After exhausting all available What We Do in the Shadows, Last Kingdom, For All Mankind, and Servant, we’ve moved on to a rewatch of Mad Men.
A few notes at about ¾ through S1:
It is both harder to watch and easier to watch than it was when it first came out, in 2007. It turns out a lot can happen in 14 years in terms of sensitization, for me anyhow.
What’s harder: There are small moments I simply didn’t register in 2007 that are so much more obvious to me now. The men in the office are more menacing. Their over-sexed leering isn’t what’s new to me … it’s the quieter moments, when a woman walks into a room full of men and they have this predatory glint. It’s knowing Joan Holloway’s arc ahead of time. And it’s knowing that while the social order may gain in dynamism season over season, the nauseating core of the show is that every twist, turn, and threat to the existing hierarchy will be absorbed and repurposed into consumerism’s many distracting spectacles. Everything sincere will be punctured, sucked dry, stuffed with gears, and mounted on the walls of the fun house. In the first nine episodes, I’ve had so many moments of low, gut-churning dread. In one episode, I said to Alison “there’s a Chekov’s gun thing going on here, but the gun isn’t that gun on the screen … it’s Pete and his curdled entitlement.”
The thing that makes it easier to watch is that its popular culture moment has passed. I commented to Alison that it is an easier show to accept when there’s not a full “Mad Men Collection” window display downtown at Nordstrom’s, exhorting people to dress like their favorite office predator. Without the miasma of marketing tie-ins and Facebook avatars, it stands more alone, and I have less doubt about the creator’s intent. I’m not required to grapple with the moral vacuity of the marketing effort, which wanted to make the shared cultural experience one of nostalgia for an era and style, eliding the show’s underlying themes of alienation, emptiness, precarity, and sheer, grinding injustice.