Monday, May 28, 2012

Meta-meta: One of them cannot be right

Matt Zoller Seitz and Allan Sepinwall sat down to watch what was ostensibly the same episode of Mad Men last night. Here is what Seitz saw:
"The Other Woman" focuses on its three lead female characters (sorry, Betty!) at critical junctures, moments when they can retreat or advance. Astonishingly, and at great personal cost, they all advance, and exit stronger than they entered. 
And Sepinwall:
It's an hour about women being viewed as a commodity to be bought and sold, or simply owned, spelled out bluntly, horrifically and yet beautifully by Don delivering Ginsberg's "At last: something beautiful you can truly own" tagline just after we've seen Joan slipping uncomfortably out of the Jaguar exec's bed.

Sepinwall has the more interesting take on the show by a long shot. Seitz, however, is an interesting example of a post-feminist quandary. The primary issue is that nothing can ever be a woman's fault in a post-feminist world. So if a woman sells her body then it has to be either because some evil pimp of a guy manœuvered her into it or because she has made a wonderfully brave self-affirming decision to control her own body and her future. Although I say either, Seitz seems to want to be able to condemn Pete for being a pimp and praise Joan for taking control.

Either way, his position is a morally ludicrous but not uncommon one: pimps bad, whores good. Unless, of course, a black hip hop artist raps about being a pimp and says degrading things about women, in which case the morality doesn't quite reverse but it all becomes "understandable".

Even Sepinwall, however, seems unwilling to criticize Joan directly. Over at Slate, Julia Turner is willing to go a little ways in that direction. Her remarks are worth reading at some length:
Joan, meanwhile, has finagled a place at the partner’s table, by way of a sordid assignation with Herb from the Jaguar dealers’ association. The incident smeared muck onto everyone who came in contact with it, including Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, and various sultans of Araby. It made Pete look bad, for pushing the idea. (How Pete-ishly slimy was his initial insinuating approach?) It made Bert look bad, for ineffectually saying “Let her know she can still say no,” and washing his hands of the matter. It made Lane look bad, for pretending to be Joan’s friend—urging her to ask for a 5 percent partnership, rather than cash—when in fact he was serving only himself, hoping to conceal his financial skullduggery a few weeks longer. It made Roger look horrible: “I’m not going to stand in the way, but I’m not paying for it,” he said, marking nothing but his first refusal to pay for something all season. And, finally—and not to get all judgmental about it—it made Joan look bad.
Why not get "all judgmental" about it?  She has no trouble getting all judgmental about Pete. Is there some doubt about making "judgments" selling your dignity and your body for personal gain? Or to put  it in an old-fashioned way, about being a whore? Well, yes, there is in the era of the sex-trade worker of Babylon.

By the way, the guys at Slate have yet to respond to Turner as of 2:20. I'm not sure whether that is because they are too busy licking the polish off of Lena Dunham's shoes or whether he moral quandaries posed by last night's episode are too daunting.

Turner is also of mixed feelings about Peggy's departure. My sister had the same reaction and Sepinwall also wouldn't want her to just go. All argue that it is Peggy's character is what they will miss. I wonder. Or is it the Peggy-Don connection they will miss?


  1. Out of the two first commentators, Sepinwall seems obviously correct. The most uncomfortable, and almost too obvious (from a writing point of view), example of what he's talking about was when the director and the theater people had Megan turn around before she even got a chance to speak. It's interesting that she/the writers mention that the director is gay: it seems to make the economic or exploitative side of things even stronger.

    BTW, why is this meta-meta? If you're commenting on commentators, isn't it just regular old meta?

    1. I agree about Sepinwall.

      The other thing, and I may revisit this in a post later is that we are also implicit in it. That stood out most clearly in the scene in the boardroom when Megan's friend entertained the creative team by crawling on the desk. There is a shot where it is framed so we can see her black panties up her skirt but none of the characters in the scene could have seen what we see. So, do we watch that and feel superior to them because they approve of the exploitation of women' bodies for commercial purposes while the camera is doing the same for us?

      As to meta-meta, I did that mostly because it was cute. Hastily justifying myself in retrospect, Id say that I was thinking of the show as the text, the commentary as meta-text and my commentary on the commentary as meta-meta text. Maybe that doesn't really work but ...

    2. For some reason this thing isn't letting me edit my own comments. Anyway, the first sentence should read "... we are also implicated".