Tag: pop culture

Mad Men, Don Draper, & Pinocchio

And so it ended. Two weeks ago, the Mad Men finale aired. And – spoiler alert –  Don Draper didn’t hurl himself out of the window of a Manhattan skyscraper, even though he did…

Mad-Men-c-AMC And so it ended. Two weeks ago, the Mad Men finale aired. And – spoiler alert –  Don Draper didn’t hurl himself out of the window of a Manhattan skyscraper, even though he did have a few desperate glances out of windows in some of the last episodes.

The series tended to generate two extreme reactions. Either people really liked the show or they had no patience for it – too dark, too retro, too whatever. I found the show dark, even disturbing at times; but I kept watching. The production quality was fantastic – story, writing, acting, costumes, directing, filming, etc. (Still, the finale was outpaced 2:1 by people viewing reruns of I Love Lucy.)

Over at Crux, Kimberly Winston suggests that maybe Don Draper got religion at the very end of the show. Zach Hoag sees redemption for many of the main characters, especially Don, he writes:

But this time, it’s not about “selling happiness” to enrich himself, fulfill his lusts or make his mark. It’s about being close to his children. It’s about finding his true identity in loving and being loved.

Art, in any form, has to allow for various interpretations. We see things through different experiences and perspectives. I recall a conversation with friends about Henry James’ novel, Portrait of a Lady. Three of us had vastly different understandings about the conclusion. Naturally, I was convinced I had it right; so I consulted the text. Based on the author’s own words, each of us had a legitimate interpretation. I was right. And so were the others.

No, no, no. I’m not saying that everything is relative. But interpretations of art certainly can be.

So let me offer my take on Mad Men. I wanted to see redemption, desperately. Once Don had his breakdown with Hershey, I thought we were getting somewhere. After six seasons, two wives and too many “other” women to count, Don actually told something deeply intimate about himself which was also true.

The episode concludes with Don standing with his children before the rundown building that was the whorehouse where he grew up. This is the first time they’ve seen anything of their father’s past. It helps to know who someone is by knowing where they came from.

I began to think that his redemption would conclude the series. Remember how the first episode of season one started? All we saw was a handsome businessman going about his day, visiting a woman who was not his wife, and so on. There was no indication that he was a married man until the episode concluded with him entering his large suburban home at night, lights turned out, wife asleep in bed.

In many ways, his struck me as a Pinocchio story, someone sort of wanting to grow up and be a “real” boy while enjoying all the fun and perks of being “naughty,” an echo of St. Augustine’s prayer for conversion when he asked that it might not happen too quickly. Throughout the last season, there were inklings that maybe the real man would escape the trappings he’d created for himself, not unlike the false world he created through his business of advertising, promising happiness with things that have nothing to do with true happiness. But along the way, someone else was changing: his teenage daughter Sally.

Episode two of Season 7, involves Sally’s discovery that her father has, in effect, been lying to his family by not telling them that he’s on leave from his job. They think he’s still going to work, as usual. After a strained car trip that eases up with a pit stop for gas and food (Don is smart; he knows that a lot of relationship building can happen around food.), she gets out of the car and tells him, “I love you.” He can’t, simply cannot, respond. It’s clear that he’s struggling. Go to 1’20” here. Or watch it all for a recap of the episode. By this point the series has offered plenty of encounters between Sally and her mom Betty. None of them were personal. And we’ve seen various scenes with Sally and her dad, mostly she’s angry, even disgusted. Always she is looking for connection. This time she connects.

Someone is growing up.

While Betty accepts her mortality and the reality of her terminal diagnosis, she still can’t relate to her children. She can’t even tell them that she is dying. The last we see of Sally, she has given up her trip to Madrid, ignoring her mother’s expressed wishes, and has come home to help. We see Betty smoking while Sally is doing the dishes. (0’99” below)

The series concludes with Don chanting his “om” outside at a  beautiful California retreat, presumably in the Big Sur area, and fades into the famous Coke commercial, “I’d like to give the world a Coke.”

Pinocchio stayed Pinocchio.

In the moment that some call awakening or getting religion, I think he was just being the same old Don Draper we’ve seen since the very first episode. At 2’0” below,just as the meditation begins, he’s still trying to figure it out, how’s he going to make this work for him. Then his “om” becomes an “a-ha!” (See 2’37” below, when the meditation ends.) Think about it, after his “confession” to Peggy, she tells him to come back, that he’ll have work, there’s the Coke account. In that moment, he tapped into the next big idea. And presumably many other big ideas, including the Coke commercial.

Maybe Don’s a little more in touch with himself after crying and hugging on his retreat. But it’s hard for me to string this all together and claim redemption, much less family man. He starts as an ad man and ends an ad man, he can sell anything including himself. He doesn’t just sell ads. He creates realities.

As for the other characters, they seem pretty comfortable in the realities that they’ve created for themselves. But, really, does anyone honestly think that Pete has magically learned fidelity…when he now has a private jet at his disposal? We saw what he did with his own apartment… And Roger just continues being another little boy Pinocchio, he even jokingly refers to his new wife Marie as “ma mère” (“my mother”).  Peggy finally got what she wanted: a man to go with her career. That may not last if her inner Don Draper surfaces again.

Joan was the exception, she was an adult from the beginning and always aware that actions have consequences, good and bad. She always took responsibility for herself. But the real grown up by the end of the show was just a little girl when the show began. Make sure you take note around 0’99” below.

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Kiss This Man!

It’s what a friend of mine in college would say when she wanted to make a point. Yes, random. But I thought of it as a I read Matt Walsh’s…

It’s what a friend of mine in college would say when she wanted to make a point. Yes, random. But I thought of it as a I read Matt Walsh’s blog post, “Dear son, don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you.” I don’t know Walsh, but his post is an absolute must-read.

In this debacle of commentary surrounding the recent Miley Cyrus MTV stunt, which is taking center stage as the world is about to erupt in World War III (duly noted by Walsh), the conversation has centered largely on Cyrus’s behavior, with no mention of Robin Thicke’s culpability. Walsh writes:

A 36 year old married man and father, grinding against an intoxicated 20 year old while singing about how she’s an “animal” and the “hottest b***h in this place.” And what happens the next day? We’re all boycotting the 20 year old. The grown man gets a pass.

The fact that the conversation centers largely on Cyrus also suggests – at least to me – an implicit misogyny in our hypersexualized culture. It takes advantage of women and then blames them. How convenient. By “it”, I mean all of society, both women and men. It’s twisted and perverse.

I’ve written a lot about the role of women, most recently addressing Pope Francis’s comments on the theology of woman. (More on that next week.) I’ve always insisted that the only way forward is to see women and men as complementary and that we need a parallel new masculinism or theology of man. But a woman can’t do it.

Here’s hoping that Walsh is starting a movement. Meanwhile, if he’s the real deal (and I certainly hope he is), he won’t be kissing anyone but his wife. Here’s the letter to his son from the post above:

Dear son,

Don’t let Robin Thicke be a lesson to you.

Don’t let any of these pigs and perverts you see on TV be a lesson to you. They treat women like garbage; they possess no chivalry, no self control; they are disloyal and dishonest; they spend all day pursuing pleasure at the expense of others, and they encourage you to do the same. You might be tempted to follow suit. In fact, you WILL be tempted. These male pop stars and celebrities, look at them, you’ll think. They take advantage of emotionally broken, self loathing, confused young women, and they are rewarded handsomely for it. Look at their nice clothes and their nice cars. Look how they are admired and loved. Look, they treat women like trash and other women fawn all over them because of it. This must be how real men behave, you’ll think.

And you’ll be wrong. You’ll be wrong about a lot of things in life — this is what it means to be human — but never will you be more wrong than when you feel the temptation to buy the lies that pop culture sells about the nature of true masculinity. Son, there is nothing glamorous or fun about being a man of low character and no integrity. What you see on TV is a facade. It’s a sales pitch. It’s poison. You see the bright lights and the sexy women, but you don’t see what happens when the cameras are off and these pop culture gods return to their lives as mere mortals. You don’t see them in their big, empty, lonely houses. You don’t see the emptiness in the pit of their souls. You don’t see all the alcohol and drugs they have to use to dull the pain of living a life devoid of real, committed relationships. You don’t see the hatred they have for themselves and for humanity. You don’t see the jealousy they have towards normal, decent men.

Your dad is no celebrity. He’s just an average, boring guy. But he’s got something that every famous and non-famous womanizer envies: He’s got the love and commitment of ONE beautiful, smart, faithful woman. He’s got your mom, and he’ll only have your mom until the day he dies. He ought to be waking up every day shouting praises to the Lord because of that.

Listen, son, don’t let the world tell you how to be a man. They don’t know anything about the subject.

Men are loyal. Men are honest. Men respect and honor women. A man goes out and finds one woman, and he vows to protect and love her for the rest of his life. A man would never betray that vow. Even the weakest and most cowardly man — if he is a man at all — would die for the woman he loves. Your dad is no hero, but let someone try to hurt your mom and watch him suddenly turn into Superman (or Batman, whichever you prefer).

See, son, you don’t have to be big and strong to be a man, although I think you will be one day. You don’t have to be “cool” or athletic. You don’t have to play guitar or fix cars. These are all fine things, but they don’t define a man. A man is defined by how he treats women, by how he keeps his promises, and by how he protects and serves the ones he loves. That’s what makes a man a man. My dad taught me that, he taught it by example. I pray I can do the same for you.

Oh, and by the way, if I ever catch you disrespecting women, I will sit you down and talk to you about it. But first I’ll kick your butt up and down the street. That’s a promise.


Your old man


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Teenage Fantasies

This week Iwrote about Katy Perry’s new song, “Teenage Dream.” While not wanting to attribute any ill intent to Perry, I think the song’s lyrics say a lot about how…

This week Iwrote about Katy Perry’s new song, “Teenage Dream.” While not wanting to attribute any ill intent to Perry, I think the song’s lyrics say a lot about how we tend to view relationships and marriage as reflected by our current divorce trends and cohabitation practices.

Seems to me that a lot of us have bought into the teenage fantasy of escapism and running from problems rather than facing them. I don’t fault anyone for having that feeling of I-just-wish-I-could-run-away-and-start-over. I’m just saying that as adults we know that won’t do much for us; it won’t get us what we want. True love means sticking together and working through problems. Not a fantasy world in which everything is perfect or in which running away will help things.

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