Archive for the ‘Mad Men’ Category

Does Mad Men Take Its Cues from Melrose Place?

January 8, 2010

Consider:

Both Amanda and Don are concealing a secret past: Don’s as Dick Whitman, and Amanda’s marriage to Bobby Jack Parezi. [Bobby was Jack’s blackmailing brother, duh Gnatalby.]

Both start their own advertising firms by stealing clients from their employers.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you saying, but where else would a show about an ad exec go except to them starting their own firm?

Well, then consider episode 6×15, in which Amanda’s crashed helicopter is found. Peter tells Kyle that Amanda may never walk again and he’s all: “No!!! No, that’s one of the worst possible outcomes for someone like Amanda!”

It’s so “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency!”

Maybe it’s just a sign that we haven’t come that far in terms of disability since the 1960s… which is pretty depressing.

Naturally Amanda is sure the disability will be overcome by force of will. Le Sigh.

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Churchill Rousing? Or Hitler Rousing?

October 20, 2009

This week’s Mad Men was awesome. So much plot development! Betty knows about Dick Whitman! Hurray!

But what I noticed most was teacher and Don’s stoner pillow talk. I always use “What if the color I see isn’t the color youuuuu see” when I’m making fun of stoned talk. I loved Don’s no nonsense response, which was basically, “No one cares! Let’s all make some money!”

It’s the new “I refute it thus.”

I still can’t believe what a diiiiiiiick Don is being at work this season, every time he talks to Peggy I get annoyed. And obviously the Sal stuff was disappointing, though, in retrospect, not surprising. Given that Don has never turned down tail in his life it’s shocking to him that Sal wouldn’t be the same way.

I’ve gotten used to Don’s affairs, but they’ve never stopped bugging me. I hate that he is in a full-on romance with the teacher, and not just a sex thing like with Bobbie. I don’t hate the teacher, but I am very wary of her interest in Don.

And who *did* call the Drapers that night?

Answerability

October 6, 2009

In reflecting more about this week’s episode of Mad Men, I realized there was something else I overlooked with regard to Betty and Carla.

When Betty and Don returned home, as Carla was leaving she suggested that Betty talk to Sally about her behavior. Betty asked what Carla meant and Carla demurred and Betty said: “Carla, you brought it up.”

In the first place, it strikes me now that Betty was speaking to Carla the way she speaks to her children,and I’m not a fan of that, but also this was another example of a white person demanding that a black person furnish them with information even when the black person has made it clear they’d rather not. It’s upsetting because it prioritizes the white person’s momentary convenience over the black person’s comfort and right to keep their thoughts and opinions to themselves if they want to.

(The other two examples I’ve covered are Pete grilling Hollis about his tv and Don in the first episode with the busboy at the bar.)

I’m definitely interested in seeing more from Carla, particularly since 1963 was an interesting year for race and racism, and she’s probably the most prominent black character on Mad Men. It’s interesting how much Mad Men shies away from race even when there are obvious, plot important reasons to explore it. I don’t know if the writers have something planned or if they’re actually just nervous to tackle the issue, but it seems like sometimes the script just blurts out “Racism exists!” without going into it in the ways that say, gender issues are explored.

I suppose that’s better than having a very special episode or ignoring it altogether, but I hope for more.

Roman Holiday

October 5, 2009

When Betty and Don go to Rome it’s like opposites day in Mad Men land. Betty, it must be remembered, is from a much classier background, so she’s much more at ease on their Roman Holiday, particularly since she lived in Italy as a model and speaks Italian fluently. She’s also confident and flirty (and has an enormous hilarious hair sculpture), and it’s awesome.

She and Don play a love game where he picks her up at the bar as if they’re strangers and then they go back to his room and fuck. It’s amazing. The next morning Don says: “I like sleeping on this side of the bed.”

Oh Don, with feminism you can “sleep on that side of the bed” (have a confident wife who spends her days actually doing something and feeling fulfilled) every day! But nothing comes without its cost obviously. At the beginning of the episode Betty is all “I can’t leave our two month old!” But… she can, because she has Carla. In a very real way, Betty’s empowerment comes at the price of pushing off her maternal duties onto a black woman, a not uncommon critique of that other famous feminist Betty.

Provisionally awesome– the return of Joan. It was nice to see her, but I’m still anxious for her to actually return to the office.

Also!! Betty kissed the governor’s aide! I was spraying pizza out of my mouth hissing “Have SSSSSEX with him!!!!! Get what you want!” At this point I am still 100% behind Betty having an affair, although I really don’t want her to just turn into Lady Don even though, as Sally might point out, he started it. And then she would pummel you with her “little lesbian” fists after playing the saddest, most on point game of mom and dad ever.

I actually didn’t hate Betty’s “Cool it with the kissing” speech. I mean, I wasn’t crazy about “you don’t kiss boys, boys kiss you,” but I really liked “You’re going to have a lot of first kisses.” At least Betty’s not pressing an unrealistic expectation that Sally should wait until true love for her first kiss.

People who should no longer be having sex… Pete the rapist. I was incredibly disturbed by his coercion of the au pair and by her employer who was like, “When looking for a girl to rape, try the next building.” Also, Pete pulls into the lead ahead of Duck for the line: “You’re German, I could get us some beer… or Riesling… or schnapps!”

Watching Mad Men Through my Fingers

September 17, 2009

Mad Men was so hard to watch this week, and it probably deserves better attention from me, but I happen to be up freakishly early thanks to Jet Lag and a cold. Boo.

When Pete demands that Hollis discuss his television in the elevator, it’s an extremely uncomfortable viewing of privilege. Damn, Pete, you can’t just demand the right to interrogate Hollis just because you feel like it! Except, of course, you can. This scene had an echo for me later when Betty’s friend says they should have “forced” Carla to stay. I can quite get a handle on how the Drapers are about race, compared with their peers. I mean, they’re far from perfect, obviously, I think most of us remember Betty Scarlett O’Haraing with the maid at her Dad’s house. But Betty just responds that Carla has her own family and deserved some time off, which seemed like more than a lot of people would do. (See: Pete.)

I also flashed back to the first ever episode when Don did basically the exact same thing Pete does with the busboy at the bar and his brand of cigarettes, only Don does it much more smoothly. I’m aware that as a viewer I was more comfortable with Don’s questioning. Is that only because he did it more smoothly? Is this the difference between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush? Both bad people, one just looks less embarrassing doing it?

The part that really hit me was Betty’s labor scene. January Jones acted the hell out of that and good for her. It was so upsetting to see her shackled to bed, crying, and being spoken of like she wasn’t even there. It made me understand for the first time why my mother, and so many women my mother’s age went for all natural child-birth. Coming from the future I was all, “Whatevs, an epidural is no big deal.” But this twilight sleep thing is a big, traumatic, terrible deal. I couldn’t believe how dehumanized Betty was, even to the nurses, and how disturbing to “wake up” and just have a baby in hand. No wonder Betty is fucked up, she’s done this three times now.

How Not to Apologize for a Raping

August 24, 2009

Oh man. Blake Carrington and Krystle. Last season Blake raped Krystle because he was mad at her for taking birth control, but she forgave him after he gave her some sparkly jewelry and flowers. She has lately returned to his bed because she feels super sorry for him after he “accidentally” killed his son’s gay lover.

Blake: That night that I forced you, the night that I… wanted you to have my child… that was even a bigger mistake than you thought. The last reward that I need is another child. And you were quite right to be angry with me.

“That time I wanted you to have my child” is the greatest vague euphemism for rape I have ever heard. I’ve been thinking a lot about rape on tv shows. This is one of the most realistic scenarios I’ve seen yet. Television rapists nowadays tend to be very different from real life rapists. In a post about Law and Order: SVU, Melissa McEwan notes that if the show reflected reality, it would be pretty boring:

The problem with L&O:SVU is ultimately this: If it reflected the reality of sexual assault, it would be a “boring” show. Woman gets raped; it’s her boyfriend. Woman gets raped; it’s her male lab partner. Girl gets raped; it’s her stepdad. Woman gets raped; it’s her male date. Girl gets raped; it’s her male teacher. Girl gets raped; it’s her dad. Woman gets raped; it’s her male boss. Woman gets raped; it’s a guy she met at a bar. Woman gets raped; it’s her male coworker. Boy gets raped; it’s his male scout leader. Girl gets raped; it’s her male soccer coach. Woman gets raped; it’s her ex-boyfriend…

We’d have to go on a long way like that before we got to a female assaulter or a false accusation. It would even be awhile before we got to a stranger rape on the street (or in Central Park, ahem); women are three times more likely to be raped by someone they know than a stranger, and nine times more likely to be raped in their home, the home of someone they know, or anywhere else than being raped on the street.

Fantastical, larger than life shows like Law and Order: SVU or Nip/Tuck or even Beverly Hills: 90210* have long acted as if violent stranger rape is the only kind of rape that exists or is worth talking about, particularly because it’s very easy to identify as rape, and it doesn’t lead anyone to any uncomfortable places. If one out of four women is raped in her life (which I’m sure is a conservative estimate given how often rape goes unreported) not only do you probably know a rapist, you have probably dated one, are friends with one, or are related to one. And no one likes to think about that.

So we’re good at not identifying rape. Last year on Mad Men, in one of the saddest, hardest to watch scenes I think I’ve ever seen on television, Joan is raped by her fiance. In his recap for TWOP, Couch Baron initially called this a “borderline rape.” Similarly, a recent discussion about Weeds on Shakesville revealed that even among very media-savvy feminists it’s hard to identify rape for what is, and instead recontextualize it as “a bad date” or “rough sex.”

Similarly, Gossip Girl opened with Chuck Bass attempting to rape Jenny Humphrey on the roof at a party, when he is interrupted by her brother, at the time, this was clearly understood as rape, and Chuck, in fact apologized for it to Jenny midway through last season. But as the show progressed Chuck became something of a fan favorite, especially in his relationship with Blair. So the next time Chuck raped someone, even though he had been widely understood to already be a rapist, Chuck and Blair fans (of which I am one, actually, Chair forever!) found it difficult to call a rape a rape. During a blackout, Chuck takes advantage of the darkness to pretend to be Blair’s boyfriend and have sex with her while she thought he was someone else. When confronted, Blair said that she knew it was Chuck all along. But the rape victim’s state of mind isn’t what determines whether something is or isn’t rape. Chuck intended to mislead her as to his identity in order to have sex with her, presuming she would not consent if she knew the truth. Attempting to shortcut someone’s ability to consent IS rape.

There’s a very similar scene on Nip/Tuck, actually, in which Christian believes that Liz, his friend who is a lesbian (I point this out, because it is very clear that they have no prior sexual history which could confuse the matter, AND he has a big reason to believe she wouldn’t consent– she doesn’t like dudes), is asleep, and he begins to have sex with her. Of course it turns out later, she likes it. Very few of my tv watching companions understand this to be a rape scene. But Christian waited until she was asleep in order to have sex with her, assuming she would not consent. Attempting to shortcut someone’s ability to consent IS rape.

Veronica Mars has the best and the worst depictions of rape on tv. The first season did something amazing and subtle. We find out, first episode, that Veronica was raped, she doesn’t know by whom at a party where she was drugged. One of the season’s big mysteries is who raped her. It’s nice to see a rape survivor who is completely proactive about solving the case, who doesn’t turn it over to someone else to save her. What she learns is that she was drugged by accident, when a drink spiked for someone else was handed to her, and that her drugged ex-boyfriend, with whom she was still in love joined her in what he thought was consensual, but secret sex. It was an upsetting, deeply conflicting solution to the seasons mystery. Without a pervasive rape culture, Veronica never would have been raped. If no one thought it was acceptable to drug a woman’s drink to get her to have sex, she wouldn’t have been in that position in the first place. But the person who had sex with her in no way intended to rape her, and was also drugged against his will. Both Veronica and Duncan, in this scenario, were victims of rape culture, which was a powerful, profound, and very complex situation for a tv show to take on.

Of course, the second season fucks it all up and ruins the awesome completely. Because it turns out that Duncan was not the only person to have sex with Veronica that night. Cassidy “Beaver” Casablancas secretly master-minded the whole thing and raped Veronica. In the season finale, there is a suggestion that he raped Veronica’s friend Mac, which is denied in the third season. (He takes her clothes, and when she’s found she cries, “He took everything.” Which I thought meant he raped her, but it turned out I was wrong. I know, first time for everything.) And the third season opened with ANOTHER rapist, who rapes Mac’s roommate Parker, and later nearly rapes Veronica. It was incredibly sad to have such a subtle, feminist show morph into procedural levels of sensationalism. I mean, seriously, Two out of three protagonists were raped with the third only narrowly escaping? Our plucky heroine is nearly raped twice? What is the purpose of that? Veronica was an amazing heroine. I would have loved her even without the writers putting her virtue in jeopardy every six seconds. (And at this point, I’d ever prefer if Veronica were nearly the victim of multiple murders, so great is my distaste for depictions of rape for edginess. Newsflash, by definition, nothing that happens to a quarter of all women is edgy.)

I suppose my concern, at the end of the day, is that these rapes are made so sexy and titillating that rape takes on the shape of being a crime about sex, rather than a crime about power, and it’s confusing. In Dynasty, Krystle forgives Blake, but they both call it rape. On General Hospital, Laura marries Luke. But they still called it rape. But 20 years later it’s hard for people who write about tv and committed feminists to consistently identify rape as what it is. We know from advertising how persuasive a medium tv is. I feel it’s a distinct possibility that the relentless sensationalizing of rape and its divorce from reality have affected our judgment negatively and profoundly.

*In the first season Kelly tells her friends at a sleepover that her first time was rape, and she was raped by a friend from school, but this instance is overshadowed by the 9 million strangers who stalk and rape or attempt to rape Kelly over the run of the show.