Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Crash metacommentary

Hanna Rosin shows the depth of her cultural understanding:
In one of the brainstorming sessions, Peggy throws out the Vietnam-era idea that “the child is the father of the man.”
Actually, it's classic Romantic era thinking; to be specific it's Wordsworth from 1802.
 My heart leaps up when I behold
       A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
 So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
      Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
       I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.
That's only 166 years off. It was a line much quoted during the Vietnam era of course because it is one of those lines that feels terribly deep when you're on drugs.

A lot of the people defending this indefensible episode are arguing that it was like a drug experience. And that is true enough but, while it is true that some of the people in the episode took drugs, the audience did not. Drugs alter your brain and make it malfunction so that reality appears to change but they don't actually alter reality. It makes sense that the people in the scene should not be able to make sense of reality, but their drugs shouldn't change what we see.

The sharpest observation this week comes, not surprisingly, from Tom and Lorenzo:
If you’ve ever listened to the Matthew Weiner commentary tracks on the show’s DVDs, you’ll quickly find out that Don Draper is (unsurprisingly) a Matthew Weiner stand-in, and that the show often uses the advertising world to make points about marrying creativity to mass media and corporate concerns. In other words, advertising is being used as a stand-in for television production. Weiner & Co. are using their own experiences in their careers to make observations about the careers of the people in the show.
I've never listened to the commentary on the DVDs myself (I was surprised to learn that they still make DVDs) but I'm perfectly willing to believe that is how Matt Weiner thinks about the show.  As I've said before, like Hollywood doing period drama, Matt Weiner tends to get the costumes right and the people who wear them wrong because he makes the people into projections of the current culture and not products of their own.

When people study the late 1960s at university, which is where journalists like Hanna Rosin (who was -2 in 1968) and Matt Weiner (who was +3) get there notions about the era, a very narrow focus prevails. As Tom and Lorenzo note, we get to hear the smooth sounds of Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 doing "Going Out of my Head" during this episode. That song was a couple of years old at the time but there was a string of smooth, easy listening tunes that were hits in the summer of 1968: Mrs. Robinson, This Guy's in Love With You, Grazin' in the Grass, People Got to be Free. That tells you a lot about how most people were experiencing the world.

I wish I could find it now, but years ago there was a show called The Wonder Years in which the older brother of one of the main characters dies in Vietnam. At the time, somebody did a calculation to determine how likely that was. How likely it was that someone on any random street in suburbia would have a brother die in Vietnam. The answer was not very likely at all. Even the most basic math confirms this. Although 1968 was a very bad year for the war with 16,592 deaths, that translates into only .008% of the population at the time. For most people, the war was a TV war and not a happened in their lives war.

Final thought, Sally has breasts! Nice legs too! I know, older men like me aren't supposed to notice these things. And yet the episode was simply dripping with teen sex. And that too was an aspect of 1968. Juts a few months in the the future from this week's episode, the Rolling Stones would record a song that celebrated the joys of sex with a fifteen year old girl! Think about that for a while. Think about how different that mentality is from our time.

A lot of the moralizing commentary on this episode focuses on the fact that a woman who robs the Draper apartment is played by a black actress. Worse, a mugger in an earlier episode also was black. This might be racist! I wonder why? Does anyone think that black muggers and burglars in Manhattan in 1968 were unheard of? I distinctly remember there being other criminals portrayed in the who who were white. (The couple who roll Don in the motel room, for example.) Meanwhile, another of the things that happened last week was that a teenage girl just back from her father's funeral was sexually exploited by a man much older than her and another man, her father's colleague, watched the sex happen. I guess that's just fine right?


  1. I hate to seem like I'm defending this mess of an episode, but I don't think it's that weird for film to reflect the mental state of a character through visual effects. It's kind of like having a "close 3rd person narration" in a work of fiction, which, while it is from the point of view of a disembodied narrator, preoccupies itself with the thoughts of one character.
    However, I think it enables a lot of storytelling laziness. I was thinking of this blog post I read a while ago--a quote: "Dream sequences are weak narrative devices because they can be used to invest themes into a story without building them... Depicting crazy people on film through their illusions can be interesting, but it also fails when there isn't a sense of where anyone stands within the film. It is not that the line between reality and fantasy is blurred, it is that the writers aren't concerned at all that anyone would think there is a line. Sure, they posture as if they are playing with it, but they are so sloppy as to be insulting." http://varropieces.blogspot.com/2010/12/problems-with-black-swan-movie.html

    Ken Cosgrove tap dancing was the part of the episode where I had to wonder if I was seeing something that was supposed to be "real life" or what.

    In addition to the headscarf thing that Tom and Lorenzo mention, Betty is also back to blonde hair, presumably so that the prostitute in the flashback can also resemble her.

    1. Years ago now I saw a stage and then the film version of Amadeus. You probably already know this, but the action in the play was not intended to be real but to be, rather, the confused memory of a Salieri who was sinking into dementia. The weird thing is that it worked on stage but not on film. Most people who saw the film were firmly convinced it was a Mozart biography.

      The same is true of Tom Stoppard's which works brilliantly on stage but I hope they never film it.

      I think it may be because there is such an obvious frame of reference when you watch a play. That disappears when we see film. Then again, I really don't know.

      It may be that the verisimilitude of film is just too overpowering. As you point out, when you see Ken tap dancing, you see Ken tap dancing. Sometimes Don's flashbacks, for example, have to be constructions of his imagination. No one seems to grasp this but "Dick Whitman" is more of a fictional construct than "Don Draper." And yet no one questions this even when his mythical past includes details Don could not possibly have experienced, most notably when he has a flashback of his own conception.

    2. Whoops, that should read "Tom Stoppard's Travesties".