The first week of January, when I was being pathetic on the couch, once I finished How I Met Your Mother, I had the brainstorm to finally start watching Mad Men, which, yes, I’d never seen at all.
(I’ve also never watched West Wing, The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, and a whole host of other shows that are allegedly “amazing” and “wonderful” and “really well-written.”)
I’d heard about Mad Men‘s supposed brilliance for years and figured, well, this is as good a time as any.
I got three episodes in and started really wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.
It wasn’t the characters’ abhorrent morals. I love a good anti-hero (see Underwood, Francis).
It wasn’t the fact that I was driven out of the ad/marketing agency world almost as quickly as I got into it a couple years ago and the show gave me flashbacks.
It was the writing.
The brilliant, amazing, clever, witty writing I’d heard so much about seemed to be nothing more than exaggerated, over-the-top examples of “LOOK! LOOK HOW DIFFERENT EVERYTHING WAS IN THE 60s! Everyone was sexist and racist and smoked literally 24/7 and didn’t believe cigarettes were that dangerous and drank at work and kids didn’t wear seat belts and seeing a psychiatrist was a horrible thing that made people gossip!”
I mean, there’s a scene where little Sally Draper comes in to see her mother WEARING A PLASTIC BAG OVER HER HEAD and Betty is more concerned that Sally dumped the dry cleaning on the floor in order to play with the bag. And I felt like, instead of presenting these types of scenes as matter-of-fact and #authentic, they were forced in to really shove LOOK AT ALL THE DIFFERENCES in your face. And rather than seeming clever, all these (constant) asides came off as super smug, like they were saying “look at far we’ve come since 1960! We’ve progressed so much!”
For me, it was painful and uncomfortable. Almost like they were trying to say “sexism isn’t really an issue now; look at how bad women used to have it.” Um, okay.
So I gave up after three episodes and watched Parks & Rec instead.
And then, I felt slightly like the people who complain about Huckleberry Finn because Twain liberally uses the n-word and that makes them “uncomfortable,” until I realized those situations would compare better if Twain had written his books in, say, the 1950s instead 1880s. “Look! Look how far we’ve come from when black people were slaves and people called them n******!”
And also, I’m not in the least advocating that Mad Men should be banned or censored in any way. If you like the show and want to watch, by all means, have at it. I’m just saying I personally found it icky and weird and not enjoyable in the least.
But I am questioning the act of presenting a different culture or time period through the lens of your current culture. Not just writing about it transparently from your point of view, but writing in which you attempt to or claim that you’re writing directly from the point of view of that culture. I think I’ll be exploring this and writing about it more in the future.
Or am I totally missing something? Should I give Don Draper another chance?