Friday, August 14, 2009

Rewind: Glad for Mad-ness

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the most hedonistic age, it was the most conservative age. Every generation has its progressives and regressives.

It is the exploration of perennial themes that makes the AMC tv show Mad Men so appealing. It is set in the 1960s, it is set in the 1990s. We like to cast frames around things to compensate for our insufficient grasp of complexities. But, Matt Weiner, the man from whose brain the show sprung, refuses to give easy characterization of the decade and its people. Nearly every character on Mad Men is a mystery. And, though, we might like to draw sharp contrast between 1960s society and ourselves, the show deftly avoids stereotipical "60s" bait.

Maybe in the 60s people were bound by social conventions and suffered in silence over their respective spleens and ours is in an age of heedless obsessive openess. But hiding in the closet or getting on stage in the end amounts to the same thing.

Sterling Cooper resident ad designer Salvatore hides his homosexuality 'neath a veneer of intellectual schtick and artistic posturing. The Queer as Folk dude is a staple at stuffy dicky shops. Instead of hiding out we now take off our clothes to mask emotional turmoil.

I will probably only be adding a speck on the mountain of bon mots that bloggers and papers have dropped about MM. We have been lying in a pool of anticipatory drool for the third season. Vulture, the culture blog, has shot off at least 105 posts mentioning Mad Men.

I recently stumbled on Mad Men some two weeks ago and have been watching it with glee (sans commercials online).

The show is lovingly photographed with artful transitions where possible though I've noticed a predilection to jump cut in the SterlingCooper office. The flashbacks which could have been a narrative hole and disruptive to the viewer's engagement with Don Draper's current life are more like a dimple in the sequence because they have clever transitions that make then feel plausible. Like in Season 2 Episode 11 when Anna ( the real Mrs. Draper) puts a bag of clothes on Draper's stomach and walks out of the room. When she comes back in the room they are several years back celebrating Christmas together and Don announces that he will ask Betty to marry him. Nicely done.

The writing is minimalist and incisive. 'Every woman is a Marilyn or a Jackie but Marilyn really is a Joan, not the other way around.' Joan to whom Christina Hendricks has generously loaned her expressive eye-lashes and frame is a character that could easily be a stereotype: a 1960s woman with generous bossom who sleeps around. But Joan is also an intelligent, respected professional.

Since I posted "Watching TV or Amusing Ourselves to Death" I have found two reasons to watch tv again: re-runs of the Golden Girls and Mad Men baby.

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