Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Mad Men: Moving on from here

One of the signs of just how shallow our culture has become is the way all commentary on Mad Men dries up in the 24 hours after the season finale every year. At precisely the moment when we are actually in a position to analyze the show in a meaningful way, the news cycle demands that we move on.

So I thought I'd take a different approach to this year's wrap up: instead of looking back, I'm going to look forward. Here is the project I'm working on, imagine that, instead of watching next season, I decided to write a piece of fan fiction instead. If I were doing that, what would I have to build on?

The answer to that is both obvious and evasive. The obvious part is that our hero has an old-fashioned kind of masculine virtue to draw on.  He was trying to be a certain kind of man.

Now our culture both demeans and honours such a man. The demeaning part is the assumption that Don is living a fake life and needs to allow himself to be the man he really is. To continue to be Don Draper, we are assured, is to risk massive breakdown and failure. Keeping it all boxed in like that is, we are told, a recipe for failure.

Before going on, notice that that explanation is old-fashioned and wrong. It's based on nineteenth century pneumatic physics that was used as a metaphor for nineteenth century psychology by Freud. It treats our emotional self as if it were a steam-powered machine needing safety valves to let off the pressure before it builds up and explodes. And that is important to note because that 19th century psychology was wrong. Men (and women, for that matter) who "hold things in" don't explode and lose control. The better you get at controlling your emotions, the less likely you are to have some sort of giant character meltdown. It's the man who is constantly venting and complaining who has no self control and blows up.

As an aside, where this season's show went deeply wrong was in the huge shift from good storytelling to Freudian bullshit that happened right from the beginning of the season but especially in episode 3 "The Collaborators". Basing your fiction on discredited pseudo-science like Freud is to guarantee failure, so that is the first thing to thrown overboard.

There are some other things that we cannot disregard because they are facts of Don Draper's life. So as to avoid confusion, I'll assign them to a new character whom I will refer to by his initials JAC.* Let's start with some limitations:
  • JAC didn't have a strong father to provide him with a good example of manliness
  • He grew up in a feminized environment driven by social policing and dubious sexual morals
  • He has a drinking problem.
  • He has a a lot of romantic baggage that he brings along from the past.
  • The replacement he found for his first failed relationship is another weak and ineffectual woman who never grew out of her princess stage. 
  • He has burned some bridges by admitting publicly that he has a shameful past.
I'll analyze those one at a time beginning tomorrow.

* Short for Jules Aimé Costigan. I share a lot common with Dick Whitman. I was not an orphan who grew up in a whorehouse but my Grandmother was. My religious background is Catholic not protestant but, again, there is a fair amount of similarity. I also shared Dick's desire to become a newer, more manly man. That said, JAC is a fictional character.

1 comment:

  1. It was not always the case that right after the season finale the comments dried up. The first few seasons people were digesting and commenting about the season for at least a week sometimes longer after it ended. And it was necessary,what was happening wasn't always obvious. Maybe another casualty of the 24 hr news cycle, or we are becoming more shallow, or the show isn't grabbing people like it had.

    "I also shared Dick's desire to become a newer, more manly man."

    I admire and applaud that, I did the same thing. I would think most young men when they reach the age of 18 or so would want to do that, but maybe not. I'm not critical of Dick Whitman for wanting to do that, maybe rather his lack of insight into what you can and should change and what you can't and shouldn't change. I too was raised Catholic, so my evolution had to be consistent with at least some of those values I learned growing up, maybe simplifying or getting down to basics (e.g., do unto others....), looking at them in a new light and how they applied in my life, but that was part of it all. I also began to choose very carefully the men, aside from my father, who I wanted to emulate and how to incorporate their values and behaviors into my own life.

    I look forward to reading more of your comments about this.