Thursday, August 21, 2008

Mad Men

I'm not much a fan of postdated guilt. I don't think I should be held accountable for slavery because my family is white (I have no idea if any of my ancestors owned slaves or even lived in the South, or in the North when slavery was acceptable there). I don't think I should be held accountable for the decimation of the Native Americans because I am an American. I don't think I should be held accountable for the internment of Japanese Americans during the second World War. I am also not a fan of guilt by association - should I, as an American, feel bad about our invasion of Iraq? I opposed the war in my quiet, impotent way. I did not vote for Bush. I did not approve or participate in any step. Yet I am an American. I don't think I should bear the blame for that.

AMC's phenomenal series Mad Men is making me feel guilty simply for being a male. We have not watched the entire first season yet - we are up to the final disc - and are waiting to finish that before we dig into the second season. We have all the episodes so far saved to our DVR. I have to think that it is an honest portrayal of life in the 60s, although I cannot know for certain. Even the creator of the show, Matthew Weiner, was not actually alive at the time of the show, so it isn't based on his own experiences. Nevertheless, honest or not, the show portrays men and women in an unflattering light. Men are abusive and mean; women, for the most part, take it in stride and, in some instances seem to enjoy it. The males are, however, made out to be the villains, although the show is so well-written and the characters so complex that an actual villain does not actually seem to arise.

This is not actually about the show, however. This is about what I perceive as the general way that men and women behaved until just a few decades ago. Some still behave this way. And because this is such recent history, it makes me uncomfortable. What would I have done? Would I have behaved this way? Would I have supported the imprisonment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s? Would I have been a Civil Rights activist or a disinterested bystander or worse? Were I living in Germany in the 1930s, would I have been a Nazi? Would I have called for blood in the Coliseum in Rome? Atrocities and disgraces of history are often invisible until time passes and the actions are shown in relief. For example, I think that the current president Bush will not be treated well by history. I think he will go down as our worst president - maybe the worst ever. There is even talk of bringing charges of war crimes against him and his administration. And what about the small things, the social injustices that inform our everyday actions, injustices that we cannot possibly see now, injustices brought to light in shows like Mad Men. Perhaps in a century eating meat will be seen in the same manner as gladiator fights. Perhaps the keeping of domestic pets will be seen this way. One thing is certain - we are not as moral and blameless as we can be. There is always room for improvement and plenty of room to become the villain of tomorrow's textbook.

I don't wish to misrepresent the show, by the way. There is far more to it than simply pointing out how things were different in the 60s. If you have not watched it, I very much recommend that you do.

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