Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Mad Men metacommentary: Oh Hanna

Hanna Rosin never disappoints:
This episode, being all about cars, was structured loosely like a road movie, in which the characters get to shift the frame by changing locations. “Throw the map out the window, hit the road Jack,” Ted tells Don in a classic road movie scenario: In a strange bar in a strange town, the two buddies figure out the so-crazy-it-just-might-work solution to their problems. But road movies are traditionally for dudes. The women have to stay behind, tend the hearth, and take their mothers out to lunch because as they keep reminding the men it’s Mother’s Day. (That’s why in Thelma & Louise the two girlfriends get punished for breaking the rules with DEATH.)
Those poor women, they get shafted every time.  This isn't just a miserably bad interpretation of last night's show, it also gets Thelma & Louise wrong. Watch that ending again. Whatever it is, that isn't punishment.

Hanna isn't alone in seeing nothing but women getting the rough end,  again, sigh, in this episode. Margaret Lyons saw things similarly. I wonder if it's difficult maintaining that level of cynical bitterness all the time. Well, no, of course it isn't. The thing about being an unhappy bitch all the time is that it's painfully easy to do so.

There is not much more to say on that point except perhaps to contrast what Margaret and  Hanna saw with what some others saw:
Watching “For Immediate Release” is like riding a rickety old wooden roller coaster that thrills you with its seemingly unsafe twists and turns and leaves you feeling sore for a couple of days. That’s a compliment, by the way.
Ah, there’s the Mad Men we’ve been missing.
When Mad Men is slow, it's really slow. Then when it gets moving but good, it's like Ocean's Eleven, with the jazzy score and the jaunty angles and the wisecracking.

I liked the overall energy, the jazzy vibe of the episode. I think we all enjoy Mad Men more when Don is on his game and crushing life.  
Turn up the testosterone, and everyone loves the show and everyone loves Don. Except they don't like to admit it because that would be to admit that the pre-boomer men were more manly and more interesting and generally more admirable than boomer and post-boomer men have been. It's not the fact of the matter that troubles them—everyone knows that men have changed for the worst—they just don't like admitting it.

Even poor Hanna gets wet when Don takes charge, as he did just a few weeks ago:
My favorite scene was the one between Don and Sylvia at the restaurant, because it reminded us that Don’s power comes from his ability to see through other people’s codes. Left alone with her lover at a restaurant, without sex to distract her, Sylvia’s Catholic guilt starts to press in. But Don calls her on it right away. “You want to feel shitty right until the point when I take your dress off. Because I am going to do that. If you want to skip dinner, fine, but don’t pretend.” Now that’s a line that can raise the temperature.
This is what Hanna wants: a world in which men are praised for being masterful about sex (but only when they correctly read a woman's mind) and hated for their efforts to be masterful anywhere else (particularly when they succeed and women fail).

The history that isn't

I commented in the last post about the alternative history so beloved of progressives. Here's a related thought to leave you with: Did you ever notice how little impact the big events of boomer mythology have on characters of the show? Martin Luther King was assassinated last episode and nobody even mentioned it this time. The JFK assassination was a big couple of episodes but can you point at one single thing about the show that suggests that it had any long-term impact on the characters or the culture they live in? Neither can I.

Now, we might say, "That's because it's a show and it simply forgets to connect all the dots." Perhaps, but notice how easily we all accept it when the show does these things. That history is something you study in books, especially when you take courses on late 20th century history or pop culture at university but it doesn't match up very well with what you experience when you look outside the textbooks. The big events but life goes on.

That should trouble us a whole lot. It suggests that the show has blundered into a truth worth taking a deep look at.

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