Saturday, March 24, 2012

Mad Madness: Predictions Editions

Lots of predictions! But first a rant and a prediction that's really a wish:

I've written before about the show's treatment of Carla and show runner Matt Weiner's "that's the way it was" defense of the lack of black folks on the show. He's said something similar a couple of place leading up to the new season. I agree that there's something powerful in letting your heros be on the wrong side of history, showing how racism and indifference to Civil Rights pervaded the culture, not just some easy villains. But this must be cold comfort for black actresses and actors when so many "prestige" projects are "period." I remember reading something back when Shakespeare in Love was up against Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture saying, isn't it interesting that we find these settings so "profound," the ones where blacks don't exist, so excluding them is just historical accuracy? (Obviously there were blacks in WWII, but not in the same units with whites, so you get a totally white film if I'm remembering correctly.) But given the parameters, just because a culture marginalizes someone doesn't mean you have to. Weiner doesn't want to let us off the hook by creating a parallel sixties where African-Americans are welcomed into advertising. Fine. But since when is the show actually about advertising? Isn't it really supposed to be about outsiders? A number of people have pointed out that the very first episode begins with a conversation between Don and a black waiter, with Don asking if he would ever change his brand of cigarettes. Shilling stuff is who Don is; being on the other end of the sell is who the rest of us are, especially outsiders. It's a promise that the treatment of race on the show has yet to fulfill. So my prediction that's actually a wish would be for a full episode that's all about what happens to Carla after Betty fires her. We could see her own family, and how they react. Perhaps she has a teenage son or daughter who has been politicized. We could see Carla look for a new job, interact with her family, friends and neighbors, and catch sideways glimpses, Mad Men style, of what she's actually thought about the Drapers all these years, perhaps revealing a secret of theirs along the way that we're left to figure out.

And bring back Paul and Sheila while you're at it.

Onto the predictions:

- At the start of the new season, Don is still married to Megan, but things are already bad. Fixing his Clio was all well and good, but once things go bad such shoring up starts to look desperate. We seem first flirting with a new (blond, now that the wife is brunette) mistresses or love interest; that he's still married is a reveal the way his marriage was in the first episode.

- Betty will play a very minor role throughout the season. At some point she tries to make a play to get back into Don's good graces and bed: his marriage makes him more attractive to her, along of course with the trials of being Mrs. Henry Francis. Talk about being on the wrong side of history: the guy's a Rockefeller Republican.

- At the same time we'll get to see more of Sally. How wonderful an actress has Kiernan Shipka turned out to be? We'll mostly see her with Don and Megan. She'll start to turn on Megan, but we'll also continue to see just how profoundly she hates Betty.

- An obvious one, but nonetheless: Roger threatens to expose that he's the father of Joan's baby (already born as the season begins), but then kicks it. (If this weren't already an obvious prediction, given the end of his story arc, after Mrs. Blankenship died in episode 9 last season, Roger said he didn't want to die in the office.) Expect some awkward toasts and references to Sterling's Gold and the very welcome return of Mona and Margaret.

- Shortly thereafter, doctor rapist kicks it in Vietnam, but through some stupid drunken accident rather than in combat. Joan is quietly and discretely relieved, and with good reason: being a single mom is better for Joan's work life than being a married mom would have been.

- Peggy continues to kill it for the ungrateful boys of SCDP, and necessity forces them to let her go beyond panty hose into some of the big stuff they reach for to replace Lucky Strikes: booze, cars, maybe even an airline. But her job keeps causing problems with her an Abe. This is more of a dilemma for her now than before, as Vietnam and Joyce have likely furthered her politicization, but it's still no choice: she'll choose the job.

- Burt Cooper comes back, with or without his testicles.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What Happens to Academics on Leave

You have a dream that you meet a friend and he's headed for a conference with important people having important discussions and you say you're not going but you will wander through the book fair, and then you are doing just that, and the book fair is infinite and gleaming like the Dubai airport in your recurring dream, but before you look at a single book you run into another friend, who tells you she's just been talking to a certain important author who, unlike other authors you've written about, plays a definite role in your unconscious. She tells you that this author has had good things to say about a book about him that you're supposed to be reviewing. (This part is true - you're supposed to be reviewing this book, and you partly want to make this deadline and partly want to take some symbolic stand by not working on your leave and/or by being to enraptured with your baby to be able to.) But the part about him liking it rings false for all the obvious reasons. You ask your friend how it was she was talking to this certain important author, and she says, well, we were eating scrambled eggs. Of course they were. Then you hear some whimpering and it takes you a few minutes to realize it's not coming from the book fair but from your actual baby in his crib at the foot of his bed, yanking you back into the world Inception-style. You go to get a glass of water and are momentarily thankful that the world does not miss you.

Monday, March 5, 2012

More Vanity and More Despair

So, this is what I've been up to. Of course, there's an infinite amount to say about this, all of which is far too much and too overwhelming and too wonderful to give shape to just now. So for now I'm writing about easier things. Sadly, motherhood has not insulated me from the freak show that is the Republican primary, but distaste is a lot easier than love. Hence, Callista Gingrich.

During the 2008 election, I was reading Curtis Sittenfeld's novel American Wife, which revolves around a fictionalized version of Laura Bush. It was an odd thing to be reading at the height of Obama mania. At the end, there's a "twist": she didn't vote for him. On some level because she didn't want to be First Lady, but also because in her sensible librarian way she thinks the other guy is more qualified. When she thinks about all the decisions the Bush-like character has made, she tells the reader, hey, I just married him, you all elected him. It's a funny moment. It's also one that from a certain point of view could be seen as a kind of liberal fantasy, with all the flaws therein, an extension of the old knock against Pauline Kael not knowing anyone who voted for Nixon: the liberal feminist novelist can't imagine anyone who would vote for Bush, not even his wife. But Sittenfeld can't really explain why she married him either, except suggesting his sexual prowess from some scenes I'm still trying to get out of my head and which prevent me from recommending the novel to anyone in good conscience.

Another funny moment comes when the Laura character describes the low point of being first lady: the book she writes under the "pen name" of the first pet. It's a little unfair since as far as my google-fu can tell, she's penned only her memoirs and a children's book. Her mother-in-law, on the other hand, is the author of "Millie's Book as dictated to Barbara Bush," while Hillary Clinton has Dear Socks, Dear Buddy Kids' Letters to First Pets to her credit along with Living History and It Takes a Village. It is of course beyond unfair to think this all says anything about these women; I'd wager that none of these were their ideas and that they spent no more than a few hours on them, and even if this weren't the case, so what?

Still, I'll cop to a curious fascination with the literary output of First Ladies and those who aspire to be First Ladies, which is how I ended up with a copy of Callista Gingrich's Sweet Land of Liberty, a romp through American History with Ellis the elephant, on my shelf. I started thinking about Callista after reading this brilliant profile by the always-brilliant Ariel Levy. I remember talking about it when I was in the hospital and a friend was flipping through the then-new issue. When I got to it a few weeks later, I thought, have I already read this? No, that was the profile she did of Cindy McCain the last time around. You have to hand it to these women: god knows it takes a lot of something to do what they do on the campaign trail: as Levy notes, they have to gaze adoringly while listening to the same stump speech over and over.

In Wild Man Blues, Barbara Kopple's documentary about Woody Allen touring Europe with his jazz band, we see Soon Yi taking care of his laundry and keeping the outside world at bay. It's a bit of a shock, given everything, to see her acting as a sort of mother figure to him. You get the same feeling reading about the third Mrs. Gingrich. When Sean Hannity poses and unwelcome question, she "raised her eyebrows slightly and replied in the implacable tone of a kindergarten teacher scolding a six-year-old." The sentiment seems to extend to her husband: "The woman is always the grown up," her husband is quoted as saying. "No matter what." No matter how much younger she is, presumably. It's been said lots of times before, but it's always stunning to hear this stuff from the traditional values crowd. Not that we feminist man-hating types never roll our eyes at stereotypical Peter Pan stuff, but we almost always have the good taste not to do it in public about men we supposedly love, let alone ones we're holding up as great leaders.