Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Observations on Season 5 Commentary

1) I confess, I haven't seen any of the episodes of this season's Mad Men. Our landlord's cable plan doesn't have the channel on which it airs in Ireland and the U.K. My computer has freaked through my other methods of seeing it, and I am too cheap to get it on iTunes. Thus, all my information comes from reviewers and recappers. These have deteriorated over the years, especially the comments section where you get a real sense of just how Dr. Philed and Oprafied people have become in understanding even fictional relationships. "The right person," "become a better person," blahblahblah. Do these people not watch the same show that I have watched for four seasons? Do they not see the same characters? Are they overwhelmed by how pretty these characters are, especially Don? Do they understand nothing about characterization or continuity? Do they understand nothing about the concept that change does not always mean for the better and can sometimes mean that the characters manipulate external change to their own end rather than to become "a better person"? What does "a better person" mean, anyway?

2) Wasn't there an African American Barbie named Dawn back in the 1970s? I had a paperdoll Barbie set, and I seem to recall a black Barbie named Dawn, with a big Afro, go-go boots (god! I loved my own white go-go boots!), and an A-line dress of swirly bright colors.

3) Why do all of the Mad Men reviewers/recappers seem to miss that the Peggy story line, in which she has to hire a young, male copywriter, is slightly different than all of the men's story lines? (See: Slate, Alan Sepinwall, A.V. Club, Tom & Lorenzo, Deborah and Roberta Lipp, SalonWashington Post, Maureen Ryan )The older men may be threatened by the younger men, fearing replacement; but Peggy is of a generation in which the perfectly capable, talented and extremely experienced woman must train subordinate men to prepare them for promotion above her. The best the can do is suggest -- as it appears another character in the episode did -- that he will be promoted because he might be good and all of that meritocratic shit, not because of the "glass ceiling." Jeez! Did these reviewers/recappers never see 9-to-5?

4) Why does Betty have some of the more intriguing, subtle stories, yet the writers or the actress or something always make her seem loathsome? Do the writers have some serious Mommy issues? Because, damn! Maureen Ryan has a nice breakdown of the problems with the way the character is depicted. Ryan's is sympathetic to some degree, without liking the character, and I particularly like that she zeroes in on the fact that the writers have not created a life for Betty outside of the scenes with her. What does she do all day? What interests her? Her horseback riding was the last time they showed her as having anything like a hobby. I also remember that great episode in the first season that ended with Betty, cigarette perched in her mouth, shooting pigeons in her housedress. A little more of that, please! Betty is a character that helps me understand my mother a bit more, although my mother was closer to Peggy's or Megan's ages at the time -- or the groupie's. She had the same issues of frustration, the Feminine Mystique, not really liking her children, and feeling downright old at 35. Being her kid was not so easy, but looking back and understanding her as a woman, I can see why she was so miserable. I wish the Mad Men writers could be so just with Betty.

5) Would a wife in 1966 really taunt her husband with the information that her paycheck was her own to do with as she chose? It seems those conversations did not take place until a decade or more later? Would that have even been legally true? Would she even be able to have her own bank account in 1966?

6) Also, not to defend the husband because he is genuinely loathsome, but isn't it more appropriate for him to be embarrassed and angry that said wife, who is also an employee, would do something short of a striptease at what was essentially a business function? To the other employees, especially in the context of her having been promoted not for any discernible talent (or active ambition) but for marrying the boss, she must have seemed like she was saying, "I may be an underling, beneath all of you in the office hierarchy, but I have power over the boss because I am fucking him." That's a bad mix in any situation at any time. That whole story is off in a lot of way, anyway.


Courtney said...

I'm really not loving this season so far. I noticed that Jon Hamm has a producer credit on the show as a whole this season and was the director of the 2nd episode. I have no clue whether or not he produced/directed any of the episodes in the prior season, but he comes across as kind of a douchebag in interviews, so I'm blaming him. :)

Have you seen Sady Doyle's breakdown of the 2nd episode? It's pretty good. The episode was just terrible. It was like "A Very Special Episode about Fat Shaming." Also, her fat suit seemed to be done with CGI, which put her right in the middle of the Uncanny Valley.

Clio Bluestocking said...

Thanks for the link, Courtney! That's a quite a good analysis of the misuse of Betty. Her description of Betty as a woman-shaped hole of all evil rather than a complicated character also helped me figure out what I dislike about Megan. Megan seems to be a woman-shaped space for all male fantasies. Like Betty, she has few defined interests of hobbies, and everything she does is fashionable, sexy and perfect. So, as Sady says, if Betty's evilness -- and this is an excellent point -- lets Don off the hook for his bad behavior (and thereby makes him less interesting as a complicated character)-- Megan goes to the same end. The two women are less actual characters and more foils for Don at this point, and the story seems to be "all Don needs is a good woman, because that is the point of women -- to save men." They need to pull away from that fast and soon. Maybe they will. They are slow paced, and I like that.

I also liked Sady's points about having an unlikeable, yet sympathetic character, and having realistic representations of women's misery. My favorite Betty moments don't show her warmth, they show her flint, as when sh shot the pigeons, or when Sally ran away, so she essentially told Don, "fine, you think parenting is so easy, actually do some for a change." I like when they show her wrestling with motherhood. Those seem to be honest moments in regard to the character and to the period and types of people they hope to depict. Otherwise, she's just a repository for everyone's misogyny and mommy issues.

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