Jul 12, 2009

Humiliation drama

So I'v

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher


So I’ve finally caught up with season one of the series du jour, Mad Men. (On DVD; yes, could have saved the money and streamed it but one has to keep struggling with the fun/work balance on the computer.) Watched with eyebrows racheted up to max and mouth in generic O-shape, as in OMG. Patriarchal misogyny has never been so stylish. They’ve also art directed the hell out of white supremacy, anti-semitisim and homophobia.

The appallingness. The aghastness brought on by every scene is a sign of how conventionally contemporary my mores are. That Mad Men reproduces the standards of the American day in 1959, I am entirely persuaded. It’s the physical evidence, set design as verification. It’s not just that thin furniture, but also those narrow ties and waistlines. The forelock tugging by Negro elevator “Boys”, the easy contempt for, and pre-criminal sexual harassment of the torpedo-busted office “girls”. The constant blooms of smoke, in offices and bedrooms. (How do they get away this show, never mind win awards? Yes, yes, I know, but it is so offensive; dark, we can deal with. It must be one of the greatest feminist consciousness-raisers in TV history.)

But just as I want to hit eject they’ll turn the story to an exposition of the opening credits, in which a silhouetted, suited figure falls down the glass canyons – Camus’ La Chute in Mad. Ave. And I’m reminded why it’s repellent and fascinating: there’s existential soap opera within every Brylcremed crown and every curler-set hairdo. (And do they  do hair on this show.)

And, too, amidst the glamour the salutary roughage: that there are, in percentage terms, very few particularly good looking cast members. Just very handsome clothes and sets. (Did they know back then how great their style was, their “vintage”? Or is it just the boundaries of a fictional moneyed subset as filmed in LA, a coherence we can never have in the pixelated self-image of globalised capitalism?)

rickygervais2Season two – I just don’t know. I may well have conventional contemporary mores, but maybe not the stomach it requires to whole-heartedly (if one may mix organs) enjoy the series. There may be common ground between Mad Men and another brilliant show I find even harder to watch – in fact, that I cannot bear to watch, The Office (UK). I suspect it takes a strain of ruggedly masochistic, ironic sensibilty to enjoy both humiliation comedy and humiliation drama. And I guess I just ain’t that tough.

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3 thoughts on “Humiliation drama

  1. whchong

    Dear Josie,

    I completely get why you love the series – and it is the same reason why I find it so subversively alluring – that unrevisionist display of our then proud “civilisation”. All that surface sleekness and polish, but swirling beneath is a pit of creatures – lurking unnamed impulses without self-awareness.

    I don’t, though, understand why you would “joyfully” relive those times!
    (By the by, one older woman I know was given Season 1 as a gift and having watched a couple of episodes put it away, saying to the giver that it was too much the real thing – it reminded her of why she really didn’t enjoy office life back then, and certainly didn’t want to refresh her husband’s memory!)

    As for nostalgia, I kinda think the series is anti-nostlagia – that is it exposes the cracks rather than casting a flattering soft glow over the time. I don’t know first-hand if they have recreated the period objectively or accurately, but I’m pretty sold by your remarks and those of the woman I mentioned. (Not quite so far back, but I certainly recall any number of instances of “racism, homophobia and the toxicity of cigarettes”.)

    Thanks for the thoughtful remarks.

  2. josie wadelton

    Sorry Chong, but you just dont get what Mad Men is all about!
    Well some of the time anyway.

    You are seeing the series through a veil of political correctness.

    What I love about the series is it’s absolute authenticity, the tight scripting and storyline, and the exchange of male to female dialogue.

    As one who grew up in the 1960’s I joyfully relive those times whenever I watch Mad Men.

    Of course this is nostalgia! And of course we were oblivious to racism, homophobia and the toxicity of cigarettes.

    But I think that’s the point of the series: to re-create objectively and honestly the events of the 1960’s – before the JFK assassination; before civil rights marches; before Stonewall, and before sexual attention became sexual harassment.

    Josie Wadelton

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