Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mothers Day

Mad Men, Season Six, Episode Six, "For Immediate Release"

As numerous characters kept reminding us, it was Mothers’ Day. But, it wasn't about the mothers; we barely saw a mother, except for Marie (and I had enough of seeing her after less than a minute). It wasn't about valuing a relationship of any kind. It was rather about putting a monetary value on a variety of types of human relating: sex, marriage, mother/child, work relationships. It was all about Don, and Pete, and Roger, and Ted, and Dr. Rosen, and even Joan and how they could get ahead. Get rich and famous. Or if, as in the case of Don and perhaps Ted, they're not interested in the money, then it's about getting their creative ideas ahead of those of others, which sounds more noble except their creativity is just developed to create desire in consumers for things they don't need and--in the case of tonight's featured product--build up an American cult of the automobile. And looking back with forty odd years of hindsight, we can see how that hasn't worked well for us. But, cars are power and represent masculinity and the dream of an open road and the freedom to create your own destiny. All things that the Mad Men seem to feel the cultural changes of the 1960s have been pulling away from them.
After Dr. Rosen whines to Don about how “some asshole down in Houston is taking my place in history” because Rosen’s hospital won’t do what’s needed to support his heart transplant work (‘screw the poor kid who died and his or her family; it’s all about me,’ he might as well have said), Don tells him, “I don’t cut people open. I don’t believe in fate. You make your own opportunities.” The episode is full of characters working to make their opportunities—without including others who are part of their enterprises. Pete, Bert, and Joan work together on a plan to take SCDP public without consulting with Don or Roger; Don and Ted conspire to merge their two companies without consulting their partners. When Ted suggests they should—“Well, we have partners,” Don retorts, “who weren’t sitting in this bar.” This after Joan has chastised him for being a poor team player: “Just once, I want to hear you say the word ‘we.’” But, he’s Don; he needs to be the sun at the center of everyone else’s solar system. Megan, Peggy, his partners—everyone must cater to his vision and idea of how his world should be. Pete tries to ape that—as he does so much of Don’s behavior—but can’t make it work. He falters so much this episode that he falls down the stairs.
Meanwhile, Peggy tells Abe that she doesn’t like change, but she’s in for some big ones. Once again, she’ll be working for Don—and for Ted, who’s finally acted on his attraction for her and then pulled away. She wants him, though. So much for her excitement of last episode over Abe’s revelation that he wants them to have children together. The gap between her and Abe was shown to be widening further as he loves the new and changing neighborhood, while she sounds like one of the older generation: “Those kids are living on our stoop, lighting firecrackers, listening to their music…” But, I feel for Peggy; she’s enormously talented and ambitious—just like Don; she’s made it a long distance from her days in the steno pool at Sterling Cooper; but, she’s still subject—both professionally and personally--to the impetuous whims of Don and Ted. I really enjoyed the scenes between Don and Ted when they were focused on each other and their creative ideas. But, I don’t like how much they assume about Peggy—especially Ted. She’s a strong woman and has taken care of herself admirably through worse, but still. She has feelings that are getting hurt. And, since the only man for whom Peggy expressed love during the episode is Bobby Kennedy, she’s set soon to have her heart broken politically as well.
Then, of course, there’s Pete—the first man about whom Peggy exercised really bad judgment and who used her callously with complete disregard for the consequences: He’s back at it again after seeming somewhat sympathetic in last week’s episode. His job is only about how much money he can get out of it as he seeks to get SCDP to go public and become a millionaire in the process. He reveals that to him, marriage is only about sex when he says to Trudy—who’s stopped his advances—“So we’ll just maintain every other aspect of this marriage except the one that matters,” and that sex—like his firm--has a monetary value when he once again makes a visit to the brothel. He rightly tells his father-in-law, whom he ran into there, to take a look in the mirror after they’ve argued over which one is worse for using prostitutes, but would never consider using a mirror himself. Poor Trudy is just cast in a version of the classic, dehumanizing Madonna/Whore construct. To her irate father, she is not a real person, but a “princess.” To her husband, she is only worth anything if she’s willing to have sex with him.
But, these men are not the only ones who see women’s role in a predominantly sexual light. Megan’s mother berates her for her success, which must have driven Don away (why, after all, would any man want to be with a woman who is sometimes the object of attention for something other than her body, Marie wonders after encountering the girls in the elevator who ask for Megan’s autograph). She urges Megan to dress in such a way that all Don will think about is “how quickly he can get between [her] legs.” To her, too, the only part of marriage that matters is the sex. The advice seems to work, though. Don responds to Megan paying more attention to him and their relationship. Her doing so is not in itself a bad thing; it’s the way Marie, Don, and Megan see marital support and attention as a one-way street from woman to man that irks me. Megan tells Don, “I want to do whatever I can to make sure you don’t fail” and performs oral sex on him before he leaves for his big meeting in Detroit. Yet, his response to her new work opportunities is to have an affair with the neighbor and show up while Megan is filming one of her soap opera’s episodes to throw cruel remarks at her.
I’ve rather had it with the sexism of the men on this show. I know it’s realistic; I know I’m supposed to look at how much worse it was back then and be thankful I wasn’t a working adult in the ‘60s, but still. Sexism is painful; it’s unfair; it’s not even just bad for the women; it’s bad for men too. But, after watching it incessantly on a show for six seasons with the men showing so little growth in this area—frankly, it’s also getting boring. I know that Don, Pete, Ted, Harry, and Roger were not part of the generation of men that allowed and encouraged some of its members to become more enlightened where women were concerned. But, then please create a few more episodes that show positive things happening to the women—that show the women making positive things happen for themselves. That would be true to the spirit of the ‘60s. They featured a Beatles concert and a Stones concert. Let the women go see Aretha in concert and come back singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” That song came out in 1967; it could help them expand the storyline a bit. And make for a meaningful Mothers’ Day.

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