Monday, March 18, 2013

news from the haunted fishtank

I've continued my journey through the James Bond films. Despite the ubiquitous viewer passions, there are no clear patterns of quality that follow actors or directors. People will be convinced that, for example, Roger Moore ruined everything he touched, or that On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) sucks because of George Lazenby. Lazenby didn't help, of course: he wasn't actually an actor, he bluffed his way into the role, and you can tell by the way he's play-acting rather than inhabiting the part. But he didn't write the terrible script, it's not his fault Diana Rigg would have outclassed almost anyone, and presumably he didn't cast Telly Savalas as a really, really, really lame supervillain. Similarly, yes, Live and Let Die (1973) is awful, but Roger Moore didn't write a script whose racial themes make Shaft look like Malcolm X.

Lest you want to blame it on the director: Guy Hamilton directed Diamonds Are Forever (1971, possibly the worst of the entire lot) and Live and Let Die, but also the excellent Goldfinger (1964) and the entirely serviceable The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). Honestly, the 60s and 70s produced a vast, awe-inspiring trove of terrible action movies (The Thomas Crown Affair, Bullitt, The Towering Inferno, all intensely boring), and I think the Bond films simply got caught up in the times.

Now that I'm feeling more mentally present and like an ordinary sleep-deprived person, I'm getting back to Mad Men, which I left at the beginning of season 2. I don't know what it's like to watch if you actually lived through 1960, but it tends to confirm my suspicion that it was a pretty crappy time to be alive. The white men have all the power, but they live in a straitjacket of roles and expectations, unable to express themselves, create, or freely love. Anyone over 35 30 or so has the extra bonus of being scarred by service in World War 2 or Korea. They drink a lot. I've been drinking more than usual the past few weeks--I've just discovered the Old-Fashioned--and let me tell you, I cannot conceive of drinking at their level. Every conversation seems to require straight whiskey. How do they work?

If you're not a heterosexual white male, you're pretty much hosed. Women get called "sweetheart" and coerced into sex at company parties, eking out scraps of power and agency whenever and however they can. So far (season 2, episode 2), black people exist only as an underclass of amiable laborers in the background. Homosexuality is furtive; there's a gay character who stays safely closeted and, at least where men are concerned, celibate. And who could blame him? This world is why words like "heteronormative" had to be invented.

In one scene at a multi-family weekend barbecue, a child runs through the house and breaks a dish. A man grabs the kid and slaps him:
"Watch where you're going! You understand?"
This man turns out not to be the kid's father; the kid looks at his father for confirmation, and the non-father demands:
"You want some more?"
The father says, "No, he understands, don't you? Go on, play with your friends."

These are the educated, well-off middle class: mid-level executives with summer homes and shiny new cars. They're not shown as icons of domestic violence. The casual violence in child-rearing resonated, and I realized that these adults on Mad Men are (roughly) my parents' parents, carrying the baggage of the Depression and war. The world for them doesn't make any sense: their previous 50 years, 1910-1960, created fractures my era's generations can barely imagine, even with the end of the Cold War and the onset of the 9/11 epoch.  They're trying to live out the roles they saw their parents live, and it's not working because everything is broken and shifting under their feet. They inhabit their lives like a pair of shoes that don't fit, but they insist on wearing them because those are The Shoes One Wears.

They're the kind of lives that get you talking about "living with authenticity," with the inevitable difficulty of clearly defining what "authenticity" is, but knowing in our heart of hearts that these people aren't living it.

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