As usual, I’m one of the last people on earth to catch on to Mad Men on AMC. My husband and I watched all 13 episodes from the first season over the past couple of weeks and I’m hooked. Troubled, but hooked.
Watching it is so intriguing for someone who grew up in that era of missile-shaped bras, rotary phones and Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. Every detail is so precisely rendered that it’s almost hypnotic. But I sometimes wonder if that’s almost a problem: That same attention to detail focuses your attention so minutely that it’s easy to avoid some of the more worrisome questions.
And that is: Sure, we don’t smoke that much, drink that freely, discriminate against women and Jews that openly — but how much have we really changed? It becomes so easy to pat yourself on the back about how far society has come in 50-odd years and assume discrimination went out with girdles. But did it? Or is it just more subtle now, subject to code words everybody knows and nobody admits? (Besides, girdles seem to be making a comeback right now. They call them something different, but they haven’t fooled me; they still look uncomfortable.)
I also like to think men are a lot more evolved about women these days. But then I stumble into one of those atrocious young-male movie comedies that thinks farting is witty and X-rated sex talk about any attractive woman in the vicinity is insightful and hilarious, and I want to burn down the local movie theater. God. We haven’t gotten beyond the Three Stooges, have we?
“It’s your age,” my son told me when we argued about movie comedies recently. “You just don’t get some of the comedies these days, Mom.”
I tried to argue that good taste and wit never go out of style and I’m sick of seeing obvious, dumb comedies and there’s nothing as funny these days as Annie Hall was and still is. But my son had that look on his face people get when they think they’re viewing an anachronism like a rotary phone or a martini-swilling Madison Avenue guy from 1960 or a mother from the early Baby Boomer era. That look says: Isn’t this amusing? Hasn’t life changed a lot? And, wow, don’t people from that ancient era have really strange, outmoded ideas and values?
Ha, I’m inclined to think. Don’t kid yourself. Only the surfaces change. The Three Stooges level of humor still entertains young men and the girdle’s taking a victory lap in the lingerie department. You can call it something else, but that doesn’t mean it’s different. We haven’t changed as much as we like to think.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)