I'd always had this vague intention of watching Mad Men. But I kept not getting around to it, and then a year or two ago the pieces I read by people who did watch it started sounding odder and odder. The other day I read into this massive spoiler (there's your spoiler warning) on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog:
To recap: Don's real name is Dick Whitman. His prostitute mother died in childbirth; his dad, her john, beat him. His fundamentalist stepmother called him a "whore's child." Then his father got kicked in the head by a horse, and the stepmother moved in with her sister, herself a prostitute, living in a brothel. The stepmother, heavily pregnant with Don's half brother, prostituted herself to her brother-in-law, as the teen-age Don knelt outside her door. He watched them, through the keyhole, have sex. C'mon, now. This is no longer the backstory of a serial adulterer; it's the backstory of a serial killer.I'm not sure I've ever watched a whole episode of a soap opera, but I can't help wondering if this kind of character backstory manages to take things beyond even where soap operas go. Indeed, when I first read this, I had the idea that it was some sort of extended joke, but given how Coates responds to it, I take it this is actually the exposition which has been provided by the show. Wow.
We haven't even got to the part where Whitman goes to fight in Korea, accidentally blows up his superior officer, Don Draper, steals his identity, forms a secret relationship with his widow (she's motherly, yet also somewhat prostitute-like, since he pays for her upkeep), becomes a greaser, and seduces a model who is also concerned primarily with appearances. Eventually, he gets into advertising, and when his half brother, Adam, finds him, Don rejects him, and Adam hangs himself. It's not that none of this makes sense, or could make sense; it's just too much, overdetermined. None of the other characters has this sort of reverse-engineered psychology, and for good reason: it's a lazy way to impose meaning.