Monday, January 5, 2009

(W)ringing Out the Old

I don't often get stay in bed for 60 hours sick, but when I do it's always on or around New Year's Eve. I have no good explanation for this. It's not as if I celebrate Christmas with a week-long bender, or that I stay up all night waiting for Santa and thereby weaken my immune system. For whatever reason, illness always strikes me on December 31. I missed the whole millennium thing in bed with a wicked flu, and I missed this past New Year's sound asleep as well. Not that I really missed anything except drunk people and a sip of crappy champagne.

Two days either in bed or on the couch provided me with the time needed to devote to the Mad Men Season One DVD set. I'd seen the entire season when it aired in the summer of 2007, but it was worth seeing again. Even more worth it was the plethora of commentary tracks. If you're a fan of the show, you should buy the set for these alone. Not only is there commentary for each and every episode, most episodes have two commentary tracks, one by a writer, director, or producer, and one by several of the actors. The various "making of" documentaries are worthwhile as well, particularly if you're interested in costume or production design, and if you love this series you must be interested in costume and production design.

Revisiting this particular series during the turn of an annum made me think about the reasons why not only Mad Men but anything having to do with post-war America fascinates me. I'm interested in American history in general, but in this period in particular. I always have been. The reason why is so simple I've overlooked it all these years. To be fascinated by our culture from, say, 1945 to 1965 is to be fascinated in the world that my parents lived in before I knew them. My parents came of age in that world, were shaped by it, lived it, were part of it. I obviously only knew my parents as parents, as married people, and they married later in life. I never knew them as young adults. To understand that period is to understand some secret part of who my parents were, some part of them that was inaccessable to me because it predated me.

For me, to observe the inner workings of Sterling Cooper is to have a window, albeit a fictional window, into what the workplace was like for my mother before she married and had me. I watch the executives' attitudes toward work, and toward their coworkers, and see what it must have been like for my father to be part of that environment. To observe the Draper marriage and their assumptions about gender tells me something about the assumptions both of my parents must have had when they married.

These characters interest me as fictional characters, and the series fascinates me as a work of serialized fiction, but what is also at work is a life-long attempt to understand the unknowable: the inner lives of the adults who, in a sense, I knew so intimately, but whose pasts and motivations seemed so mysterious. The "mystery" of Don Draper is nothing more than the mystery that every father is to his child. You know him so well, but he came to you fully formed, and what made him cannot be found on the page because it exists only beyond the margins.

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