Shades of Left (#MadMen “Favors”)

The Freudian-lite psychotheories that Mad Men keeps pressuring us to accept annoy me. Move on, Weiner. We’re all taking pills now, and famous moms can remove their breasts to be better (as in, not dead) moms.

But then the show flings Sally at us, and, truly, Freud does seem to have predicted endless personal apocalypse.

Through our long seasons (longer in-between seasons) wondering whatwhohow would make Don pay for his philandering, I never predicted it would be Sally. Her family has f-ed her up so much already. Did it have to be Sally?

Sidenote: TV drama has become a competitive misery-off, with producers upping the ante on death, violence and unhappiness each season. It’s enough to make a gal want to retreat to pleasantly utopian Star Trek, where technology works for people, good folks get saved, and sometimes women talk to each other about their jobs and not men. (Really, that only happens on one ST show–Deep Space 9.)

And so I wonder, did they really have to put Sally through that? Isn’t it enough to imply that she knows about it all, and that her parents’ travails made her profoundly skeptical about romance, sexuality, and adulthood in general?

On the other hand, who else would affect Don so deeply? On the other hand, he hasn’t been all that invested in parenting. And the way he treats women has not been even dented by having a daughter approach puberty. Whereas Betty, correcting the other way, can’t seem to figure out how to treat Sally differently than she was treated.

Question: Don’s sexualizing every woman he knows in front of Sally, compared to Betty’s dad feeling her up while sick with “dementia.” Which is worse? Is either worse?

I enjoy Mad Men for creating compelling narrative without death (Lane Pryce notwithstanding). But in one episode, now the shockers have bombarded us with the force of a summer blockbuster.

Let’s tot up the shockers:

  • Sally discovering Don and Sylvia and realizing instantly that most adult activity is driven by selfishness, sexuality, and betrayal
  • Sally scolding her friend for thinking that boys don’t want smart girls (YEAH SALLY)
  • Bob Bensen came out to viewers, cool, but to PETE CAMPBELL??!?!? What kind of intelligent dude in 1968 comes out to the schmuckiest of the schmucks mere seconds after said schmuck recoils in horror and calls homosexuality a “perversion”?!??!? Weiner doth tread on his own credibility there
  • Peggy’s blithe breezy sex talk with Stan. “Why are you using your sexy voice?” “Oh! Well, bring her over!” HAH! Some welcome hilarity. But shocking bc we thought of Peggy as the same repressed Catholic chica who didn’t know she was pregnant till she was having a baby. Suddenly she’s sounding as libertine as the swingers at Megan’s soap opera.

Here’s another shocker, one that’s been on my mind for several episodes now: the simmering volatility and explosive anger of older white men. Mostly about Vietnam and hippies. The ways that the war comes up in business meetings and triggers all kindsa yelling from people who’d otherwise display nothing but the smug charm of the permanently entitled.

And the ways that lefty-ness tends to be mocked. In particular, Abe’s and Ginzo’s hallucinatory, incoherent paranoias. And suddenly Don says that the war is wrong? Say what?

So I’m puzzled by the representation of political viewpoints since the war has burst into plot foreground. So much white anger—that’s new. In culture. We’re used to seeing Black Power or feminists or all kinds of revolutionary left anger in our representations of the 60s. We’re not used to seeing Fortune 500 biz dudes sputter with rage at a biz meeting when they’re supposed to be chuckling about their stupid-yet-manipulative wives.

And since I’ve never been a Fortune 500 dude at a 1968 business meeting, I can’t say if that really happened. But for all my disappointment that “the left” (the Jewish left, in particular) has been reduced to Abe babbling about some paranoid fantasy version of Peggy while being hauled off in an ambulance, I find that depiction of white rage to be refreshing. And instructive, given all the white conservative rage we see today (even when it’s channeled into “humor” a la Rush L. or O’Reilly or something).

As I keep saying about the show’s depiction of women and business: is this political world our world?

In our times, is it true that radical lefties are humiliated and mocked, straight-shooters believe what’s commonly accepted 50 years later, closeted gay guys befriend the most womanly person in the office while hitting on the most disgusting men, rich white dudes sputter with rage, and business goes on despite widespread, personal psycho-sexual devastation at the uppermost ranks?


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