Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Better Half metacommentary

Looking around the comments this week, I think the most telling thing is the silence. Over at slate, the comments have been slower and slower getting up. The blame for this rests on one person alone and that is Hanna Rosin. The other two get their stuff up on time but she is slow and has been getting slower and slower.

She's married to the editor of Slate by the way. I'm sure that has nothing at all to do with why she gets away with such shoddy work.

I held back on one thing yesterday because I wanted to see what others did or didn't make of it. It was Don's comment:
Why is sex the definition of being close to someone?
 To which Betty replies,
“I don’t know, but it is for me. It is for most people.”
This is hugely problematic in terms of the internal consistency of the drama.  For starters, it's a lie coming from Betty. She is saying it to someone she is having sex with but has no intention of being close to. In fact, throughout this episode Betty's interest in sex is narcissistic—she cares only to the extent that it makes her feel good about herself.

The second problem is that it's hard to figure out what Don means by the comment. Is he complaining or genuinely wondering? It appears to be the first but that makes no sense at all not in terms of the episode but of the entire show from season one.

Having bashed Hanna a bit at the start, let me say that I do understand some of her attitude. The show has been so boring this year, it's hard to care enough to bash anything about. I put off watching yesterday because I actually dreaded starting for fear of how awful it might be.  I was relieved not because itw as any good but because it at least wasn't as bad as I anticipated.

 Tom and Lorenzo start their recap with three quotes:
“She’s blonde, classy. You need to make these women different.”

“You’re the same person at times.”

“They’re two halves of the same person and they want the same thing but they’re trying to get it in different ways.”
I assume T&L are gay and that is why they can cite these things and then miss the obvious import of them. They immediately go into cheapo psychoanalysis about every person being two people and thereby miss the really important thing which is right on the surface: The blonde, classy one is Betty. Talk to any woman who is in love with a guy who was formerly married to or in a long relationship with another woman and you'll get it by the barge load. For the second woman in a guy's life, the first is a constant presence in the relationship.

She needs to differentiate herself from the previous woman. The most common mistake, by the way, is to try and be something other than sexual for him. I don't know why but the second women in a man's life almost  always assume that the first woman was really hot sexually and that they cannot live up to that. In my experience, the exact reverse tends to be the case.

But the show doesn't get that either does it? The show has Megan s a mass of contradictions. She doesn't even begin to understand herself. How is it, for example, that the mature, sensible and calm woman she was at the beginning turns into the shallow, fairytale princess we see now?

And here is a little liberal silliness masquerading as something else.
Once again, Peggy shows how little she understands current events: “They were brought here by slave ships!” “Well I was brought here by you!” Not that we didn’t side with her in this argument. It’s the height of liberal white guilt silliness to not want to help the cops find the person who stabbed you just because you feel they got a bad deal from society. On the other hand, Peggy seems to always go to the “I have it hard too” well every time someone brings up civil rights or racial issues.
Actually, Abe is the one shows little or no understanding of current events. They were not brought here in slave ships. Their ancestors were brought here in slave ships just as my ancestors were starved to death in Ireland and then fled in the hold of an empty lumber ship. In both cases it has remarkably little to do with what is going on right now.

T&L can at least see that it is liberal silliness to not help the police find the vile bastards who just stabbed you. What they can't see is that this is not what would happen in real life. Liberals mugged by reality act exactly according to script and that is by temporarily rejecting their ideals in favour of the current self interest just as Peggy does. Abe's reactions aren't silly, they are insane. The only possible explanation is that he is such an immature child that he doesn't get it, which is certainly consistent with what we have seen from him so far. The problem, however, is that I'm not sure his own creators are any smarter.

Finally, something from the comments yesterday:
You're right when you say that Men's magazine's wouldn't write article's about Manson's style, and that's the point. They aren't writing articles about Draper the Man, they're writing about Draper's style. Similarly, people don't watch the show because they admire Draper, they admire Draper's style. Certainly very shallow, but that's our world. 
I don't mean to pick on this particular commenter. He is only saying what almost everybody else says about Don Draper. I suspect that, in the end, Matt Weiner intends to make a similar judgment against the man. But I would like you to notice the odd contradiction in that. This is a show about style. That's what it has been from the get-go. The whole attraction of the show and the man, which is to say the same thing twice, is style. For it to end with a message that style is shallow pursuit of empty trappings would be like watching a porn film that ends by trying to prove that it's real message all along has been that sex is empty and celibacy is where real joy lies.

It's not that you can't believe that style is the shallow pursuit of empty trappings. It's a respectable position and you're welcome to try and make it if you want. The problem is this: no one who really believed that would have spent the last six seasons watching Mad Men.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. "It's not that you can't believe that style is the shallow pursuit of empty trappings...The problem is this: no one who really believed that would have spent the last six seasons watching Mad Men."

    Yes, so we were misled, it wasn't all about style in the first few seasons. We thought--and it appeared--that there was more substance there or the potential for it. Not only in the content but also in the production values. Remember the great camera shots reminiscent of Hitchcock in the early years, they haven't done anything that creative in years. I know several people who were Mad Men devotees for the first few years, who have gradually stopped watching it or they watch it only sporadically. I don't get the same kick I got watching it in Seasons 1-3, either. They've resorted to cliches.

    Also, the show and the man are not interchangeable. The show is about the man, so you can have a show with integrity that is true to its mission about a man completely lacking in integrity.