Monday, September 21, 2015

Don Draper's Emmy

They've finally given an Emmy to Jon Hamm. With it comes an "explanation" of why it took so long, "explanation" here meaning "theory".
The Emmys’ revised rules permit a broader, less informed voting pool, and whispers of it being “Hamm’s time” likely secured his victory. The result was an award that felt more like an apology than an ode to craft. Which prompts the question: Why did it take this long to recognize the star of the decade’s most praised series? And what is it that made Hamm’s performance as Draper so antithetical to awards?
I'm not sure it feels like an apology so much as if feels like fan service.

And is Jon Hamm such a good actor? I don't know and I suspect you don't either. I've never heard of him doing any other roles terribly well. Perhaps he has. Perhaps he hasn't. I can't help but wonder at the "broader, less informed voting pool". Perhaps professional actors aren't so impressed at Hamm as we fans are at Don Draper. Or, to put it another way, was it Jon Hamm's acting that made the show or was it the role he had to play?

There is a big clue hidden in the Slate article I quote above. The article makes passing mention of a "notorious pan" of the show by Daniel Mendelsohn. You can read it here but, if, like me, you're a big fan of the show, you won't like it much. You won't like it because so much of what Mendelsohn has to say is right on the mark. There is a lot about Mad Men that was simply awful. There are entire episodes that are so badly conceived and written that they should never have been filmed never mind inflicted on the public.

But it's even worse than that. Mendelsohn sums up the shows appeal towards the end of the article and comes very close to getting it right.
This, more than anything, explains why the greatest part of the audience for Mad Menis made up not, as you might have imagined at one point, by people of the generation it depicts—people who were in their twenties and thirties and forties in the 1960s, and are now in their sixties and seventies and eighties—but by viewers in their forties and early fifties today, which is to say of an age with those characters’ children. The point of identification is, in the end, not Don but Sally, not Betty but Glen: the watching, hopeful, and so often disillusioned children who would grow up to be this program’s audience, watching their younger selves watch their parents screw up.
That's what the show tried to be. But it failed. Much like The Preppy Handbook, of decades ago, the unintended effect of the show was to make the culture it meant to criticize seem like something to emulate.

In creating Don Draper, Jon Hamm and the shows writers created a sort of character that we don't see any more; they created a character of the sort that John Wayne, Cary Grant, James Stewart and Gary Cooper used to play. Those actors always played a sort of ideal male and they always played the same ideal role.

And that sort of acting is not currently in style, which is what makes it so hard to say whether or not it good enough for an Emmy. You apply a completely different set of criteria when judging such acting and a big part of that judgment is of the character himself.

That, by the way, may have a lot to do with why it took so long for Hamm to win. Awarding him the Emmy while the series was still running would have amounted to an endorsement of the character. We could all see that Weiner et al were trying very hard to deconstruct Don Draper but the fan reaction showed it wasn't working. It never did but the show being over has dispelled the magic. Don can't come back now. Not as Don Draper anyway.

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