Meaning In Mad Men

Spoilers for Mad Men Season 7 Episode 10

Mad Men Recap: The Forecast

I’m a week behind on Mad Men.  The above recap is actually to last weeks show.  I will catch up today.  But the recap from last week had me thinking about how much this show has to offer, when even a recap in Entertainment Weekly features paragraphs like this:

The Forecast” is an episode about children turning into grown-ups, and grown-ups acting like children. In some ways, it’s about grown-ups living the way a child might imagine that adults live. Don eats donuts and vending-machine candy for lunch and never cleans up the drinks he spills on the carpet. Lou dreams of turning his comic strip into a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Mathis might have to wash his mouth out with soap for saying a dirty word. Meanwhile, Sally is signing checks. Glenn is drinking beer. Sally’s friend is flirting with Don, who’s old enough to be her dad. All of them, young or old, are children pretending to be grown-ups. But, as we’ve learned from the agency’s new client, Peter Pan, it’s different when you know you’re pretending. That’s what separates the adults from the kids. 

And later:

“Adolescence, it strikes me, shares some of the generic qualities of divorce,”  (Rachel) Cusk wrote. “The central shock of divorce lies in its bifurcation of the agreed-upon version of life: There are now two versions, mutually hostile, each of whose narrative aim is to discredit the other. Until adolescence, parents by and large control the family story. The children are the subject of this story, sure enough, the generators of its interest or charm, but they remain, as it were, characters, creatures derived from life who nonetheless have their being in the author’s head… But it is perhaps unwise to treasure this story too closely or believe in it too much, for at some point the growing child will pick it up and turn it over in his hands like some dispassionate reviewer composing a coldhearted analysis of an overhyped novel… I wonder how much of what we call conflict is in fact our own deserved punishment for telling the story wrong, for twisting it with our own vanity or wishful thinking, for failing to honor the truth.”

Rarely does a show make me think as much as this one, while simultaneously being entertaining.  It is a show that is pregnant with meaning.

The Deeply Strange American Night

This is a deeply strange country.  Sometimes it too closely resembles the movie Blue Velvet, where a seemingly normal veneer masks a darker underbelly.  The other night on tour I found myself with the rare solo hotel room.  It was late, but since I don’t have cable, I decided to see if there was anything interesting on that I would normally not get to watch.  I was in Oklahoma.  What I found was perverse mixture of religion and crime.

The first thing that I stumbled upon was the televangelist Mike Murdock.  He looked like he should have been hosting a Vegas magic show with a black sequined shirt on, hair that was so black it was almost blue, and a black goatee.  He was giving a strange mixture of religious and finical advice.  He wanted viewers to “sow” the “seeds” of their future for just $83 a month.  He was hoping that 120 souls would send him a thousand dollars a piece.  He was shamefully asking for money like a late-night infomercial host while holding a Bible.  Televangelists have been around a long time, but the sheer look of this guy was creepy, like if he tried to sell you a used car you would be suspicious.  However, he clearly has enough money to appear on not one, but two channels at the same time.  Someone out there in the American night was buying into his insane schtick, long after Jimmy Swaggart’s deal went south.

The strange thing was, he wasn’t even the only televangelist on.  In flipping the channel I again not only found him again, but another one on at the same time in the same state.  Between these I saw the equally strange infomercials that so dominate late night television.  Bad ideas for those that just might be in a state to believe anything.  Some guy that looked like an albino was trying to sell personal generators incase U.S. power grid going down.  I understand that in someplace like Oklahoma, where tornados are a reality, there may occasionally be a need for such a thing, but this was beyond that.  This was trying to strike fear into the average person to make them think that Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was right around the corner.

Even weirder still, every channel that I turned on that did not feature religious or business hucksters of some kind, featured crime and punishment.  These were, for the most part, true crime shows, that let one know what kind of savagery was waiting outside their door.  i finally settled on a show that was about Arizona’s famous tent city prison, where inmates sleep under tents in the stifling Arizona heat and do hard labor by day.  The part of the show that I watched was about someone that was a new inmate serving six months for meth.  Apparently if he did his time in tent city he could avoid a lengthier sentence in a “real” prison.  If he broke the rules in tent city his sentence would be extended and he would again be sent to that “real” prison.  However, like prison in general, the inmates formed gangs by race.  If they broker the rules of the gangs, which often were the opposite of the rules of the prison, they would get the living fuck beaten out of them.  This didn’t have to put the fear into people.  This actually resembled Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

So here in Oklahoma, people were being preyed upon by religious hucksters and slimy sale men.  Meanwhile they are constantly receiving messages of fear:  Fear that they are going to go broke, fear that hell awaits, fear that criminals await, and fear that if they break any rules they will go to a prison that animals aren’t fit to live in.  No wonder so many people in this country are crazy!

Strangely enough, I have been trying to finish Dante’s Inferno the last couple of days.  In Dante’s version of hell, those that use God to commit fraud are worse than those that actually steal.  However, in our country we give those people TV programs and tax breaks while those that commit non-violent crimes are put in a living version of hell.  Someone might go to jail for theft that, while still wrong, pales in comparison to what these religious con-artists are doing.  Someone that robs people of thousands of dollars by prettying upon their fears and religious beliefs becomes a rich celebrity in America.  Now there is a lot of absurdity in The Divine Comedy, but I can’t help but feel that our own moral code is often absurd as well.

I went to sleep deeply troubled that night.  I try not to be under any illusions as to what is out there.  I’ve been well aware of all of the above for quite some time.  However, it was jarring seeing it all back to back, channel after channel.  Images of unrelenting insanity are being pumped into millions of homes on a daily basis.  I’ve read enough to know that over the long game of history that progress is real.  I know that change is possible.  But for a brief moment I couldn’t help but feel that we were just monkeys with machine guns, gathered around televisions instead of campfires, telling superstitious stories, under the influence of a skull white moon.

On Tour and Other Random Thoughts

Heading out on the road today.  Posting has a slow due to constant travel.  I brought my computer with me this time.  We will be up in Tulsa tonight at Fassler Hall if any of you live in that area. 

I mentioned I have been rewatching Breaking Bad.  It’s unbelievable how good it is.  Even knowing the outcome, the writing is good enough that it keeps you pulled into the narrative completely.  

I played a festival yesterday.  The people were nice to us and the festival was fun.  I had to laugh though.  There were several flags in the crowd with firearms on them that said, “Come and take it.”  Do these people not know that if the government really wanted to do away with them at this point they could just send a smart bomb through their window?  They could just fly a drone overhead and reduce them to dust with the push of a button.  In some ways firearms are as outdated as swords.  You might as well have a knight on your flag.  Sure, you could kill some people, but probably only your fellow citizens and a couple unlucky pawns. 

That’s all for now.  In the future when all’s well…

Breaking Bad and MacBeth

Breaking Bad and MacBeth

I’ve been watching Breaking Bad again lately.  I couldn’t help but think of Walter White as a tragic hero in the way that the term is used in classic tragedies.  My favorite tragedy is MacBeth.  I googled the two together and found the above article, that is a pretty convincing comparison between the two and how Walter White fits the tragic hero mold.

A Funhouse Mirror

Today was my day off.  I spent most of the evening recording a home demo, as I’m trying to get things as mapped out as possible before I hit the studio later this year.  Earlier today I was in a restaurant and I caught a rare glimpse of CNN.  It was dealing with the horrific and sensational.  Everyone has heard the saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.”  It says nothing to me about my life.  That’s not because I am unsympathetic to pain and suffering around the world.  But just showing a horrific incident doesn’t teach me anything.  We all know that the world can be a tragic place at times.  But day after day people face little decisions, that in and of themselves may be insignificant, but as a whole lead to more pain and suffering around the world.  What we eat, where we shop, how we travel, and what ideas we consume, all help to create the daily world that we all inhabit.  We’re in a maze and the light isn’t very good.  A thousand things are going on around the world at any one moment.  We should know about A,B, and C, but cable news is constantly showing D.  Some people think what is on cable news mirrors the world at large, but it is a funhouse mirror at best.

David Chase Analyzes The Sopranos Ending

David Chase Analyzes the Sopranos Ending

In the above article David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, analyzes the last scene.  Everyone that watched it remembers the controversy that it created at the time.  I think this breakdown of it is really interesting, because it shows not only how a director thinks, but also how a storytelling medium can try to convey more than one thing at a time.  Chase is referencing past works of music and film, referencing them, tying up his story, and trying to get the audience to reflect upon their lives all at one time.

Thoughts On Better Call Saul and Big Ideas in Entertainment

I found myself rewatching Breaking Bad this morning, starting at the beginning.  It’s amazing how entertaining this show is given that this will be the third time I’ve seen this season.  Also, as almost everyone knows, for a show this entertaining it sure was able to deal in some really heavy themes.  I think that is what makes it so great, that it works on different levels, from base entertainment to American tragedy.

I finished Better Call Saul the other day.  Seeing the whole season now has made me want to watch Season 2.  There were several times in the first season that I wasn’t so sure about the show.  The acting has always been excellent.  I’m used to modern TV shows taking a little time to develop and find their voice.  After the amazing ride of Breaking Bad I determined that I was going to give Vince Gilligan the benefit of the doubt, even when the show was slow.  Several seasons of Mad Men have taken a little time to develop, only to pick up steam in the second half and be unbelievable.  Modern TV, when its at its best, can have almost the detail of great literature.  Mad Men definitely falls into that realm.  I think what Better Call Saul ended up doing throughout the season was great, but it really took me the full season to become invested on an emotional level, where Breaking Bad had an opening episode that hooked you from the start.

I think that any kind of art form has to work on an emotional level first.  If it can expand your mind, deliver big ideas, on top of that, all the better.  I want to get something more than just being entertained out of something if possible.  However, I think if a writer, musician, painter, can pull you in on some way that is emotional, especially if they have a big idea, it is going to have a far greater chance at affecting how people think.  George Orwell is brilliant not only for his ideas, but for his clarity and readability too.  Even if he is talking about something highly intellectual, I am always struck at how the way he writes pulls you along with him.  It’s almost as if you are arriving at the conclusion with him.

That doesn’t mean that every moment of a book or TV show or whatever has to be easy.  I like to be challenged.  I like to hear that weird soundscape in the middle of an album of pop songs, for a show like Mad Men to take its time developing characters so the emotional payoff is bigger by the end, to see a play that has an act that sets the stage for later. Only fools need everything spoonfed to them.

I just got done reading Voltaire’s Candide.  It was written in the 1700’s.  There is a reason, beyond the big ideas contained within, that it has lasted several hundred years.  It is highly entertaining as well as being highly intelligent.

One thing I realized is that one will never ever read every book that is ever written.  One will never hear every piece of music ever created.  One will never see every show that or movie that has ever been made.  Therefore you must choose what you expose yourself.  It’s fine to watch or listen to things that are escapist at times.  The brain needs downtime if it is going to function on a higher level at other times.  But one should seek things out that help to understand the world around you.  If you are looking to understand something in a very specific technical way, then that is a different matter.  However, if you are looking for some kind of broader understanding of the world, there is no reason that one can’t enjoy oneself while doing so.  If you are interested in something, or some idea, or just looking for new ideas, the chances are there is someone that has communicated what you are looking for in a way that is enjoyable too.  A great journalist, dramatist, or songwriter, can do more than one thing at a time.