We may think of the 50s as the good old days but it's shocking to discover how bad they already were--how far back the badness of the present extends, and how much of a fall civilization had already taken by then." Now, if my plus ca changeism had turned out to be of the familiar plus la meme chose kind, you would expect me to be saying here that what I learned was that things have more or less always been as bad as they are now, I'd be taking the line that this book was a wake-up call to all those who would idealize the 50s . But my plus-ca-changeism was a different variety: the more you think things have changed for the worse recently, the further back in time "recently" turns out to be.

Mills himself, for all of his relative youth, seems to be a man of an earlier epoch: "In America, [the celebrity] system is carried to the point where a man who can knock a small white ball into a hole in the ground with more efficiency and skill than anyone else thereby gains access to the President of the United States."

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