Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Imitatio project: Nostalgia

First thought

What do these words mean?
Because there are people out there who buy things. People like you and me. And something happened, something terrible. And the way that they saw themselves is gone. And nobody understands that. But you do. And that's very valuable.
Give up?  think it's the boomer vision of the 1960s.

They're the words that Don says to Peggy at the end of Season 3 to win her over and get her to follow him in starting a new agency. The obvious suggestion is that Peggy, having given up her baby, knows what it is like to lose her innocence.

The whole Peggy and her baby subplot might seem like a lawnmower moment; that is to say it might seem like one of those moments where the show just gets weird and quirky because it can, and "screw you" loyal viewer expecting sense. But it isn't. That plot is all about abortion. But the creators were too chicken-hearted to show an actual abortion so we got this crazy Peggy-was-in-denial-about-being-pregnant plot instead.

But the consequences were exactly the same as if she'd had an abortion. And thus her "abortion" is her loss of innocence.

Why is that the boomer vision of the 1960s? Because every boomer lost their own innocence sometime. It was more likely in the 1970s than the 1960s but the 1960s are the decade with the revolutionary mythology associated with it. As a consequence, boomers narcissistically  project their personal loss of innocence onto the whole decade. Some terrible event, the Kennedy assassination is the usual favourite, changed everybody so that "the way they saw themselves is gone".

Now the fascinating thing here is that Weiner obviously thinks we will see a strong parallel between Peggy and Don here. She lost her innocence by having a heavily disguised "abortion" and he lost his in Korea.

And I hope you can see the problem here. It doesn't fit either character. It makes them both into passive characters whose major significance is what happened to them as opposed to what they did. That's not the way we see them when we watch the show at home but I think it is the way Matt Weiner saw them when he created them.

Think of Don's return from Korea in season one. What was his plan? He has to have known that he would be recognized immediately when he got off the train. So why did he even get that far? Was he planning to step off the train and put a finger to his lips so everyone would be quiet until the other authorities were gone?

None of it makes any sense. And I think it doesn't make sense because Matt Weiner has always conceived of Don not as a deserter, that is, not as a guy who acts, but as someone nursing an old wound. ("Teddy told me that in Greek, “nostalgia” literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone")

Here's the problem, you can't disdain nostalgia if you like and watch Mad Men. The whole appeal of the show is nostalgia. If you hate the show, you can hate nostalgia. If you hate the fact that other people love the show, you can hate nostalgia. But if you like, even just a little bit, you can't do that.

So , whatever else he does, Matt Weiner has to justify the nostalgia. At the same time, he has to be true to the porogressive liberal notion that the past is so tainted with sex and racism that it is EVIL!!!!! and that the only justification for past culture is that it led to future culture. The old wound is what allows the show to both embrace and reject the past. Well, Weiner thinks it does anyway.

More tomorrow ...

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