Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mad Men: The Dawning of Those Who Think Young

When last we saw the enigmatic Don Draper, he was sitting on the bottom of his living room steps on Thanksgiving, 1960; his wife and children have gone to her Dad’s for the holiday. He didn’t want to go, since he’s not really participating in his marriage or his fatherhood. But he was affected by his own presentation for the Carousel—filled with photos capturing the sentimentality of his faux life—and thinks maybe he can engage with his fa├žade self, only to find that Betty and kids are already gone. And so the hollow man is alone as season one ends, with Dylan consoling him “don’t think twice, it’s all right.”

When we next see him, it will be Valentine’s Day, 1962.

While we may not learn exactly what he has been doing in the year and a half, we know that Jon Hamm, his alter ego, has been busy garnering awards, along with Matt Weiner and the whole crew: three Golden Globe, a Peabody, and 16 Emmy nods, including outstanding actor, supporting actor, writing, directing, and series.

Clearly it’s a show filling a hunger of the tv-watching audience of 2008. What are we finding there?

Well, it’s one heck of a kaleidoscope of recent history. The past forty years have seen powerful societal revolutions. MM gives us a chance to see these revolutions--which some witnessed first hand, and others, including the brainchild Weiner, inherited--all recollected in tranquility (and saturated color). Yes, the series is the poetry of our summer.

For instance, TV viewers born in each decade from 1960 on know there was a feminist revolution, but for nonboomers, we never saw exactly what it was trying to correct. MM dramatizes what women faced in the workplace when they entered it after the war. That’s not to say that women don’t still face sexism, but most of us don’t encounter it to this degree: “It’s like watching a dog play the piano” Mr. Rumsen on the thought of Peggy Olson writing copy.

Drugs are entering daily life—the beats are getting high, and it’s the beginning of the “us vs. them” with the police. Don’t trust anyone over 30 is on the horizon. Music is energizing the postwar crowd. When the Twist comes on at PJ’s in the party for Peggy, a primal scream of delight goes up that we can all relate to.

The overarching revolution that’s coming is not old versus young—it’s old order versus the new waves of energy of those who think young, challenging that order. And Matt Weiner is giving us a front row seat to the sea changes, layered with personal details of characters amid the revolutionary swells.

I am not a complete disciple of the Mad Men. I thought the storytelling itself was weak and disconnected; there were lots of strong, interesting moments that did not build together well in larger arcs.

James Wolcott’s early post also voiced the minority vote: that the series isn’t as good as people think it is, and we wish it were.

But it’s still the perfect summer fare, and the sixties are the place to be. Which may be why New York is experiencing a full revival of Hair. . .

This Sunday night, July 27, at 10:00 p.m., Mad Men second season premieres. Tom Watson, editor extraordinaire of newcritics and I will be your hosts for live blogging of the episodes. Tom leads off this Sunday. So turn on the lava lamp and join the fun. Can key parties be far off?


Claire said...

Wolcott definitely hit the nail on the head in his estimation. I watched last season and it drove me nuts, because it didn't live up to the bar it set for itself. I don't think they write human interactions well - it always seems false.

I'll be in for your party, though. I can't miss out, and maybe they'll be some insights I'm missing.

Mr. Peel said...

I'll admit, the show has me firmly in its grip and watching season 1 in rapid sucession on DVD recently only added to it. I've seen the first two episodes of season 2 but I'll say nothing except to say that I can't wait to see what happens next. I look forward to what you have to say about it as well.

M.A.Peel said...

Claire, so glad you'll be with the gang. I was hoping that Weiner would be correcting the weakness in the storytelling side this season, but early reports seem to say nay to this.

Mr. Peel, you MM insider, you. I hope you will pop into the comments on newcritics--would love to hear your thoughts. May I suggest another rapid-sucession DVD run? Deadwood. I watched it when it was on, but I just watched all 3 seasons again on DVD. What a show.

Karen said...

The key parties are over at CBS, on "Swingtown." "Swingtown," incidentally, is also neither as bad nor as risque as its hype and advertising dropoff would lead one to believe. It may have sold itself as being about the sexual revolution in suburbia, but what it's really about is the other end of the '60s, about the people who didn't drop out, light up, and tune in biut went off to work, and then felt the world starting to change a bit around them and had to figure out how to react. The performances aren't as strong as on MM, and there are some truly irritating characters, but as one character after another gets a little corner of his or her consciousness raised, it's fascinating to watch the ripples those changes cause, and think about what it was like.

I think I'm a bit older than you, Mrs Peel; I was in junior high, high school, and then out on my own in the '70s--and I'm at the tail end of the generation that got to see what the feminist revolution actually managed to accomplish. I agree with you about what MM is going for, and I wish people would stop thinking it was a documentary.

M.A.Peel said...

Karen, interesting thoughts on Swingtown. It would be a great Twilight Zone episode if Dan Draper, fedora and all, met his near-future neighbors. They would both be shocked.

peteski said...

I know its sacrilegious but I didn't watch One Live to Live, I didn't watch All My Children, I didn't watch General Hospital and I won't watch Mad Men. Toooooo precious people. And you know whats-his-name, dude-ly douche-right, exudes cementheadedness. Admit it! The backlash bandwagon is a billion strong but I'll save you a seat. Hop on!

M.A.Peel said...

Peteski,you backlashers aren't as vocal as the disciples. I agree that there is bit of "the emperor has no clothes" to the whole affair. Still, it's quite the cultural phenom of our day.