We’ve been Netflixing season one of Mad Men, and while there’s a certain shade of shame in being so late to the party, there’s also a certain glory: sinking in, with absolute trust, to something that has been guaranteed by nearly everybody to be exquisite and delicious. And I’m completely taken by it, true, and ye olde women’s studies side of me is suitably outraged as well, but the pervasive takeaway, really, when reduced to it’s purest element, is sadness. It is just so unbelievably sad, everyone living their lives of quiet desperation, in beautiful Leonard Cohen-esque hues: dark, miserable, beautiful, with the thinnest veneer of perfection.
Womanizing and objectification and gorgeous mid-century modern staging aside, the predominant theme of lies and lying liars is just painful to behold. And of course the metaphor is beautiful: the heyday of Madison Avenue was an ornate layer cake of pointed but well-frosted lies, so how better to tell the tale of infidelity to self and spouse than in the perfect vehicle of mid-century advertising?
I keep seeing the devotion to perfection in every scene. The spare starched shirts in a drawer; the cigarette cases and the tasteful glassware; the impeccable attire, hair & makeup in the empty suburban hours; the carefully chosen words and the downcast glance; the gloved hand and the guarded honor. Such a different era – now the pride is in how screwed up we are, how honest and raw we can get, how unraveled we truly are at seams of our modest – but meaningful! – existences.
This pretense is what kills me, that everyone is keeping up appearances to the point they completely lose the thread of reality. The housewife who finally admits to her analyst that she does in fact notice all the nights he “works late” and the perfume that wafts home on his clothes and the preoccupation and the disinterest in her, his ostensible prize, his hard-won wife.
At the end of the first season, I think I want to stop. It makes me wonder. It makes my skin crawl. I think of all the chances my prize has had over the years, all those hectic conferences and events, thrown in with his colleagues until all hours, wining and dining the clients and bestowing upon them every wish, every last martini and every latest call. Every laugh, every double-entendre, every blizzard grounding the flights and every last-minute hotel change I don’t know about until his return. How I have trusted the face of things. How could I suggest otherwise?
Yet. What have I offered him, my prize, in exchange for his allegiance? What is my brand, other than tired and overwrought? There is no vodka flowing through my ice sculpture. There is no party in my bed. There is no DJ, no strip tease, no high-kicking booty-shaking wunderland: there is my tired, sagging, flagging self, wanting to be heard and adored, unable to reciprocate, dead inside, wooden and still as a teak end table bearing a vase of silk flowers, impeccably dusted but ragged and frayed at the edges nonetheless.
Would I want to know? If he did? My little tableau, sad as it is, is quiet and undisturbed. Would I want the wave-tossed horrors of infidelity revealed? Would the searing truth cleanse me of my boring inanity? Would it make me into something new, something worth noticing? If I were the victim of my own inertia, if I drove him into another’s bed – I would be a good story, perhaps… but one I’d want to read?
Do you read your own story? The real one?