Thursday, July 11, 2013

Manly Thor's Day Special: Disturbing trends

I'm going to revisit the Mad Men, especially the episode "A Tale of Two Cities (Week 9). At the time that the episode was broadcast, I remember thinking that some of the commentary struck me as not just wrong but anti-male.

The first thing that jumped out at me was these remarks of Hanna Rosin's.
Don and Roger both suffer in this episode for their insular arrogance. ...  But Roger is very behind the times. The California execs see right through them. And Roger loses his showdown with Danny, the twerp he once fired who is now a successful Hollywood writer. Looking rich and handsome doesn’t get him very far anymore. At the pool party, Danny punches Roger in the balls and goes home with the girl.
First of all, she is wrong, the California execs catch him off guard, but Roger recovers well and they get the account.  Pretty soon they are talking about opening a new office in LA to handle it. More disturbing, though, is the claim that Roger loses his showdown with Danny. I'm sorry but sucker-punching someone in the testicles does not count as winning a showdown. That Rosin thinks it does says something about her and it isn't good.

There are rules of manliness and these rules matter. A certain amount of risk taking and bluffing is not only allowed but praised. But cheap shots are not. Rosin not only doesn't understand this, she judges everything she sees by an appalling double standard.

Back to Rosin:
There are two strains to the American bootstrap story, as Jackson Lears so beautifully lays out in Something for Nothing, and I think you’re right Paul, Bob Benson and Don Draper represent each one. The hero of one (Benson) is a self-made man who relies on discipline and hard work, who believes in a clear guiding principle (“one thing, just one thing”) and a Providential plan. The hero of the second (Draper) is a con man, a marginal type who depends on gambler’s luck and believes in grace as a kind of spiritual luck that falls from the sky.
Okay, hindsight has made her look pretty stupid here. She didn't know, and couldn't have known, that Bob was about to be revealed as a con man bluffing his way through just like Don. But she is just stupid to think that Don didn't make it on discipline and hard work. Yes, he once bluffed a hung-over Roger into thinking that maybe had had asked Don to come into work, but he proved his worth once there. The binary distinction she wants to make here is driven by nothing but hatred for men like Don Draper and Roger Sterling.

But it gets worse for there is an appalling double standard. You may remember that the episode also includes scenes in which Joan tries to bluff her way into getting Avon. In this she is helped by Peggy who fakes a call from Avon to help Joan. Rosin has nothing but praise for that.
Seth, you ask why the women—most notably Peggy and Joan—have to take the jagged, unexpected path to the top instead of climbing the corporate ladder. The obvious answer is that they have no choice. Anyway, isn’t the stereotype these days, confirmed by Lean In, that women sit around and wait for someone to hand them a promotion? If so, then maybe we all should learn to lie like Joan.

Dear Hanna, it's painfully obvious that you already know how to lie.

Bad style rising

This may seem trivial relayed to the above but the style trends emerging on the show are telling. Fans of the rebellious spirit of the 1960s like to forget about the 1970s or they pretend that that horrible culture and morals of that decade are somehow unconnected to the 1960s.

The really ugly and stupid clothing of the late 1960s and 1970s are beginning to make their presence felt.  Exhibit number one is that incredibly ugly pantsuit that Peggy wears in the final scenes of the finale. Read, and laugh along with me, as Tom and Lorenzo try to rationalize this monstrosity.
The Polyester Pantsuit of Power. A couple years ago, we were doing some hardcore research into the styles of the late ’60s, because we knew big changes were coming on the Mad Men front once they passed 1966 and we needed to refresh our memories. Early ’60s clothing is easier for us to discuss, but late ’60s clothing requires some fairly precise knowledge of the time and the culture in order to understand how revolutionary it was and to place the sometimes difficult-to-look-at (in the modern day) styles in context. ...

As hard as this is to accept or believe, this is the trendiest thing Peggy’s ever worn. Not only that, it’s the most declarative, important thing she’s ever worn. We cannot stress just how seismic it is for a woman to come into an office in 1968 wearing pants. It’s only slightly less seismic than a man walking into his office job wearing a dress in 2013. She’s actually a little ahead of her time here, and anyone who went through grade school in the 1970s has countless class pictures with smiling teachers wearing this exact outfit. It’s HIDEOUS to most modern eyes, but it did become something of a standard for working women through to about 1975 or so.
Well, that's okay then.

Well, no it isn't.  As I said way back in season one, it matters a whole helluvalot that an era characterized by taste and elegance is going to be replaced by an era of incredible crassness.

This is a major problem for a show like Mad Men. The music, the clothing, the cars, and the interiors that have characterized the show so far are about to disappear. There have been hippies and other signs of encroaching disaster but they have been kept to the background by focusing on the office. They can only hide this for so long. Everything is about to fall apart.

1 comment:

  1. Well, this is what happened to our society, not only in clothes and fashion but our culture in general. Compare what's on prime time TV today to what was on in the 50s and early 60s--Alfred Hitchcock, Perry Mason, Studio 1, Playhouse 90, Omnibus, Leonard Bernstein's lectures on the orchestra to young people, and a lot more. And this was all before cable TV and satellites. Yeah there were some sitcom klinkers, but overall the three major networks presented a much better fare than today. One of the reasons we like Mad Men is that even at its worst, its still a lot better than anything on the major TV networks.

    Even though Rosin couldn't anticipate the story line, she still cuts Bob Benson more slack because he's gay, or might be gay, which is another example of her anti-male bias. I know people who were devastated when Benson was revealed as a con artist, actually feel betrayed.