Noah Stepro

Noah Stepro

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“Family supper at Burger Chef”…This is the brilliant, enticing line for the new fast-food franchise the men and (more prominently) women from Madison Avenue are selling America at the closing of season 7 of Mad Men. This is why we love Mad Men…able to sum up the allusive and leering reality so many of us feel by packaging feelings and fears in order to sell the hope of security, peace, family, and fulfillment we all desperately desire. The secret-sauce (slight pun) is that the sales people proffering such a dream are the very antithesis of the very product they are pushing.


For Mad Men fans, we have been through 7 (6 1/2) seasons of ups and downs (mostly downs) with these characters…and one consistent theme that emerged from the first time we saw Don giving his Kodak Carousel pitch to the melt-down with the Hersey’s rep…SPIRITUAL HEALTH MATTERS IN THE WORKPLACE. It is as if AMC created an 85 episode melodrama to convey the importance of soul care and the dangers of the pursuit of wealth, power and sex all any cost.


Some friends of mine at 3DM recently published a short book on the idea of Oikonomics…that is the economic exchange that places value in every aspect of our lives, not just our financial worlds. The premise is brilliant and it is one that the likes of Don Draper and Roger Sterling would do well to take note of. In the human economy we have at our disposal five capitals, or resources, to which we can spend and gain as we leverage one or two of them for greater quantity of the others. They are in ascending order:


  1. Financial Capital (Dollars and Cents)

  1. Intellectual Capital (Concepts and Ideas)

  1. Physical Capital (Time and Energy)

  1. Relational Capital (Friends and Family)

  1. Spiritual Capital (Wisdom and Power)


We all poses in different measure and pursue these by varying importance. We are also called by Jesus to invest what we have and leverage it to gain the things that matter the most in life…The Kingdom (Mt25.14-30 and Mt13.45-46). I was not born with a high degree of financial capital, but was inherently given a great deal of relational capital from the church I came into as a teenager. I received investment from others and in turn invested in some folks around me…years down the road those relational investments have produced a return in financial, intellectual and spiritual capital. The people from Sterling Cooper certainly have a great deal of Financial and Intellectual Capital…but they are physical, relational and spiritual bankrupt. This is the ultimate ethos of the show.


This is also why these capitals have an ordering to them…financial capital is very important, but if you don’t have the intellectual power to manage it, it is useless; if you have no time or energy to use your financial capital or relational equity to spend it with what good is it? If you gain the world but lose your soul what good is it? Is this the not-so-subtle message Bert Cooper gives up in the closing of our half season as he is singing “The Best Things in Life Are Free”? The idea behind Oikonomics is that the best things in life do not cost money, but they do require a costly and very worthy investment.

Don Draper and the Economy of God – Oikonomics

Patriotism for Profit? The Propaganda of “Support the Troops”

What does it mean to be an American? Or better yet, who is a real American?

I don’t have television or cable, so I rarely get to glimpse the gems on the air these days that are not on my radar of Netflix or Hulu. We were on vacation last week and the cabin we were staying at had a television. My two year old (Paisley) grabbed the remote and turned on the Country Music Television channel…she is only two so I forgave her for that. JK, I know enough country music to recognize Keith Urban when I see him. This was a new song and the video entailed him singing in front of an American Flag while explosions went off and US troops ran around looking heroic. It was all quite patriotic…any gun totting, Wal-Mart shopping, truck driving, Bud-light drinking American would be proud to watch this video.

Then it hit me…”He is AUSTRAILIAN”!!!

What the heck is an Australian doing waving the flag in a way that most Americans wouldn’t? Is he that patriotic? Does he love America so much that he is willing to display his patriotism with self-abasing gusto that I would never put on? Possibly…

But I am willing to bet that such displays of Nationalism bump his record sales just a bit. This is Patriotism for Profit. Using national pride for ulterior motives is otherwise known as PROPAGANDA. (I’ve since found out it is for an up-coming movie called Act of Valor:)

For my history students using our Taking Sides Book…there is a great handout inside which points out the signs of propaganda and how to recognize it…below is a condensed version:

Propaganda Alert – look for…

  • Generalization
    • Drug Company Did Not Act on AIDS Virus Warning
  • Name Calling
  • Emotions and Persuasion
  • Appeals to Fear
  • Appeals to Hatred
  • Appeals to Pride
    • Anyone with the slightest bit of intelligence would realize…
  • Pseudo Solutions
    • The Economy is Bad…let’s all tighten our Belts
  • Slogans
    • Support the Troops

Country Music seems littered with many of these bullet points…patriotism for profit.


It seems that there is an air of suspicion when we questions such “patriotic” sentiments. We all want to “support the troops” but does that mean supporting the war as well? Some of the most patriotic men of our country gained their status by questioning authorities, searching out motives and rejecting slogans and emotional appeals. Think of Patrick Henry…“Give me liberty or give me death”, or “If this be treason, make the most of it”. Not necessarily the things you would hear on CMT today, but you will be hard pressed to find a more patriotic person than Henry.

So what defines someone as patriotic? As I began investigating I found this little gem that I am adding to my reading list Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism. If we look at the trends in history patriotism usually involves an act of sedition…standing for what you believe is right, regardless of the consequences. It rarely embodies the marketed, productions that we link together today. The fact that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a Christian socialist or that the American Flag gained cult like status because we tested immigrants “Americanism” by swearing on it (much like a Bible) is rarely known. Yet these are the things we focus our patriotic energies on.


What is Patriotism looked less like flag waving and more like political activist that actually voted for the right candidate, instead of the popular one or the one they thought likely to win? What if we stopped saying “support the troops” and started caring for them by questioning the wisdom of funding and pursuing wars at the expense of our soldiers and our society? What if our energies focused on things that would truly benefit our nation such as resolving educational funding, reforming the prison system, redistributing the tax burden to higher brackets and limiting the power of corporations