Friday, August 31, 2007

mad men

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jon hamm in amc's mad men

mad men is the only t.v. series i consciously try not to miss.

it's the new amc series about madison avenue advertising at the end of the eisenhower era.

i reserve thursday nights at 10:00 for its 52 minutes of faux-1960 sleaze + backstabbing. first thing the next morning i talk over the previous night's episode with jim, a fellow english instructor with whom i share an office.

the look of the series is right out of 1950s magazine ads + douglas sirk movies. the dialogue is true to the mindset of the era--sexist, antisemitic, consdescending to blacks, + pre-homophobic, i.e. so entirely homophobic nobody even addresses homosexuality as something that might somewhere or somehow exist--not even salvadore, a visual artist working for the firm, who obviously belongs to our tribe, but prefers to boast to his male colleagues about how lucky he is to be an artist working with so many sexy female models.

the era's political incorrectness inspires a sort of campiness in the show that, once the smirk dies down, leaves a chill.

the workplace is all white. for most of these guys, jews + negroes may as well be martians.

at parties, pregnant women smoke cigarettes + gulp down goblets of red wine. men wonder uncomprehendingly over onion dip, for them a new + exotic dining ritual.

in one episode, a little girl runs into a kitchen with a plastic bag wrapped around her head, + her mother scolds her, "young lady, that bag better not mean that my dry cleaning is lying in the bottom of the closet."

this sort of stuff could be in a script by john waters.

although the story covers multiple points of view, a central figure is the troubled + mysterious don draper, played by jon hamm. he has a wife at home he cheats on, but watches over with possessive, patronizing jealousy.

his wife betty, played by january jones, looks due for a breakdown or consciousness-raising, depending on whether the pills or betty friedan gets to her first.

at work don competes, aggressively, with his older boss (john slattery), + with a younger would-be protege, pete campbell, played as half creep, half advertising prodigy (yeah, i know) by vincent kartheiser.

the show is so cleverly written that you had better listen carefully or you'll miss some gems. they're easy to miss because the show does not rub your nose in its hipness. in last week's episode, for instance, betty doubts the appeal of joan crawford to men, particularly those eyebrows of hers, but then don counters by saying that some men--salvadore, for instance--love her.

still a marginal but enigmatic character in the series, salvadore is played by bryan batt, who has appeared in gay-themed movies like hit + runway, jeffrey, + kiss me guido. the preview for next thursday's episode seems to promise to nudge salvadore a bit out of the closet. in early episodes, batt has subtly conveyed the sadness of a smiling clown who believes in his heart he is straight-acting enough to fool the men he works with.

+ given the apparent absence of gaydar in 1960, so far the strategy is working.

but from the perspective of 2007, it's hard to believe anyone could have ever been fooled by salvadore--but, back then, remember, denial of homosexuality was enough (how our closeted republican senators must miss those happy days), + few members of the general public recognized liberace or paul lynde as anything but an amusing, yet still marriageable bachelor.

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