I have been thinking lately about why I expect certain things to be different than they are. I’ve been wondering how to explain my impulses of outrage about those things. I am especially puzzled when those things don’t seem to be important to everyone else. In fact, they are not especially important, period.
(Example: When did summer become so BUSY? I thought summer was about relaxing!)
Sometimes I think that Stress, Guilt, and Disappointment — the Holy Trinity of sleepless nights — ignites these impulses.
(Another example: Since when did it become OK to have a TV IN EVERY ROOM OF THE HOUSE? Can’t people actually live with a little quiet now and then?)
Then I got another season of “Mad Men” in the mail, thank you very much Netflix. I always stare at this show in a funny way, and it’s because I’m looking for little clues. It’s like when paintings had symbols and metaphors built into them so that there was a layer of meaning under the obvious part. That’s how I watch this TV series. I am, basically, Sally. I figure the fictional Sally was born within a few years of the nonfictional me. And since I did not know then that I’d grow up to experience Stress, Guilt and Disappointment, I use this show as a time capsule that gives me the power to re-experience and dissect the past in a way not normally available to humans.
(Why, why, why have department stores decided that women no longer need pantyhose?)
Disclaimer: My Mom and Dad did not have the fancy lifestyle Betty and Dan have, both of them were warm human beings (and still are), and I never took ballet lessons. That little experiment apparently ended when my older sister threw up on her expensive ballet slippers. So right off the bat I figure I’ll turn out better than Sally. Phew! However, my mom married an older World War II vet, suburban dads put on hats and took the train to the city, and I did watch an awful lot of TV, so ….
(Oh, and do strollers REALLY have to be that big?)
Where am I going with all this? Here:
What fascinates me (and most people, I think) about “Mad Men” is the way it embodies a cultural hanging chad. One of those punch holes in time, if you’ll forgive the expression, that sucked the world from one set of perceived truths into another, but the hole wasn’t clear yet and the two were still trying to reconcile themselves to each other. I see the Betty and Dan era as a time when hats and gloves were in our closets and dressers, but being used less. When it was common for kids to ride their bicycles around the neighborhood freely, but they were awfully tempted to stay inside and watch “The Three Stooges” on TV. When the average person could never imagine calculators, cordless phones, smoke-free restaurants, widely available latte, 24/7 information streams. When suburban, middle-class families like mine were unprepared for student protests, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement.
(I just can’t accept the fact that I actually have to a PAY for decent television programs. I mean, what happened to free TV?)
And Sally and me, we observed the tension between the two. We observed the school moms go from hats to bouffants, and then get jobs, and some of them decided not to stay married, and we observed as the adults in our world started adapting to these developments and what once seemed so wrong became OK, and there was a time when we couldn’t go to our favorite shopping district because of the riots.
It’s wrong to romanticize that time. But it’s intriguing to think about being born into one set of expectations about the world and adjusting to such a dramatic shift. Perhaps we are in another one of those eras right now. I don’t know. I just think, sometimes, that it’s the confused Sally in me coming out when I get so annoyed about people who insist on chatting away on their cell phones in the middle of a restaurant.