Mad Men

In most senses, men are infinitely more driven than women. While women have a maternal instinct that is indelible to their physiology, men simply have a drive to spill their physiological identity into any receptive candidate.  So, while I’d say I know a thing or two because I’ve done and thought a thing or two; and have written a bio here and a blerp there, these are a specific type of compositions. What I am attempting here is new to me; a blob, excuse me, a blog.

So I may ask you, what do you know and what do you say? Right here, at this moment we stand on the possibility of building a two way street; though it is just as possible to lead to a dead end. Read on, let’s see.

Let me tell you what occurs to me on Saturday morning, 2018, the day after Groundhog Day.

Looking at the outside world and the discourses of the day –of which there are a nauseating plethora– it seems we’ve stood and done so much of this before. Different players, different stage, and then again, maybe same stage, just updated to focus on the guilty.

There’s a list of current outrageous, hyper-hormonal men who have met with the slow arm and long memory of justice. The guilty are the public figures we have read about: Weinstein, leader of the pack; Roy Moore in  Alabama, defamed  and, perhaps actually caught with his pants down, as well as Charley Rose, Garrison Keillor, Senator Al Franken and you know the list of the other scandal plagued men. Is this all new? Of course not; not exactly. The successful public outcry is new. The behavior? Let us review.

Television, our latter day Greek Chorus, has broadcast American culture since the early 1950’s.

It started as a study in black and white. You remember, bad guys wore black hats, good guy wore white hats, right?

With the retrospective eyes of the 21st millennium we can categorize the early programing that began on or around 1951 with situations that were innocent enough: silly comedies, western nostalgia, melodramatic crime shows, simplistic game shows, and journalistic coverage acting as the tele-tubed eye of the national psyche slowly developing. One network had and still has the “CBS Eye” logo; no accident? And let us not leave out sex, the slowly emerging force of television broadcasting. It had what might seem quite a benign beginnings in all those depictions of the American populace.

What does the following list evoke?

  • I love Lucy (1951-1957)
  • Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963)
  • Father Knows Best 1954-1960
  • Make Room for Daddy (1953-1965)
  • The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966)
  • The Donna Reed Show(1958-1966)
  • The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (1950-1958)
  • Gunsmoke (1955-1975)
  • Maverick(1957-1962)
  • Have Gun-Will Travel (1957-1963)Now, let’s be fair. You are either reading a list of shows that you watched as they were being broadcast; or, you have come across some of these in “ole timey TV”; or, you might lump them under the term “retro” as your handle for that bygone era. However, my younger buckaroos (and I use the term affectionately in the most Banzai 8th Dimensional sense), all of us have a tiny piece of the collective subconscious from all those male and female figures that came into our budding new national mind, with exquisite subtlety, from back in the day. The first seven shows on the list presented the idea of the man being a bungling fool at the beginning of the day, and as the hero by the end of the 30 minute story. That is Father/Man knows best… in the end.

    And woman, well, she might know better, but she keeps that under her bonnet if she knows what’s good for her.

     

    The next set of TV shows, the last 3 on the list depict manly men. Gentle on the inside, tough on the outside.

    Maverick introduces the rapscallion male who while pretty wily and fast talking, is nonetheless a gentleman with the ladies. In fact all three western men show the black and white of the sexual divide. Good guys are gentlemen, bad guys are brutes. And some of those brutes who dare offend a lady can end up at the tough end of a good guy’s fist.

     

    The 1960’s exploded with variety and began a seamless line that stretched the boundaries of Nielson’s ratings.

    There was the benign and the silly of The Beverly Hillbillies and Gilligan’s Island. At the same time we see the growing new formats for comedies, such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. Also, there was the more intense and sophisticated, such as, The Twilight Sone and Star Trek. That is not a full list, but if we were to view all the shows, we would again observe some of the same man/woman roles as in the 50’s. There is found some new dynamism from such dramas as I Spy, The Big Valley and The Mod Squad. A little bit of a change in the appearance of African Americans (I Spy and The Mod Squad). But the herald of a true stretching into the sexual revolution came from such shows as Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, and the musical groups that were telecast into the American living rooms on the Ed Sullivan Show. There were Elvis Presley, the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Animals; and we saw them dance and use lyrics that sent producers running to the host insisting that “Mr. Sullivan, keep it clean!”

     

     

    Let’s do a streak view of the 70’s: Mash, Three’s Company, Maude, Good Times, The Love Boat, Charlie’s Angels, Fantasy Island, Kojac, Baretta, Emergency, All in the Family and Saturday Night Live. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it captures what was in the air (pun intended).

    All in the Family presented a loud-mouthed, super-conservative blue collar worker totally lost in the growing and changing world around him, who was mad as hell that he was losing ground. And with him our collective psyche ached or was vindicated, depending on which side of change you sat.

    Saturday Night Live, first aired in 1975, began to push conventional television wisdom beyond boundaries that keep pushing to the present day…Nothing is Sacred, seems to have been the founding and continuing mantra.

    On the streets and interiors of America, the reflection was a mirror facing a mirror. We have never stepped back and the censor’s scissors went out completely when in 1997 the first one hour narrative series aired on HBO. What am I saying, no, not just on the streets, but also in the soap box operas on and off TV, the diners, the bars and lounges. But censorship, or the national conscience was eroding ubiquitously in the offices where your grandfather and, later your dad worked; assembly lines and chemical plants; fire stations and police precincts. Where your aunt was a secretary at the local church; where your niece got her first job at Hooters.

     

    The Mad Male ego and hyperactive testosterone driven sense of power and privilege has continued relentlessly, happily unchecked and unabated. The subordinated female has been the target of slurs, sneers, gropes, gestures and lurid invitations throughout all these television years and seasons; on-screen  and off-screen; in the entertainment industry, the corporate world, it is safe to say everywhere out there, and in our lives. My review started in the

    mid-1950’s. How far back in reality do we have to go in good conscience to mark the date when it all started? 100 years? 500 years? 10,000 years?

     

    Let me give you an invitation to a perfect anthropological study of the behavior in the spotlight in the event you have missed it. Tune into Netflix and watch one or two episodes in the first season of Mad Men. By far it is an excellent show in all regards. Fine writing, excellent in its performances by directors and actors. Tight plot lines. It has won Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series; Outstanding Lead Actor; Golden Globe Award; Screen Actors Guild Awards.

    And I have started t watch it in its original sequence.

     

    It really is a great show. But if you have ever cringed at the brutality depicted in HBO’s The Sopranos –surely you hid that reaction– or more recently by another Emmy award winning show, Breaking Bad, I would suspect that there might be a new sort of nausea that you’ll experience (even if you didn’t the first time you watched the series) as you are made witness to the types of grease that oozes around the females of this show that you might not have heretofore experienced. I suggest that in the current climate of women slowly forming a wave, no, a tsunami of outrage for centuries of abuse by good ole boys and men just being men, that if the benign acts of so-called “flirtation” to the outrageous acts recently noted in the news media are not curtailed or stopped now, they never will be.

     

    In my private life I have witnessed the office Lothario/bureau chief getting kudos from my fellow wolves, and I recall salivating jealously myself as stories spread of the notches racked up by this smooth talker, and others. What I fear as we all should is that this pendulum, much as Edgar Alan Poe’s, will slice and dice the good the bad and the ugly before it spends its momentum. That is to say, the Me Too Movement came about because of many factors. First and foremost, how much longer could it go on? Secondly, how long could it go on in the present atmosphere of No Secret Is a Secret Anymore? Thirdly, and most sadly—though it must be included in the list of how’s—how much longer could such tales stay hidden under the rock in the scandal-hungry-reality-is-life madness of current TV broadcasting?

     

    We would do well to review the reactions in extreme behaviors taken during the revolutions we have experienced in the last 50 or 60 years. Insistence on the truth was foisted on the country’s consciousness by the Pentagon Papers, and quickly followed by the carnage in the white house in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal. Feminism’s bra burning and the antiwar chanter’s draft card burning should remind us that the symbols of what has oppressed us will be destroyed—whether symbolically, or actually. Recall the riots of the 60’s and the occupations of government buildings of the 1970’s.

     

    What can happen today as the abuses of male power and privilege are splashed on the front pages of newspapers across the nation and discussed in the colleges of the abused female athletes; and hundreds of settings that all fellow Americans are discussing wherever tales are told—social media. I suspect some extremes will take place that can be relegated to “”collateral damage”; perhaps innocent men accused; more good men whose libidos were not restrained will be disgraced and ejected from high positions. A wave of nervousness will sweep throughout the land in offices, plants, bars and lounges; in short wherever sexual energies may collide. But most hopefully, wherever men and women work together a fear of exposure for what has been considered “just king around” will come to a stop.

Would it not be a great outcome to have men and women enjoy each other’s company, talents, minds and humor? Where sexuality became the wonder that we dreamed about in some long ago adolescence of gallant men and gracious ladies. Where the humor of our sexual differences was truly and mutually enjoyed as part of the energy of affection and love. Let me not overreach. Where all this needs to land is closer to mutual respect and consideration. And I say that before somebody throws a bucket of icy water on me.

The progress of freedom should not be thrown out with the baby. It is good to love our bodies and to have a joy of sexuality such as not enjoyed in the healthy experience we know and love; not to go back to the puritanical, intense shame of the centuries preceding the last one. It would be misplaced to give in to Archie Bunker’s rants about, “There is no morality in this place anymore!” We are far beyond the tears of the end of innocence. Innocence is for children. We are adults. We need to find the courage, maturity and sensibility to be responsible for our sexual energy. It behooves us as a developing people, and the victims of abuse demand that we find a perspective to our runaway sense of power and privilege.

The cries we must attend to are the cries of the abused, misused and trampled who cry,

“All of this has been going on, and nobody did anything to stop it.

And what can be done can only be done when those who lost the bridle to our runaway sexuality and pull it in. Yes as we look into the mirror of our national psyche we men must say into that glass,

“I see the Mad Men, and the Mad Men is us.”

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