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Entries in mad men (45)

Tuesday
Sep072010

In Which You Should Be Thanking Me Every Morning When You Wake Up, Along With Jesus, For Giving You Another Day!

Why Is There A Dog In The Parthenon?

by MOLLY LAMBERT

"Once you start expressing your innermost thoughts and feelings, it's kind of hard to stop." - Don Draper

No just kidding that was actually Nick Jonas in Camp Rock 2, but there's a little something about Don in there too amirite? Nick Jonas will be legal on September 16th, just three days after my/Alex's 27th birthday. Here's something Don actually said: "You are twenty-something years old. It's time to get over birthdays." 

Here is a not good way to go about your life: have a two-item checklist that reads "Career" and "Relationship." Spend your whole twenties trying to check off one or both items, eventually finding out that every time you check off one side the other column will mysteriously spring a leak. Even if you choose to opt out there will always be the occasional Megan The Secretary butting in to tell you if you're "doing alright" or not.

Spend some time without either thing in order to learn what you are truly like. Find out that you truly like to download music and stay up way too fucking late. Familiarize yourself with the less well-lit corners of your your adult mind. Decide that you are depressed. Later, romanticize your "depressed period" as a golden age of personal growth and stealth fucking around. Realize as you approach your thirties that you will never escape the tyranny of the checklist, which you never even chose to buy into.

Should you somehow manage to get both plates spinning simultaneously you will be seized with a bout of "What Does It All Mean?" after realizing that achieving your goals has changed absolutely nothing besides to make those goals meaningless, at which point you will hit the reset button on one or both, if only to give your life the semblance of direction and some kind of forward propulsive movement again.

"You look like you could use a good cry" is a great pick-up line to try on dudes. Life is less like The Game Of LIFE and more like a game of Chutes And Ladders. Don and Peggy both need a copy of Kelly Cutrone's If You Have To Cry, Go Outside. When a beautiful woman succeeds, her looks are over-credited. When a handsome man succeeds, it's assumed he was just so successful he also willed himself handsome. 

Don is always failing to earn women's first impression of him, whereas Peggy is always saying something "witty" or doing something smart that makes men give her the condescending surprised respect that all smart girls get used to early on in life. Don is still learning one of life's basic confusing lessons: that who you're most physically attracted to might not correspond to who has the most attractive personality.

Have you ever had a romantic evening with someone that didn't culminate in sex? That doesn't mean there was no sexual tension, just that it was buried down far enough under the conversation that you couldn't even really think about it? Which is actually more romantic than the kind of romance based around suppressing your deep-willed desire to bone somebody long enough to make perfunctory smalltalk, since it is grounded in the attractiveness of your personality, not just your appearance?

What do you call a bromance across gender lines? A platonmance? A friendship? If Peggy were a real person in the modern era she would be rolling her eyes at the world's oversharey facebook status updates like errday. As a fictional character, we just get to see her politely give the extreme side-eye to Trudy's smug pregnant attitude.

Mad Men is neck and neck with Louie pushing the boundaries of meaning, narrative, and comedy in television. Why is it so funny to see Don Draper burst into tears? Because it's deeply cathartic and semi-humiliating to watch? When Duck called Peggy a whore I half-expected her to be like "thank you finally someone who gets my duality!" 

One thing we learned from "The Suitcase": Don is not half-assing it with the S&M lifestyle. Dude is roping Peggy into a serious BDSM relationship with his promises of never-ending all-nighters, furtive half-clasps, and alternating between yelling personal insult tinged inanities and crying just as hard as he throws up Greek food. 

This episode also featured one of my favorite Matthew Weiner thematic touches: the tension-release vomiting spectacle. (see: Betty in the car after learning about Don f-banging Bobbi Barrett, Roger after oysters and a flight of stairs). In lieu of being able to kill people, Mad Men often goes for hardcore throwing up. Don's badge of honor for his bout of late-night personal growth was a well-placed vomit stain on his shirt.

The main complaints I've heard about this season are that the ad campaigns are (purposefully?) no longer good, and that it seems like they have suddenly changed the rules of drunk behavior. Personally I think they're focusing on demonstrating the difference between being a high functioning alcoholic and a non-functioning one.

As for the ad campaigns, they can't do anything remotely close to the Kodak Carousel pitch that famously closed out season one without venturing into self-parody. I buy the idea that clients are stupid, and SCDP is a smaller company, so they have to win people over more. The carousel pitch was Kennedy's America, now they're adjusting to post JFK's death Conquest Of Cool stuff, and they're not quite hitting it yet.

I think the theme of this season especially, as Don mentioned, is the line between brilliance and stupidity and how it is very often just chance that makes some people into life's winners and others into losers. I've got excuses for everything on Mad Men, except for the ghost of Anna Draper, and the line about leaving the door open (groan). I hope Peggy's doofusy fiancé is gone to the Bobbi Barrett character consignment pile. 

Peggy Olson doesn't want to fuck Don Draper, although she is obviously a decent judge of handsomeness and it's LOL that her real tastes run towards the athletic (feel u girl). No, she's got bigger plans than that. She wants to be her own Don Draper. The real question is how did Don get so clean overnight? Does SCDP have an executive washroom on the imaginary second floor of the fictional office building? INCEPTION'D.

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls and twitters.

"Minotaur" - The Clientele (mp3)

"Nothing Here Is What It Seems" - The Clientele (mp3)

"Strange Town" - The Clientele (mp3)


Monday
Sep062010

In Which There's No Use Crying Over Fish In The Sea

It Was A Confusing Time

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Apart from the astonishingly disproportionate amount of attention it gets from the media, Mad Men isn't very popular. The show's ratings are worse than HBO's Hung or its AMC lead-in Rubicon, and dropped precipitously after the season premiere. The advertising industry itself is fond of saying that it markets to younger people, but while young people might do the buying, they don't do the watching. The people driving television ratings are the older crowd, and they don't like Mad Men.

The media loves Mad Men, and Hollywood loves Mad Men, but regular people don't like Mad Men. Despite its third consecutive Emmy for best drama, the show's audience has remained tiny in comparison to its inferior competition.

Although Mad Men is the best show on television, a fact that is not likely to change until Breaking Bad returns to the air, even the show's biggest fans can admit there are a lot of reasons not to like Mad Men. A few even seem to derive pleasure from speaking out against the show, as if not experiencing something were itself a badge of honor.

As we all know, exposure effect runs the world. In fact, social psychologist Robert Zajonc was doing his work on mere exposure effect during roughly the same period that Roger Sterling dumped his wife of thirty years. We not only are predisposed to like things that we've experienced, but if other people don't immediately share our view, there is trouble on the horizon. This line of sight runs both ways. We can barely stand to try to enjoy something that we are told we should enjoy. I know; I've tried to get my mother to read a particular novel for the last six months, and she can't even get past the first page. She also won't watch Mad Men. I should have told her it sucked.

Mad Men has a number of elements that make it incredibly unappealing to people of a certain generation. The first is that it's a lively caricature of a time period they already lived through, and the second is that it plays that time period entirely for laughs. In reality, the 1960s and 1970s wasn't all drinking in offices and waking up with your cleaning lady. It was a very scary time in American life for a lot of people, and reliving it must feel like it's happening all over again.

Older people don't want to hear catty jokes about how racist and sexist things were back then. Maybe they were a bit of both, come to think of it, but broadcasting it feels like an insult to the participants. On its own this could be overcome, because all period pieces bear more resemblance to the present than their own times. The more prevalent complaint that people offer about Mad Men is they don't find anybody on the show with which they can sympathize.

This is the least convincing of the world's slanders, primarily because people said similar things about The Sopranos. But in point of fact it is fairly hard to identify with characters on either show. It's no coincidence that the major relationship of both shows is a mentor-protege conflict. Peggy is really the protagonist of Mad Men, and it would be wrong to say that either Don or Tony Soprano is the antagonist, but in a very crucial way, they are the obstacle to the heroine getting what she wants.

Only, it was a little more obvious what Christopher Moltisanti wanted. He wanted Ben Kingsley for his movie Cleaver, and he wanted power, money, and even fame. Peggy just wants respect from her peers, equal treatment in business, and maybe a Clio. It's not a lot in comparison. And that's what we think she wants — we don't really know, and perhaps neither does she. She has dumped her sex-crazed boyfriend and seems willing to embark on a new adventure of some kind, but she is just as likely to castrate Pete Campbell and take the train back to Brooklyn as she is to come up with the Absolut Vodka campaign all by her lonesome.

Like many characters on both shows, we can't really say what we expect from them. It's gotten so bad that this misguided New York recapper insanely believes that Don and Peggy are about to embark on a sexual relationship. Believe me, that last thing Matthew Weiner wants to do to his protege is have sex with her.

We always knew what to expect from Tony Soprano, however, and that's how he became a hero in spite of himself. The Sopranos was one of the funniest comedies on television, because we usually knew exactly what Tony was thinking in every situation, and as such, his reactions — grimacing, snoring, rage — were their own mime show, the kind that you already know all the moves to, but you like anyway. We also have an easier time liking someone we're supposed to hate.

Don Draper replicates this utter sense of abandon; but because he is a mystery to himself, we don't know exactly why he's a piece of shit. There must be some reason every douchebag is one, but not everyone can be lucky enough to know it.

To new viewers of the show, Don must appear something like a hero, and no one wants to watch their hero drunkenly hit on every woman with a functioning vagina, and wake up with one named Doris. Don isn't a hero. He's not even nice, and he treats Peggy even worse than he treated his ex-wife. The only nice thing Don ever did was pay for a hooker that looked like Peggy for Lane Pryce, and that was more polite than genuinely good.

This makes it all more baffling that Jon Hamm's voice is being used to sell cars and insurance on radio and television. Clearly the advertising executives don't watch the show that is ostensibly about them, because if they did, they'd realize the voiceover is Satan's intonation. The most positive thing you can say about Dick Whitman is that he tells the truth when he's drunk.

So I can't blame people for not liking Mad Men. No work of art is intended for everyone, not even The Sopranos, the triumphant achievement of serial television from which Weiner's show takes so many of its tonal elements and characterizations. Besides being a period piece, Mad Men is a thinly veiled chronicle of how Matthew Weiner relates to the world. In brief, he mostly thinks we're his servants.

The culmination of four years of dealing with Don's garbage was last night's morality play, where the disease and poison of Don's own mental processes was reflected by mice, cockroaches, and the human vermin that is Duck Phillips. The late Mrs. Draper packs them all up in her Samsonite briefcase and takes off. The problem, as always, wasn't with the writing, although it took several unimaginative shortcuts to make the two closer — Don sobbing because he has to pay the mortgage for some Berkeley grad who wouldn't even give him an HJ, Peggy fishing for compliments about how 'pretty' she is (is that all this was about?) and Bert Cooper having no testicles.

The problem with having Don's protege relationship supplanting his love relationship is that while almost everyone has some kind of love relationship in their life except for Jennifer Aniston, not that many people can relate to the psychotic creative director-precocious protege relationship. And in fact, Peggy does a much worse job arguing her case than Don does his for treating her like his lapdog, making the conflict less than a battle of equals.

Peggy giving up her birthday dinner isn't the same as Don giving up his special time with Roger Sterling, whom he misses so much he plays cassette tapes of the man's voice. The mercurial Draper seems almost rational when he tells her that her time will come, avoiding the point completely; she won the Clio, not him. The work he stole from Roger's wife's cousin wasn't his either, it was just another drunken theft, the cure for the common being terrible at life.

It's fabulous that the new Don wants his door open, and that he shaved for the first time since his divorce. Congratulations. Jon Hamm gets to make out with Jessica Stein every night while Elisabeth Moss' ex-husband Fred Armisen has intercourse with every twenty-something in Park Slope. Peggy has to wake up in her own office with the Three Stooges when all she wants is to have Pete Campbell's baby inside her and the Popsicle account, and a fancy dinner where her mother isn't involved. (Really, she should probably be thankful she doesn't have to hear about Freddy Rumsen's arrowhead collection.)

When Mad Men attacks cliche, it usually does it in such an unusual way that you forget the basic storylines of Peggy's pregnancy, Don's infidelity, Joan's rapist doctor husband, and Betty's unfit mothering have been staples of daytime television since Susan Lucci was in diapers. In a way, it feels like this is the first time we're seeing these plots play out, and they take on a freshness other dramas can't approach. Don's Cassius Clay ad is now a terrible cliche itself, and let's face it, a million other agencies probably had the exact same idea that morning. But in his office, growing a slanted erection from the incidental touch of Peggy's hand on his own, it may as well be the face of the new sun.

This same sort of temporary enlightenment happened to Tony Soprano more than once. Each time he resolved to be a better man, it inevitably resulted in Carmela falling in love with Tony's imported henchman and Tony forgetting all about his resolution once he was crossed in any way. Don's not turning over a new leaf; his sickness may have been locked up in that eidolon's Samsonite briefcase, but his conscience carried it out the door and disappeared.

This season began with Don Draper's first fame, and he is now about to explode. If he takes Peggy along with him, it will probably allow us to enjoy the ride. Many people never watched The Sopranos while it aired, because they also felt they could not relate to its foreign milieu. This was their loss, and oh what a loss it was, like pretending Van Gogh wasn't painting or William Faulkner wasn't writing. No matter how many Emmys Mad Men wins, some people will stay away because of how little comfort the show offers us during a difficult time in American life. Matthew Weiner's show is no warm blanket, but taste is fickle, and nobody has to love every work of art, even when it's this good.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here and twitters here. He last wrote in these pages about Fairfield Porter and the New York school of poets.

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"Nobody Loves Me (Massive Attack remix)" - Portishead (mp3)

"Acid Jazz and Trip Op (remix)" - Portishead (mp3)

"You Find The Earth Boring" - Portishead (mp3)


Monday
Aug302010

In Which Life Is Like A Bowl Of Life Cereal

Let's Get Liberated

by MOLLY LAMBERT

In a totally premeditated ballsy move, this week's Mad Men was about the CLIO awards and aired the same night as the Emmys. Matthew Weiner definitely cares about winning awards, so if this episode was his attempt to defuse industry gossip that he is an insane egomaniacal credit-hungry Pete Campbell of a showrunner, it didn't work. 

But if there's anything we know about Mad Men, it's that Pete Campbell is the secret (male) hero of the show. The only thing younger people envy about older people is their jadedness, and you don't even know that's what you are envious of until you get there, by which point you don't give a fuck whatsoever because you are jaded too.

What was the craziest backstory revelation from this episode? That Don was just some schmuck working in a fur coat shop when he met Roger? That Joan and Roger's fuckmance predates Don and Roger's bromance? That Peggy Olson can control rogue boners with her mind like Matilda? That Sookie Stackhouse is a human-fairy hybrid?

This episode had some of the best reaction shots in Mad Men history. I demand GIFs of the following: Don's face after he falls asleep while getting blown and then wakes up next up to the ugly waitress. Pete Campbell's face when Lane tells him they're going to bring Ken Cosgrove (ACCOUNTS) on. Don's wasted lean in to smell Dr. Faye's neck.

The hand holding. Peggy's face when that douchebag congratulates her on winning the smuggest bitch in the world award. Pete's face when he tries to stop Don from drunk pitching the LIFE cereal people. Don's entire drunk pitch to the LIFE cereal people.

Speaking of Don's drunk pitch, seriously, it's like they just can't not let Jon Hamm be funny anymore. Sure Don Draper's unfuckable coolness quotient has been nullified through silliness but who cares? Mad Men has been considerably slap-happy this season and it just leads to me dying of laughter several times each episode.

Jon Hamm's portrayal of Don Draper this season has occasionally reminded me of (his BFF) Paul Rudd in Wet Hot American SummerJust the ways in which straight male peacocking can be hilariously flamboyant and veer into behaving like a petulant child.

Don's attempt to hit on Dr. Faye was so cartoonish and basically completely accurate. There's nothing like a swing and a miss rooted in misplaced beaming drunk confidence. It's a thin line between attractive self-assurance and arrogant buffonery.

The big twist tonight was learning that Don Draper bluffed his way into Sterling-Cooper and then Buellered his way through the rest of the late fifties/early sixties. When Alex Carnevale found me and I got him drunk and hired myself for This Recording I was more or less working at a fur shop (oF thE MIND, INcePTioN!) 

Don's ancient secretary is beginning to remind me of the rotating secretaries on Murphy Brown. I know a lot of people hate her hijinks and find it too hacky and broad, but I'm sure she'll be disposed of with a riding lawnmower in the near future.

Peggy's daughterly relationship to Don is being ruined by the fact that Don is a pretty fucking terrible dad. He likes the praise that comes from bestowing favors and the occasional compliment, but he will never show up for your proverbial recital. He might even have some real sounding excuse but it won't make you feel any better.

Peggy is also starting to resent that part of the reason she is generally tolerated by her male peers is because they are so totally unthreatened by her sexuality. The flip side of this of course is Joan Holloway Harris, who is praised and noted constantly for her sex appeal and appearance but never for her impeccable workwomanship.

There's an old saw about telling smart girls they're hot and hot girls they're smart, but the real point Peggy was making was that women getting compartmentalized into those categories, which are always enforced by the likes of Douchebag Art Director Guy, has absolutely nothing to do with what they are really like as human beings.

Unfortunately it seemed like Peggy's attempt to demonstrate that the Madonna/whore construct is a falsehood/duality didn't exactly go over/make a dent in that guy's thick skull beyond giving him a confused and unattended to erection. Let's just say that sometimes it's hard to have arguments about serious things with total idiots.

Peggy is getting increasingly sick of the glass ceiling, the corporate ladder, and all the bullshit associated with both. She is starting to realize that Don's approval is not worth what she once thought it was. Like Roger she is sick of doing Don's below the line work for him and then not getting any credit. She is sick of not being recognized.

Roger knows he inadvertently created a monster, even if he doesn't realize that he is also a monster (and a child). The chapter on Roger's childhood keeps getting bigger as he keeps getting older and weirder. The theme of aging as return to the pure id expression of childhood came up a lot towards the end of The Sopranos.

I love Roger's memoirs. I would like to see some webisodes just based around Roger dictating his memoirs. He and Kenny Powers are the two fictional characters whose autobiographical audiobooks I would actually really like to listen to. Yo and how about when Joan and Roger and Don almost did the Human Centipede under the table.

I certainly can't complain about the idea that we'll be getting to see more of Ken Cosgrove, magnificent flaxen haired prince of the people, in the future. You just know he's going to slam dunk the fuck out of the Mountain Dew account (and my heart).

Molly Lambert is the managing editor of This Recording. She tumbls here and twtters here.

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"The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young cover)" - Laura Marling (mp3)

"Ohio" - Neil Young (mp3)

"My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)" - Neil Young (mp3)