Saturday, 29 June 2013

Mad Men: Disappointment “In Care Of” Convention In my previous post on “In Care Of,” I defined an “Oh Really” sequence as as structure of escalating exchanges that requires no dialogue to be understood. What I didn’t say — but which should make perfect sense in retrospect — is that such sequences are most often found in the saloons of classic American Westerns. Just consider what would happen to that scene if you put Don in a ridiculously large cowboy hat: Don didn’t need to take off his hat to inform us of impending violence: the structure of the shots and reverse shots is so familiar that the context of the scene matters more than the content. Two men being filmed in this manner in a “saloon” inevitably leads to fisticuffs and gun play. The logic of the escalation is “drunkenly disproportionate” even if neither of the parties involved is actually drunk. Because we know how this scene ends, Weiner need not actually show Don striking the minister. But we want him to. The tension mounts but Weiner provides no release — instead he relies on our familiarity with this sequence to cut to a flashback, because he knows we’ll only be momentarily confused. He effectively holds that tension in abeyance throughout the flashback, but instead of relieving it by cutting back to the scene at the bar like we want him to, he suspends it in perpetuity by moving the narrative a few hours forward in time: All of which is only to say that Weiner’s playing with the conventions of the “Oh Really” sequence in order to frustrate the the expectations of his audience. You may not have consciously recognized the structure of the scene when you watched “In Care Of,” but years of experience watching films and television conditioned you to be disappointed by its result. As well you should be. The entire episode’s structured around disappointment: from the title that doesn’t specify who or what’s “In Care Of” to Don and Ted’s respective beliefs about their prospects in New York; or from the firm’s feelings about Don’s recent performance to Peggy’s about the end of her relationship with Ted and the insult that is her temporary “promotion.” Weiner so wants us to be disappointed that — like the bar from the first episode of this season — he rewrites the most triumphant scene from the first season: Don’s presentation in “The Wheel.” It’s not just the classic Draper pitch scene: its central concerns are creating a “sentimental bond with a product” via “nostalgia,” which is the same tactic Don uses to approach Hershey. But at that time Don’s life intruded into his presentation because he deliberately put it there. He was simply surprised by the results. As I wrote: Don’s in a redoubled-blind here: he loathes Betty, but must pretend to love her for the Eastman Kodak people; but as he’s pretending to love her, he genuinely feels the nostalgia he thinks the Carousel will mass-produce; but because he’s in the middle of...
"What will become of the children?" Why, they'll be raped and murdered, of course. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit ranks among the worst shows on television. Not because of the acting -- though the fact that Richard Belzer's been going through John Munch's motions since 1993 has been obvious for about a decade now -- but because it's all exploitation all the time. Its bias is clearly liberal, but cruelly so, in that it manifests itself in the bodies of its victims: children, women, immigrants, non-whites, gays, lesbians, etc. But that only makes it worse, because I suspect that conservatives secretly love the show because it combines the victimization of marginal peoples with the systemic incompetence of the New York state police force and legal system. The world of L&O:SVU is one in which white men frequently get away with doing terrible things to people conservatives don't consider people. Which isn't to say that I don't also watch it. When it's on -- and it's always on -- I can't stop myself. It's that terrible. Last night, for example, I watched an episode in which Big Boi was eaten by a pack of hyenas and Detective Stabler was shot trying to stop a man with a monkey in a basketball. Because as we all know monkeys in basketballs are clearly within the purview of the Special Victims Unit. But you need not watch any particular episode to understand its horribleness, because it's right there in the Riefenstahlian opening credits. To the images! This is New York City, where all the American crime happens. This helicopter shot shows you how many people are in it and, therefore, how much crime is likely to happen. Which is a lot. Or would be were it not for: This tough American woman detective. You can tell she's tough because she has her hands on her hips. You can't actually see that here, but the camera's going to pull back on this still image in a moment because this is action photography. Like in a documentary! With two notable exceptions -- which I'll get to shortly -- it's all panning and zooming on still images. It creates the illusion that you're going to be watching something along the lines of Ken Burns's Civil War, and in the distant past of 1990, when the style of the franchise's opening credit sequence was originally established, maybe you were. But L&O:SVU is a far cry from those early episodes, so this here's a bill of goods. As is the first mini-narrative of the sequence: A close-up on the police line. A crime must have occurred! Fortunately, a still image of a speeding police cruiser is on the way: Will it get there in time? Will the criminal get away with it? He will not! The rapist has been captured! The residents breathe more easily. But wait! Just because he's captured doesn't mean he's been convicted. Might he not get away with the raping on a technicality? He will not! He and his raping hands are behind bars. The residents really can...

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