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In Today's America, Death of a Salesman Is Dead

Because we have no middle class to celebrate
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted May 3, 2012 11:56 AM CDT
In Today's America, Death of a Salesman Is Dead
In this theater image released by Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Philip Seymour Hoffman is shown in a scene from "Death of a Salesman," in New York.   (AP Photo/Boneau/Bryan-Brown, Brigitte Lacombe)

(Newser) – Philip Seymour Hoffman gives a bravura performance in the new revival of Death of a Salesman, but as he watched, Lee Siegel wondered "why the play was revived at all," he writes in the New York Times. After all, Salesman is about the delusions of the middle class, and "the American middle class—as a social reality and a set of admirable values—has nearly ceased to exist." Heck, no one in the middle class could afford to see Salesman anyway; tickets range from $111 to $840.

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That's a tenfold increase from its 1949 opening, back when the top marginal tax rate was 82%, and before today's 28% rate created a class of über-rich that could afford high prices for everything. Falling middle-class wages and the eroding safety net "have given the lie to now quaint values like hard work," Siegel writes. In today's world of banker hustlers and Internet hotshots, Willy's modest dreams "make him a deluded loser," someone for those who can afford to see the play to feel comfortably superior to. Click for Siegel's full column. (Read more Death of a Salesman stories.)

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