August 13, 2010

Why The Latest Season Of Mad Men Blows

mad_men.jpg




Dr. Faye Miller, a marketing psychologist who specializes in figuring out the consumer's hidden motivations, is offering her sympathy to Don Draper for his divorce.  "Don't worry, she says, "you'll be married in a year."  "What?" he says.  "Oh, I'm sorry," she replies, "no one likes to think they're a type."

I tried to switch the channel to A Serbian Film but it hadn't come out yet.  I'll accept that Don Draper is a type, but when did he become a caricature of a type?  End of Season 3? 

Gone are the subtle distinctions between a womanizing bastard who seduces everyone and the womanizing bastard who seduces everyone except certain women because you shouldn't.  Gone are any subtleties whatsoever, this is a CBS spinoff about good guys vs. bad guys.   (Spoiler: the bad guys are wearing ties.)


Here's a race example: In Season 1 there was was a scene in which young Pete Campbell is trying to get some insight into the African American market by asking the elevator operator a few "innocuous" questions, but the operator ain't going out like that.  He knows that any conversation with a white executive can go all kinds of sideways, and he has to trickily be respectful while not saying a damn thing.   It's a great scene, discussed from many perspectives all over the internet.

Here's the Season 4 approach to this:  four white guys are sitting at a Christmas party, and one says, "if they pass civil rights, it'll be a slippery slope."  That's all he says.  Get it?  White male privilege.  Never mind that the phrase "slippery slope" wasn't in popular rotation in the sixties-- it's only there to call to mind its use by the cast of Fox News and The Supreme Court who cry "slippery slope" at every progressive agenda.   Got it.

It only gets better, i.e. worse.  Here is another guy's immediate response to that comment:  "If they pass Medicare, they won't stop until they ban personal property." Because white men are too dumb to embrace Medicare.  Ok.  But how is that a response to the civil rights comment?  Who has conversations like that?  Not even the Fox News improv troupe talk in disconnected non-sequitors. "Michael Jordan was the best ever."  "I punch animals."    "My eyes smell like barbecue!"

And I'll wager a bottle of rum on this: the writers must have thought they were pretty clever when they wrote the Medicare line to be delivered by guy who played the Chief of Staff on ER.
 

john aylward.jpgOoooohhh.  I get it.   It's post-modern, or something.

White people hating on white people, and its derivatives.  An old story, frequently played out on NPR, NYT, or wherever this photo is considered interesting:


maureen down in saudi arabia.jpgI'll help you with the context: the brown stuff at the bottom is Saudi Arabia and the black thing in the middle is Maureen Dowd.  No, I'm not kidding.  Yes, she is great.

Whites hating whites doesn't mean they like blacks, of course, or Arabs or anyone else.  It's all about the hate, that's what drives people, not a love of the oppressed but hatred of "oppressors."  If that generates the same outcome I guess it's a viable social policy, but it's hard for me to buy into what leads to cognitive dissonance, as with poor Maureen Dowd:  she hates America for what we do to them but hates them for what they do to women.   After a night at the Ritz Carlton the solution she comes up with is to agree to the abaya but wear a snorkel at the same time.  That'll show 'em.

II.

The often cited draw of Mad Men was its authenticity (uh oh), including character authenticity.  The elevator scene shows that Campbell can be ignorant but not malicious--  he thinks he's just getting information, but is reinforcing the social disparity between them.  What Campbell asked that elevator operator is on the order of, "hey, what's up with you people and chicken?  How can I get you to buy more of it?" which is simultaneously a societal prejudice and a personal observation.  That's what makes the scene interesting.  Quoting Dave Chappelle: "all this time I thought I liked chicken because it was delicious, turns out I was genetically predisposed to liking it."  






Campbell wasn't being purposely demeaning, he was being Campbell, he didn't understand that merely bringing up the question is an act of aggression.  That's "show don't tell" writing.

What would have made it very racist (and unbelievable) was if he pretended not to be aware of societal prejudices: "so, tell me... I love chicken... what do you think of chicken...?"   

This is where Mad Men is failing.  I know racism and sexism are bad, I know they existed, I don't need this show to tell me that.  But was every white guy who didn't vote for Kennedy a gigantic POS?    I want you to figure out how to show me how a man in the 1960s can simultaneously be a good person yet still think women are inferior; how he can be a womanizing pig who still respects women enough to give one the coveted office.  In other words, I want the character depth of Season 1, not an off-Broadway rendition of The Huffington Post.   

III.


The examples are endless: the (parody of the) egotistical client who makes demeans the advertisers on purpose, because he can.  Do you think he gets inappropriate with one of the oblivious wives who thinks he's funny/charming/handsome, while the husband stares on helplessly?   True/False: is cuckolding implied?  Yay obvious.

Or the fall down drunk Don Draper who has sex with his wide-eyed secretary who is just so thrilled to be with this sloppy mess, and so surprised that he would dismiss her the next day.  "He was too drunk to see the couch and he didn't even pull his pants down, but he did manage to ejaculate before he even got hard, so I'm ordering dinnerware."  Hint: this means men are pigs.

The problem with the current season's approach to the characters is it's using them to describe the era, not using the era to describe the characters.  I know what happened in the 1960s, I don't know what happened to Peggy.  Tell me that.  Season 1 Peggy was exploited and exploiting, I couldn't tell if I wanted to strangle her or Campbell and so I was hooked-- what kind of a woman is this?  According to Season 4, she's a budding superhero.  Are you telling me they had superheros in the 1960s?

The writers of Mad Men owe their responsibility to the characters, that's why people watch the show.  When you pass on this responsibility in order to tackle social issues, then you better have something new to say about them, otherwise why do we care?  If I want a 3rd grade approach to gender equality, I have Eat Pray Love.


---


http://twitter.com/thelastpsych














Comments

You mean I should be happy ... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2010 1:02 PM | Posted by Luis: | Reply

You mean I should be happy I have never watched that goddamn TV show because it sucks for the same reasons some people think Ayn Rand's writing sucks? Thanks for making sure I don't waste time on yet another heaping serving of preachy BS.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -4 (8 votes cast)
Your ability to see things ... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2010 1:37 PM | Posted by Colin: | Reply

Your ability to see things the way they are astounds me. Most shows as they add seasons under their belt lose their edge. Most bands after putting out successful albums lose their muse. Companies after being incredibly successful when small lose their innovation with success.

Is the problem that subconsciously after achieving success, regardless of field, we avoid taking the risks that brought us that success?

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 9 (9 votes cast)
Off topic:Please, ... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2010 4:36 PM | Posted by sep: | Reply

Off topic:

Please, please, please comment on Daphne Merkin's piece in NYT magazine.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
loved the parting shot at E... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2010 7:04 PM | Posted by randy: | Reply

loved the parting shot at Eat Pray Love. that shit makes me sick. you know there's a South Park episode Eat Pray Queef. that is some NICE satire right there.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (7 votes cast)
merkin...hehe snicker...</p... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2010 7:05 PM | Posted, in reply to sep's comment, by randy: | Reply

merkin...hehe snicker...

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (3 votes cast)
I have to disagree with you... (Below threshold)

August 13, 2010 11:43 PM | Posted by Chris: | Reply

I have to disagree with your take on the current season, especially since it has only been three episodes and Mad Men has an interesting pace. In the three episodes we have whipped through quite a bit of time at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, and we see Don in a position of great vulnerability. I like to think that this season will show some transformation in him, since he's once again playing the role of a man who has to build an identity from scratch. That's how I see it, and I'm sitting back and calmly awaiting it.

As for the Pete Campbell thing...that was last season, not season one. I know you wanted to demonstrate a decline in writing over three years, but the length of said decline was only one.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (4 votes cast)
I don't even watch Mad Men,... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2010 5:53 AM | Posted by Dave: | Reply

I don't even watch Mad Men, but this post is a riot. Nice work, TLP.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (4 votes cast)
I love psychiatrists. ... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2010 10:50 AM | Posted by Daphne Merkin: | Reply

I love psychiatrists.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
I love reading Daphne Merki... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2010 12:20 PM | Posted by edith: | Reply

I love reading Daphne Merkin's writing about psychiatrists because I am one. And also a patient. 'Nuf said about that.
Every brilliant TV show goes insipid after its 2nd year. Sad.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (1 votes cast)
Even the best shows risk tu... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2010 12:53 PM | Posted by Iris: | Reply

Even the best shows risk turning into a cliche hell as they age. I guess the writers and producers just lose interest.

Law & Order is another glaring example. Watching some of the later episodes, I could picture the creative process taking place. "Sigh... What should we write about THIS time? Stem-cell research is a hot topic, right? What are people saying about it? There's our dialogue. Plot? Well duh! Someone dies, the police investigate and the prosecutors prosecute."

I do realize this is what many people want. They get upset when the ambassador of their cause, condition, religion etc. is being portrayed as anything less than a hero. Take the Cold Case episode One Night for example. After it aired there were a bunch of angry comments on various boards and review sites from people with MS complaining how the disease was misrepresented.

Most of my favorites shows tackle social issues, one way or another, but once it becomes a spokesperson for anything, I stop watching. Period.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 3 (3 votes cast)
Wow, great points. I total... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2010 3:52 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Wow, great points. I totally see how the characters have collapsed into types.And you've put into words something I felt but couldn't articulate, "using the era to describe the characters." Of course that's why we were watching the show, but when I'm talking with my friends we're relying on them to help us understand the era, and it only works because they were so well described.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 3 (3 votes cast)
Meh, I skipped it. It seems... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2010 7:35 PM | Posted, in reply to edith's comment, by Dave: | Reply

Meh, I skipped it. It seems like such a self-absorbed topic, not just on the part of Merkin, but on the part of the Times itself. It's a big world out there, and there are more interesting and important things going on than Frank Bruni's history of eating disorders or Daphne Merkin's history of -- whatever has kept her in psychotherapy for decades. I'd rather read about what's happening outside of the heads of Times writers.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
You're my favorite woman-fo... (Below threshold)

August 14, 2010 8:00 PM | Posted by Shannon : | Reply

You're my favorite woman-forward antifeminist. I mean that with the deepest fraternal affection.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 4 (8 votes cast)
I forgot to say that I hate... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2010 12:19 AM | Posted by Shannon: | Reply

I forgot to say that I hate myself.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (4 votes cast)
Like the previous comment n... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2010 2:40 AM | Posted by Meloddity: | Reply

Like the previous comment noted, your Pete Campbell example is from last season. In other words, by virtue of your own example, the quality of the show has been consistent. Up until this season, of course, but then we're only three episodes in (even though your examples are only two episodes in).

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
You should analyze Breaking... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2010 12:23 PM | Posted by Vesa: | Reply

You should analyze Breaking Bad sometime.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
What would have made it ver... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2010 8:56 PM | Posted by Kyle: | Reply

What would have made it very racist (and unbelievable) was if he pretended not to be aware of societal prejudices: "so, tell me... I love chicken... what do you think of chicken...?"

That kind of writing won Crash the Oscar, so...

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 5 (5 votes cast)
Good read. I loved the Dave... (Below threshold)

August 15, 2010 9:58 PM | Posted by Tim: | Reply

Good read. I loved the Dave Chappelle clip.

You seem very angry in this post.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (3 votes cast)
Mad Men has always been pan... (Below threshold)

August 16, 2010 4:24 AM | Posted by Charles: | Reply

Mad Men has always been pants.

Nice use of Wittgenstein in the title. Is that German or Austrian ;)

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
With the exception of The S... (Below threshold)

August 18, 2010 4:51 AM | Posted, in reply to edith's comment, by Zo: | Reply

With the exception of The Sopranos. Of course.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 2 (2 votes cast)
That's strange, I have been... (Below threshold)

August 26, 2010 10:18 AM | Posted by Miriam: | Reply

That's strange, I have been enjoying season 3 for exactly the reasons you are dismissive.

I thought the recent episode about Honda was an amazing show not tell moment of demonstrating how the generational divide that created the cultural revolution of the 1960's came about.

I also thought the scenes with Sally Draper becoming even more troubled and disruptive due to her parents selfishness were amazing.

It's interesting to read such a different perspective and i look forward to following your posts as the season progresses.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 1 (3 votes cast)
This looks absolutely perfe... (Below threshold)

September 15, 2010 2:29 AM | Posted by Nike Air Max: | Reply

This looks absolutely perfect. All these tinny details are made with lot of background knowledge. I like it a lot. This was a useful post and I think it is rather easy to see from the other comments as well that this post is well written and useful.1
Air Max 90

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
What a fun pattern! It's gr... (Below threshold)

September 15, 2010 2:33 AM | Posted by Shure: | Reply

What a fun pattern! It's great to hear from you and see what you've sent up to. All of the projects look great! You make it so simple to this.Thanks!1212Shure Microphones

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
vvIt is so lucky to ... (Below threshold)

September 15, 2010 2:46 AM | Posted by Luxury Phone: | Reply

vv
It is so lucky to read your blog,it is full of useful message.I wish we both can do better in the future.It great honour if you can visit our website,and give us some suggession.1Luxury Phone

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
I’ve been looking everywher... (Below threshold)

September 15, 2010 2:53 AM | Posted by ED Hardy: | Reply

I’ve been looking everywhere for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing.Thx ED Hardy Clothing

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
Well i think it is not the ... (Below threshold)

September 16, 2010 3:07 AM | Posted by vertu : | Reply

Well i think it is not the only Vertu Constellation way of seeing the topic

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
I must say this is a great ... (Below threshold)

September 16, 2010 5:53 AM | Posted by Nike Air Max : | Reply

I must say this is a great article i Nike Air Max 90enjoyed reading it keep the good work.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
Thanks for the great... (Below threshold)

September 16, 2010 6:00 AM | Posted by Nike Air Max pas cher : | Reply


Thanks for the great post. It reminds me Nike Air Rejuven8 that I have to bring more structure in to my blogging

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (2 votes cast)
Hi, where did you get this ... (Below threshold)

September 16, 2010 6:12 AM | Posted by Nike Air Rift Women : | Reply

Hi, where did you get this information can http://www.nikelink.com/en/category/41-nike-air-rejuven8.html
you please support this with some proof or you may say some good

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
Nice, and thanks for sharin... (Below threshold)

September 27, 2010 11:38 PM | Posted by rolex watch: | Reply

Nice, and thanks for sharing this info with us.Good Luck!

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
but I want to tell you ther... (Below threshold)

November 16, 2010 2:24 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

but I want to tell you there is a execting website dollar stores ,everything just be sold a yiwu agent

dollar.yes ,it is true,my friend

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (2 votes cast)
"Never mind that the phrase... (Below threshold)

June 15, 2011 8:20 PM | Posted by Duncan: | Reply

"Never mind that the phrase "slippery slope" wasn't in popular rotation in the sixties" - Well I don't know what 'in the popular rotation' is supposed to mean (a 'get out of falsification free' card, perhaps?) but 'slippery slope' has been in use since at least Cornford's Microcosmographia Academica in 1908.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (2 votes cast)
are you referring to this ... (Below threshold)

August 22, 2011 10:59 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

are you referring to this scene? this is season 3 episode 5 ? http://youtu.be/h22LlfL35ew
http://youtu.be/h22LlfL35ew

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)
Bravo! Nice article and goo... (Below threshold)

September 12, 2011 5:35 AM | Posted by End of Tenancy Cleaning London: | Reply

Bravo! Nice article and good arguments, i love the photos too they are kind of inspiring for me. iw ould love to find such great stuff in your blog for the future.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (2 votes cast)
Your blog was garbage. You ... (Below threshold)

September 15, 2011 4:31 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Your blog was garbage. You think you know what your talking about, or atleast trying to. But sadly, you have failed. Get over it, that's how it was then.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (2 votes cast)
I really agree on what you ... (Below threshold)

March 4, 2012 9:02 PM | Posted by cheap bridal gowns: | Reply

I really agree on what you say here. Hope We can be friends to exchange idea on this subject. Thanks.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -2 (2 votes cast)
Keep reading such a nice ar... (Below threshold)

March 4, 2012 9:05 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

Keep reading such a nice article, There is no doubt that I learn a lot from it.Keep writing, we will supports you forever. Thanks.

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
wonderful website!Thanks<br... (Below threshold)

March 22, 2012 2:59 AM | Posted by youqiudi: | Reply

wonderful website!Thanks

buy nfl jersey

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
Nice, and thanks for sharin... (Below threshold)

April 1, 2012 5:44 AM | Posted by jerseys hockey : | Reply

Nice, and thanks for sharing this info with us.Good Luck!

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
Best price OBD2 tools,high ... (Below threshold)

May 3, 2012 9:49 PM | Posted by obd2: | Reply

Best price OBD2 tools,high quality, OBD2 tools Online shipping 100Z
obd2

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: -1 (1 votes cast)
Tacho Pro Mileage Odometer ... (Below threshold)

February 5, 2013 10:34 PM | Posted by tacho pro 2008: | Reply

Tacho Pro Mileage Odometer Programmer Correction Repair Tool Unlocked +DVD in mostobd Motors, Parts & Accessories, Automotive Tools

Vote up Vote down Report this comment Score: 0 (0 votes cast)

Post a Comment


Live Comment Preview

April 23, 2014 15:11 PM | Posted by Anonymous: