So many people are secretly happy in the fall that if you're feeling sad this time of year, you feel compelled to keep it to yourself.
I just learned from Maureen Dowd's column that Mad Men is one of President Obama's favorite TV shows. Now, I've got a complicated relationship with that show. My late dad was an ad man during that same era, he hated it on grounds that, "You don't make great ads by drinking and screwing all day!"
But it's so much fun watching them try!
I hate the show—of which I've seen the first two seasons—on different grounds: It's mostly meaningless and far more cynical than the atmosphere my dad (and copywriter mom, who Peggy Olson looks creepily like) described. More nihilistic than all but the very worst people I've ever worked with. And the sexism might have been bad in the 1960s, but still, I know when a point is being shoved down my throat. An amusing cartoon, but not very much like real life—then, now, or ever.
Ultimately, I agree with what I think was my dad's core point: That the people who are writing these episodes are not wise adults but clever children.
Me, I prefer sad men to Mad Men, and in the last few weeks I've watched:
• Tell Them Anything You Want, an interview documentary on Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are. I haven't seen the Wild Things movie yet, but I'll eat my hat if it's better than this conversation with the funny children's book writer with the sad childhood.
• Finishing Heaven, a documentary about a movie a guy filmed in 1970 but has been trying and failing to finish ever since. Sad—and thus, funny!
• And, for me, the saddest of them all, ESPN's documentary Muhammad and Larry, about the stupid, stupid lead-up to Muhammed Ali's disastrous last major fight.
I guess I'm glad President Obama's not watching all these sad films. A leader must light candles rather than curse darkness. But as for me, I sure find more to think about—and much more, as a matter of fact, to laugh about—in the sad stuff than in the mad stuff.
How about you?
You’re wrong about Mad Men. And not just because Jon Hamm is the closest thing to heaven here on earth (not that I expect you to understand that, DaMurr; in fact, I’d be weirded out if you did).
Did you see the episode called “Carousel?” The writing was unbelievable.
Go ahead and call it obvious or unrealistic, but it’s an evocative and compelling show. As communicators, isn’t that what we stive to be? Evocative? Compelling?
David Murray says
Yes, the Carousel was good, and I agree the show is compelling and evocative. That’s why I watch it. But afterward, my wife and I go to bed in silence. There’s nothing to discuss, and not much to think or talk about or even remember afterwards.
If this show was a drug, it would be whippets, if it was food it would be Chinese. It’s fun to watch. It just doesn’t add up to much.
Ok, but everyone loves a good General Tso’s chicken every now and then.
You and Cr. could talk about the clothes. The clothes on that show are TOO AMAZING. It almost hurts to look at them, they are so wonderful. The haberdashery, too — not just the women’s garments.
David Murray says
You’re right about the clothes, Amy, which I think is another reason my dad hated the show: They really DID look dress that way, even in Detroit, where my dad was the Don Draper at Campbell-Ewald.
I think he was jealous of his own handsome youth.
Brooke Ford says
I agree it’s mostly style over substance. But what amazing, watchable style it is. I agree with the reader who is in awe of the clothes – the casting and production design are 75% of the reason I watch. I find the cast to be a real achievement: think about how hard it must have been to cast Don – he’s a brooding asshole, but because he’s a complicated, brilliant ad man, somehow he’s still the show’s sympathetic hero.
I also think we are supposed to watch it and take comfort in knowing what Don and the rest of the cast don’t know: the sexual revolution is just around the corner so every misogynistic thing these guys know is about to get thrown out the window. We know we’re watching relics, but they don’t. And I actually do think it’s a pretty accurate depiction of ad agency office politics, which I also like. Yes, the drinking and screwing are amplified, but that’s why they call it entertainment! I’d prefer to work at Sterling Cooper than Dunder Mifflin any day.
I guess I’m the only one who could care less about that show. I watched one episode and basically my reaction was: “Meh, whatever.”
About the only thing I got excited about was the presentation of actual, human physically possible female bodies as opposed to the Dr. Frankenstein praying mantis look that pervades today’s TV.
Joan H. says
Here’s one of the best quotes I’ve heard in a long time from a Maurice Sendak interview, which I plan to use myself. Someone asks you a stupid question? Reply: Go to hell. Go home or wet your pants.
What do you say to parents who think the Wild Things film may be too scary?
Sendak: I would tell them to go to hell. That’s a question I will not tolerate.
Because kids can handle it?
Sendak: If they can’t handle it, go home. Or wet your pants. Do whatever you like. But it’s not a question that can be answered.
David Murray says
I know, Joan, that’s what got me interested in the Sendak interview in the first place. He’s infinitely wise and wonderful.
This debate about the Wild Things movie is perplexing to me. Maybe it’s because I’m not a parent, although there are a number of children in my life whom I love and whom I feel some level of responsibility to.
So when I hear parents quoted as saying they won’t take their kids to see it because they “don’t want to have to try to explain the scary or disturbing parts” of the movie, I can’t help but think: “So you don’t WANT your children to understand and be prepared for the fact that they will have to deal with scary or disturbing things in their lives?!” Really???
Obviously, this is similar to talking about sex with kids – you need to explain things and answer questions at the child’s age level. But to avoid the discussion altogether or try to keep from children the fact that those types of things exist in the world always seems to me to be the worst possible, most dangerous approach – albeit based on the best of intentions.
Fact is – you won’t always be there to protect them. Arming them with knowledge and reasoning skills and the common-sense to trust their instincts will allow them a fighting chance to keep themselves safe.
David Murray says
Kristen: And of course there’s the adults’ conceit that handling disturbing and scary things is our core competency, whereas children haven’t tasted any fear or confusion.
Sendak brooks none of this bullshit, which is what makes his books so fucking good.
Joan H. says
I think Steve should add a subtext to his Creative Communications blog. “Go to hell! Go home or wet your pants!” Maybe he’s Sendak in disguise.
I do like Mad Men but your points are well taken. It is an exaggeration but well done.
Thanks for the heads up about the Maurice Sendak interview.
Eileen B says
David – I heard Terry Gross’s repeat interview with sendak on Fresh Air last week (when the movie came out … interviews occured in mid-80s and late 90s). I agree…his life alone was more compelling than anything he wrote.
Kate Zimmerman says
I rarely watch Mad Men but I agree that it’s nice looking. As a pop culture journalist who cares deeply about language, though, I find it extremely irritating when they use modern idioms in a series so firmly set almost 50 years ago. In a couple of re-runs last night I heard “What’s that all about?” “Hang in there!” and somebody starting off an announcement with “You know what?”, probably the most ubiquitous phrase of this decade. I’m sure there were all kinds of irritating, over-used phrases in the 1960s. A really good writing team would have researched what they were, rather than relying on more modern cliches.
David Murray says
Yeah, I’ve noticed that took, Kate, and it’s jarring. Another reason I think the writers are young–too young–to be writing a show set 50 years ago.