Friday, July 23, 2010

Really Jon Hamm?

Unless you live on Mars, you are well aware that Sunday marks the beginning of the new season of "Mad Men."  Of course, like any piece of pop culture there are issues with the show; however, the excitement often silences even the most reasonable critique.  Though Mad Men hardly needs the press, the actors are doing their rounds on various talk shows.  January Jones recently told Regis that Hamm is indeed a good kisser.  Isn't that what you always wanted to know?  For his part, Hamm recently did an interview with "Time Magazine," you know the usual ten question deal. This is something that I would normally ignore but two quotes in particular irritated me enough to blog about.
What qualities do you think men lack today that were present in those from the Mad Men era?Octavio de la Torre, PALMDALE, CALIF.
There's a cordialness that men had when dealing with the opposite sex, even when they were being blatantly sexist. It's a weird conundrum. But that's been replaced with men treating women like absolute garbage and not even being polite about it, which is too bad.
A cordialness?  Really?  I think it is time that we stop the ahistorical past bullshit that has people suggesting that a golden age ever existed. Let's just remember that while  men were being "cordial" they were beating their wives and assuming that they had the right to sexually harass their secretaries. Even if they were supposedly being "cordial," it did not make their actions any less traumatic to the women that had to endure the abuse.  And this idea that men are suddenly treating women like shit is ridiculous.  If men were not raping, abusing, sexually exploiting, sexually harassing, slut shaming, impoverishing etc., there would have been no need for a women's movement.  That is the real history and no amount of revisionism is going to make the lie of chivalry and "cordialness" true.  The whole reason this myth exists in the first place to imply that women are responsible for the behaviour of men.  Supposedly, if we would just be quiet and let them be real men, no misogynistic attacks be happening today, when in fact, the few protections that women have are a direct result of fighting for gender equality.  You would think that a man who plays a character like Don Draper could see what a false veneer the concept of "cordialness" is. 

What's your view on how the show has dealt with the racial and political issues of the '60s?Leonard Colvin, NORFOLK, VA.
We've dealt with them in an honest way. I've read reviews that take us to task for not having more African Americans or dealing with gay issues or women's issues. And I think that criticism is fundamentally flawed because the show is not a travelogue through the '60s. It's about very specific people in a very specific place at a very specific time. That comes with warts and all.

If that sounds like cover for not involving marginalized bodies it should.  Oh gee sorry folks, this is about straight, het, class privileged, White people and everything else would be an unnecessary deviation.  Last season JFK was murdered and  an entire episode was dedicated to this. I am sure that producers felt justified in portraying the assassination because it was a seminal event, but from the tone of the show, other events like the assassination of Malcolm X and MLK will be ignored, because of course that only mattered to the coloured folk right. I also guess that it will be easy to ignore Lyndon Johnson's attempt to get civil rights legislation passed, even though the firm attempted to do work for the Nixon campaign.  Better to focus on the man that would later become the liar in chief, then pay attention to the fight for racial justice.  None of this supposedly touched these characters in any significant way because they are White?  But hey Paul did have a Black girlfriend temporarily doesn't count for progressive?

I suppose the Comptons Cafeteria Riots and the Stonewall riots will also be ignored as well.  They certainly made sure that this would be a non-issue by getting rid of Sal, who btw wasn't even told that his contract was not being renewed -- but hey he is only a gay man.  Surely he must have seen this coming on a show dedicated to dealing with the struggles het, cis, White people of class privilege.  Furthermore, having a lesbian character would be far to disturbing in this ultra fantasy world.  Nope, anything relating to homosexuality must strictly be represented by men and "Man Men," claims to only be representing sexism, not engaging in it.

Hamm may want to pretend that he is an ostrich and that these critiques are unfair, but in fact  they call attention to the constant inaccurate history that has become normalized.  Admitting that "Mad Men" is at times problematic will not ruin its popularity, because you cannot watch any television show that is not filled with various issues. However, presenting this inaccurate history normalizes it as truth and helps to support the claim that things were better and more  harmonious, when marginalized bodies did not forcefully fight for their equality.  Pushing these events aside implies that they were not nearly as socially important, as the angst felt by White, rich, het people.  This is privileging dominant bodies, and  no matter what the excuse, it should always be critiqued.