[Marxism] Mad Men

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Mar 31 07:24:16 MDT 2012


25th Mar 2012

Everything Happened


Toward the end of “Tomorrowland,” the final episode of the fourth season 
of AMC’s Mad Men, Don Draper (the girl-, booze-, and epiphany-hound 
played to the nines by Jon Hamm) gazes with rapt wonder into the eyes of 
his newest lover. Something of a cut-to-the-chase lothario until this 
point, Draper’s googly candor is a bit surprising as he lays his heart 
on the bedsheet. “Did you ever think,” he says, “of the number of things 
that had to happen for me to get to know you? But everything happened, 
and it got me here. What does that mean?” Hamm utters these lines in the 
kind of tremulous whisper-shout normally reserved for stoners commenting 
on double rainbows. But it’s not just love that has Draper so high, or 
at least not only love. Don Draper, in this scene, is amazed by the 
sheer happenstance complexity of the events leading up to this new 
relationship. In the context of Draper’s life, it’s a romantic speech 
about the magical workings of fate. In the context of Mad Men, however, 
it’s a romantic speech about the magical workings, and plottings, of 
serial television.

Mad Men, in addition to being an abundantly detailed, almost classically 
composed piece of historical fiction and a genuinely ambivalent critique 
of consumer culture, is also an intriguing meditation on narrative 
itself. This is not to say that Mad Men is the best show on the air, or 
that this self-consciousness somehow allows it to transcend its peers. 
The self-consciousness of a show like FX’s Louie, for instance, is far 
more daring and revelatory, and Mad Men is by no means a consensus pick 
for the Great American Television Series. Indeed, over the past few 
years, Mad Men has been bloodied by a number of high-profile hatchet 
jobs — notably at the hands of Daniel Mendelssohn in the New York Review 
of Books and Mark Greif in the London Review of Books, both of whom 
raise fair points concerning the show’s often uncritical exuberance 
about its own aesthetic. Not to mention the fact that Mad Men suffers 
from the unfortunately common ailment that its protagonist can only ever 
claim to be the fourth or fifth most interesting character on his own 
show. Don Draper can run off to California to join a proto-hippie sex 
commune all he wants, but I cannot conceive of a viewer who would not 
rather spend the time of these elaborate set-pieces with the sultry and 
sad accordion-playing Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) or even Draper’s 
own deeply troubled daughter, Sally (played by the mesmerizing child 
actress Kiernan Shipka).


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