Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
MAD MEN, in the bad way
This semester old Don's married to some young yeh yeh girl with a sexy crooked smile and he's determined to stay faithful, to the point of taking the dull moral high ground even unto Pete Campbell, silently judging old Pete just for getting some and wanting to feel in charge when it's plain to see he's totally whupped by his alpha dog sweet bitch wife. So far we've even seen Don lecture Rolling Stones groupies, strangle an old flame in dream effigy, quietly cut down on his smoking and drinking, even giving his new wife a hard time for throwing him a surprise party. In his middle age he's become a tedious moral guardian. And the show itself seems more concerned with getting all the period mod furnishings just so than actually recreating an air of exciting pre-PC possibility and balls.
We don't go to Don for a lesson in morals. We go to Don to see our libidinal wrongs unchecked and amok; we like his hypocrisy and brave drug-taking that sometimes leaves him roofied and bloodied in hotel rooms he rented with sexy young couples on the lam, but even then he doesn't feel guilty. We miss Betts shooting at the neighbor's carrier pigeons after he threatens to poison their dog; we miss the drunken bridge parties and outdoor garage full of beer; we miss the ease with which Don compartmentalized a dozen different shitty behaviors, all of which made his moral facade hilarious and apt. Now the hilarity is gone but the stern morals remain and as a result everyone in the cramped new offices are at each others' throats.
Meanwhile, the younger generation in the office is picking up the slack in all the wrong ways -- they're all sleazy frat boy gestures and no action, while Don was always very verbally respectful of his women, even advising Pete Campbell on the first day of the first episode "people won't like you" for being such a shit to women. The shits remain, but Don doesn't lead by example (of how to be a satyr without being a snickering frat boy) he lectures like the guy who sowed all his oats and now wants everyone else to learn from his empty-oat sack example.
All I want to say is, Dick Whitman, yo: Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill are still decades away so why not live it up while you can, sexual harassment in the workplace-wise? So far this season has deliberately withheld conspiratorial vicarious partying from us, even via Roger Sterling, who used to be my favorite and is now struggling with the irrelevance of his type of hardcore boozer prostitute procurer under the new Mad Men rubric which declares only misery, desperation, and humorless sanctimony can reign. The Lucky Strike campaign is long gone, and no one is allowed to feel rich and secure inside that horrible claptrap modernist office space. And Don's hip new apartment is kind of, I don't know, too showroom bourgeois-in-a-bohemian-mood showroom sterile?
Adding to the insecurity is the tired trope of centering each new episode around some icky historical newspaper outburst: the Richard Speck nurse murders prompt terror and sleeping under couches one week; the Whitman Texas tower sniping prompts anxiety about sending daughters off to college the next. It was a time when the nation seemed to be coming apart at the seamszzzz. All we need is a cliche'd overused pop song from the late 60s to make it complete (rather than Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" or Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" we get the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows," but all that does is make us nervous Mad Men's wasting too much money for the licensing).
And then we have domestic non-bliss with abusive pretty boy MASH surgeons and bossy mother-in-laws; we have Betts gone obese from stress and maybe a tumor; we have icky little near-affairs with the Brit with the bad skin; we have icky little near-affairs with reptilian mongrel Pete Campbell at driving class. Oh brother do we have icky little near-affairs... where's Don with the non-icky? He's too busy scowling to even crack a joke.
That's all I wanted to say but I had to say it, especially since last night I saw for the first time Fassbinder's LOLA, which is so full of cool, amoral intelligence and luxurious libidinal disillusion it was like a summertime smack in the face compared to Don's lion in glum morally self-righteous winter. Don, get your act un-together. We need that old libidinal train wreck, or at least a man with the balls to let lesser men pursue the same vices he once did without self-righteously judging them. How does Don think HE would have reacted back in season one if some codger like Burt Cooper laid into him about being true to his wife and not indulging in the client party girl pool? Don would have solemnly nodded, then done whatever the hell he wanted. People, this is TELEVISION! Don't you have some Jon Hamm voiceover luxury-driven car commercials you want us to see? Then show us why luxury still matters! Only... from Hondota!