Sunday, November 09, 2008

A "gasp" and then a "gasp"

While watching the 8th episode (I think) in the first season of Mad Men (and name given to the ad men of Madison Avenue in mid-20th century America), the boss of the advertising firm (his name is Cooper) gives to the main character (top ad guy named Draper) a check for $2,500 for seemingly no reason, other than he is good at what he does. In the middle of the conversation, Cooper says to Draper:

Cooper: Look over there at that book.
(Camera pans to a 1950s copy of Atlas Shrugged on end of bookshelf)
Cooper: Have you read her? Rand. Atlas Shrugged. That's the one.
Draper: [Hesitantly] Yes . . . it is.
Cooper: See, I know you haven't read it. When you hit 40, you realize you've met or seen every kind of person there is. And I know what kind you are, because I believe we are alike.
Draper: I assume that's flattering.
Cooper: By that I mean you are a productive and reasonable man, and in the end, completely self-interested. It's strength. We are different. Unsentimental about all the people who depend on our hard work. Take $1.99 out of that $2,500 and buy yourself a copy.

I gasped. Was riveted. Shook my head in disbelief and ecstacy. Felt proud.

And then I gasped again. None of the characters in Mad Men is the least bit sympathetic, including Draper, who is a nihilistic, inscrutable riddle of contradictions and, often, outright meanness. He mistreats colleagues and family, to the point of horror in the viewer. He is portrayed as a dour Roark (who, though utterly without wit and panache, was at least optimistic). He hasn't a humorous bone in his body. The writers' attempts at wry wit come across as clanky self-aggrandizement.

Draper is hiding his past from everyone, including his wife, who, though obedient (in 1950s style) is sometimes miffed at his lockdown. She, at least, seems real. The writers are beginning to hint at the locus for Draper's stoicism (childhood, as usual -- yawn) and may eventually take this secret into interesting areas, but I won't be around to see it. I am already hitting the "two-minute advance" on my portable DVD player to get past the eternal home scenes with Draper and other characters as they mill about and drool on about something that, I assume, is supposed to add "layers" to a generalized ennui de vivre. The writing is simply horrible, excruciating, painful, stodgy. And the only character who elicits even the least bit of sympathy (a pixie secretary) turns on her own principles in a second in this 8th episode.

If this turgid drama (dreamed up by atheists, I've learned) is supposed to represent objective values, it does not. It is not about happiness. If it is meant as an introduction into Ayn Rand's ideas, it is embarrassingly contradictory and misleading. It perpetuates the idea that Objectivism is synonymous with stoicism and a promethian creativity that finds its fountainhead only in societal exclusion above the hoi polloi. It has the "objectivish" slant of being utterly devoid of good, benevolent humor and a bouncy optimism. It has, unfortunately, many of the personal traits of Objectivism's founder, her literary protagonists and the philosophy's first generation of acolytes, who seem trapped in "the revolution" and a ostensive sense that the philosophy is an end and not a means to an end.

So, back to NetFlix with ya, Mad Men. Go be mad on somebody else's time and dime. I've got parties to go to with my second-gen Objectivist friends, who know how to tickle my funny bone.


Tenure said...

I concurrently agree.

David Elmore said...

Thanks very much!