Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mad Men's America, Part II

We left off with America's pitfalls of relying too much on history. This is part of the reason why I'm not as ecstatic about the Obama election as everyone else. I cried, and I took the day off, but it's only a step. There's a long way to go.

One thing that commentators all over the TV are saying is that Obama has a chance to "restore America's place in the world." I'm not sure what I think they're proposing is possible. The moral high ground America won in World War II may have been completely ceded by George Bush. I'm not saying it is that way, but it sure feels like it might be. America's new role in the world won't look anything like it's old place, at the very least, and that simple, sad fact is reminiscent of something Peggy says to Pete (spoiler alert about as loud as you can make it) in the signature scene of the final episode of season 2:

I feel like the world's acceptance of America will forever, from Bush on out, be assessed not on the greatness of the idea of America, but on our actions. This is the correct way to judge us, but I feel that Bush's power grab has exposed some serious flaws in our democratic system that are permanent. What is to stop future Presidents, even Obama (while it's quite unlikely), from using the very legal processes meant to ensure the rights of Americans as a delaying process in order to abuse citizens? What's to stop another President from exploiting a dangerous situation for the sake of starting a war because Foreign Leader X hated his daddy? Are we really counting on the threat of low approval ratings to correct this flaw? We've seen what David Addington, Dick Cheney and those who want to abuse the power of the Presidency can do when motivated. There's a part of me that looks back to the pre-Bush years, and wants to hope that under Obama et. al, that could never happen. But, like Peggy said, that part of me is just gone.

Or is it? Mad Men makes a convincing case that, as adults, we are subject to the same capricious thought processes as children, and act according. Don Draper constantly cheats on his wife, but, until he is found out, keeps a romantic view of his life alive by refusing to grow up. In the first season's signature scene, also in the season finale, he admits as much:

As a stand-alone statement, it's pretty powerful. But this clip and the clip of Peggy above aren't all that different; in fact, they're identical. Once a part of you is gone, it's gone. Children don't realize that yet, so they think in circles rather than a straight line. The Bush years have exhausted every last American resource, tangible and intangible, domestic and internationally, in support of its own agenda. In return, all we've ever gotten was an assurance that everything will be okay in the future. That's how Don talked to Betty, before her awakening this season that he was in no way a model father. No matter what their fate as a couple, the damage has been done. You can't put it back in the box. Like Mad Men as Don Draper's marriage hangs in the balance as America enters the turbulent sixties, the question is where our America goes next.

(For part I, click here.)

1 comment:

El Mazer said...

My media consumption was much the same (no HBO) but I rented Recount and followed mad men dilligently...nice job Bryan. I like reading your words more than i probably did in Shark's class.