In the interest of having things to talk to other white people about, I've started watching Mad Men. And also plumbing some of the vast blog literature on the topic.
First, I don't get the appeal of Don Draper. At all. I am glad that I reached this conclusion independently before reading a Steve Sailer essay that asserts that "What's sexist in the office is fuel in the bedroom." I went cold somewhere in the first episode in which Draper is talking to the female Eastern European consultant about Dr. Freud, cigarette advertising, and the concept of the death wish, and Draper makes a crack to the effect of "Freud? Was he in advertising?" It's the sort of crack that's as devastating in my eyes to a good looking guy's cause as an e-mail full of misspellings, non-capitalized first letters, and dubious punctuation.* Nor, four DVDs deeper into the first season, has he seemed any more interesting or compelling.
I mean, I guess I acknowledge that the actor playing Don is better looking than, say, most of the typical lawyers clustered in a D.C. bar after work. But... not feeling anything particularly visceral there. Certainly not enough to want me to forget the advances of the last fifty years.
If anything, my views are closer to Micha Ghertner's. The message of the episdoes I've seen so far is, "Look at these silly people, with their racism and their sexism and their cigarettes and salads drowning in mayonnaise! Let us feel superior to them, we with our Civil Rights Act of 1964 and arugula and twice weekly Pilates classes!" I do really like being patted on the back for being a nice socially liberal white girl who shops at Whole Foods and has gay friends and a personal trainer. But the typical Mad Men episode offers too much treacly self-congratulation even for me.
I am also skeptical that the 1950s themselves were quite so ridiculous. Watching the show, one wonders if anyone ever take a break from hostile environment sexual harassment long enough to get any actual work done? If not, how did it possibly take the Jews and white ethnics so long to complete their meritocratic tear through corporate America and the learned professions?
None of my grandparents or great-aunts and uncles were of the Drapers' social class, to be sure. Maybe the men of that generation that I knew growing up were just too wedded to central European old world social mores. So maybe they were more gentlemanly and retiring among women than Americans of the same age. I don't really know. But they just seemed like they'd recoil at the sort of crudeness depicted as routine on the show.
I suspect also that a lot of urban SWPL types find the show attractive largely because it is a lovely fantasy world in which they don't really have to live. Don Draper's world might be alluring because it is familiar yet entirely foreign. Half the fun of fiction is imagining yourself into places that you'd never really want to live. So, contra Sailer, Mad Men's as enjoyable as it is because we get to return to our day to day lives after each episode.
Most importantly, the Drapers' golden retriever Polly is positively adorable! She reminds me of how badly I want a retriever of my own. There should be more of her in each episode.
*Longtime friends and readers will know that one of my most rigidly held standards for lovers is the willingness to use capitalization and punctuation in e-mail. I've never been able to articulate why clearly, but I suppose that people who find it hard to use commas in e-mail because it's "informal" generally fall below some critical threshold of intelligence. Yeah, administering an I.Q. test might be a less fallible screen for the same quality, but it's hardly practical to do so.
Also, no link, but there was a post in the Roissysphere a few months ago counseling guys not to use capitalization in e-mail. I.e. my screening techniques automatically work on his ilk! This is kind of the karmic equivalent of finding $10 in the pocket of a jacket that I haven't worn since last winter.