Monday, 30 August 2010

Mad Men: "Enforced intimacy" in "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" Thirty-six minutes into "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," a surprisingly intimate conversation between Don and Dr. Faye Miller takes an uncertain turn when the subject of analysis comes up: "Why does everybody need to talk about everything?" "I don't know, but they do." Which reminded me of this exchange from Waiting for Godot: "What do they say?" "They talk about their lives." "To have lived is not enough for them." "They have to talk about it." I've elided who said what in both cases because it doesn't matter: these are people who are talking about other people talking about their lives. Their hypocrisy is a function of the scene itself. Or is it? Discussing a life, as Draper and Miller do, with relative strangers in a structured work environment doesn't count as "talk[ing] about everything," whereas going to a therapist, who is a relative stranger, and discussing a life with him or her in a structured therapeutic environment does. The weight of the phrase, then, either falls on "talk" or "everything," because the two of them are either not "talk[ing]" or they are, but not "about everything." Except they are, manifestly, doing both: they are in a kitchen-type-area discussing his divorce and his child learning how to masturbate and entering therapy. Few items could be more "about everything" than those, and as if to press the point that they are "talk[ing]" about something significant, the camera pulls in tight for the final reverse shots: What began as a semi-professional conversation filmed in a medium shot has become, as if by the power of the social lubricant provided by the sake they share, a medium close up. The shot becomes more intimate as their conversation does; that is, they insist they are not "talk[ing] about everything," but the camera suggests otherwise. I mentioned the Beckett above because Draper and Miller embrace the complaint in the first, second and fourth lines while denying the validity of the third: to have lived is, apparently, not enough for them either. To "talk" is the only way for them to establish the intimacy the camera—if not the entire scene—imputes to them. Consider how it opens: Draper walks in with a bottle of sake, but moves so silently that he startles Miller, who despite possessing a doctorate and working in an office, is washing dishes in stockinged feet. The scene begins as a recapitulation of one the show has presented innumerable times: Draper walks into a kitchen to find a blonde behaving in a wifely fashion and pours himself a drink while offering her some small talk. For example, this scene from the second episode, "Ladies Man," even follows the same the conversational pattern and shot sequencing as the one above: As the small talk turns to more important matters, the camera moves from a medium to a medium close-up. The difference, of course, is that the blonde in "Ladies Man" is Betty Draper, not a professional colleague. Such an intimacy between a man and a...
This is why I "support" majoritarian rule. As a means of registering my discontent with conservative claims that the fact that 70 percent of Americans abhor the idea of the "Ground Zero Mosque" means it should be abandoned, I hereby present other things that 70 percent of "certain" Americans once hated. For example, consider the responses to this question from a Gallup Poll reported in the Los Angeles Times on 14 July 1963.* I snipped the June numbers because at that point only 62 percent of respondents had decided that the Civil Rights Movement was moving "Too fast." I also have other, less inflammatory, examples. To wit: That would be from the Los Angeles Times four days earlier.** I did say I was only referencing "certain" Americans, however, and because I'm an honest chap, I'll tell you that Gallup calls them "Southern Whites." You heard that correctly: the same conservatives who illegitimately claim the moral high ground Martin Luther King, Jr. struggled to capture have the same high regard for Muslims as Southern segregationists once did for blacks. To put it finely: Those who oppose the building of Park51 are justifying their opposition on the fact that the same percentage of Americans are currently as bigoted as Southern whites demonstrated themselves to be when asked how they would "feel about a law which would give all persons—Negro as well as white—the right to be served in public places such as hotels, restaurants, theaters and similar establishments." All of which is only to say that insisting that this "is" should be enshrined in history as an "ought" makes a person as big of a bastard as a Southern white who couldn't brook the thought of sharing his or her establishments with an African-American. It's a rebellious stance to be sure, but in the end they'll be standing in a field screaming "Wolverines!" while the world passes them by. *Gallup, George. "Views Revised on Rights Push." Los Angeles Times (14 June 1963): M2. **Gallup, George. "Slim Majority Backs Accommodations Bill." Los Angeles Times (10 July 1963): C18.

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