Burn, Baby, Burn, like a Dystopian Inferno!
Reading Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ in 2015 is like checking the timetable of a ship that’s long since sailed.
If the seeds of style superceding substance, and being well-liked carrying more sway than being well-versed were taking root in the late ’40s, they’ve since spread into an all-pervasive network of apocalyptic, cultural knotweed. If you’ve ever participated in social networking, watched tv, flicked through a magazine, or been conscious at any time this century, you don’t need telling that appearance and popularity took precedence over actual talent quite some time ago – how straight and white your teeth are clearly overrides any pearls of wisdom that might pour forth from between them.
Looked at now, the dysfunctional world inhabited by the Lomans is charmingly quaint in it’s simplicity. As Willy’s facade of all-American success repeatedly shivers into transparency, we see the insecurities of a socially awkward, chubby, clammy-palmed failure, like the Wizard of Oz hiding behind his curtain of sales projections and macho bravado.
I’m not for one moment diminishing the message of the play. On the contrary, I think it clearly debunks not only the Capitalist dream, but also the myth that Capitalism equals progress. It’s just that from our post-crash dystopian perspective, the concept of a job for life sounds like a fairy tale. The idea of eventually clearing huge debts seems unattainable for most people. High levels of unemployment and the proliferation of zero hours contracts in the workplace, render the employment, financial and fulfilment challenges of the Lomans insipid compared to the uphill climb of most young people facing an adulthood of monumental debt and minimal hope. It’s like Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch but in reverse.
If anything, knowing what we know now makes the play more poignant. How might things have been different? Also, how much worse does it all need to get before we change the paradigm? Surely, by now, we’ve had enough of this madness? As Biff says
Will you take that phony dream and burn it before something happens?