Reviews Of "Mad Men" Reveal Cultural DivideMay 18, 2012
It's Friday and thoughts turn to the weekend and one weekend highlight for millions of Americans is the phenomenal Sunday night series Mad Men. For five years now, the AMC show has led viewers through America's cultural and business evolution from the 20th century's seminal decade — from October of 1960 to its current docking in fall of 1966. It is the first cable series to win the Emmy for best drama four years in a row, not to mention its first four years on the air. It's as gripping and metaphorical as television has ever been. But while the series depicts the gradual slide into America's cultural abyss — though in one instance, a married woman pregnant by a man not her husband has a pro-life moment and leaves the abortionist's office and eventually has her baby — it does not reveal the cultural divide. That is left up to the other half of the media — the critics and reviewers.
One of the characters is Betty Draper, the ex of series protagonist Don. Betty is a control freak, self-serving, manipulative, dysfunctional and a bit psychotic. Not that she wants to be that way. Don was the most philandering character in television history. There wasn't an episode in which he didn't cheat on and humiliate Betty, not to mention that he married her under a false name — it's not so much complicated as it is extraordinarily intriguing, but you have to see it to adequately understand it — and so many other deceptions, I'll leave it at that. Although he provides well for her, loves their children and is, in many respects, a better parent, Betty has many reasons for her defense mechanisms to go into overdrive. But she didn't ruin the marriage and she didn't destroy lives or use people for gain. That is Don's world.
So, which character is hammered by the media elite? Certainly not Don. Played by the very photogenic Jon Hamm, he's a lovable scoundrel, a fictionally pre-dated Bill Clinton, so to speak. It's hard not to want him to succeed.
But after this season's long awaited debut (production was delayed because of disagreements with the producers and network) in late March, the nearly universal opinion of the legions of Man Men reviewers was that Betty is "the least sympathetic character." Really? The one who was cheated on repeatedly? Who had her family broken up? Who was humiliated? By a husband who stole another's identity and married her under a false pretense?
As Meredith Blake of the Los Angeles Times' Show Tracker Blog writes that Betty's thyroid tumor makes her "condition one that makes Betty seem ever-so-slightly less pathetic" and her feelings are "infantile or delusional." It takes a medical condition for her to be somewhat human, apparently. That's how the media elites see life. Carry on affairs and destroy your family: That's okay. Become not the most sociable person: You are persona non grata.
Victoria Miller, of the Examiner.com, calls Betty the show's "resident ice queen." While she grants that Betty's vulnerability made her somewhat sympathetic, she returns to her normal self. Why, she doesn't even call Don to tell him she doesn't have cancer. Terrible!
Although television and pop culture in general deservedly get scrutinized for the pollution it pumps into the air of what had been wholesome societal norms, what tells us more about their affect is the response. In this case, those held up for praise and ridicule, worthiness and scorn, seem a little bassackwards. It's telling as to what too many people find acceptable.