Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mad Men Effect

The scale of society has grown too big. Searching for mass appeal means a race to the lowest common denominator, leaving many with a hollow feeling. Technology has developed that gives the impression that centralization will provide benefits. That same technology can be used by decentralized controllers to give markets or entities a better representation of what they want. The tastemakers will tell us what is right and good. Tastemakers can also grow incredibly detached from the audiences they supposedly serve. America witnessed this in May as two reruns of I Love Lucy received nearly double the viewers of the Mad Men series finale.

This is Mad Men the water cooler show for the hip. How could I Love Lucy trounce it in the ratings? Why was Mad Men only pulling in 3.3 million viewers for its final episode? Part of this might be the idea that people say they like a show or say they watch but in reality do not. How much of Mad Men's cultural pull was just the mid-20th century aesthetics and LARPing that viewers could enjoy? It might be that Mad Men was a water cooler show to talk about the show's looks and eye candy but not about the actual show. Mad Men could be a SWPL thing. Like all SWPL things, the SWPLs claim to know all about it, but in reality, they know just enough to make small talk and appear knowledgeable.

The other split is that I Love Lucy had a gigantic audience that appealed to the masses. Those masses, while old or dead, still exist in large enough numbers to watch an age old rerun that they already know. Mad Men was beloved by our tastemakers, our cultural gatekeepers, and supposed media elites. Mad Men was a show that played to the NYC centric media's love with itself and the nostalgia vibe that has engulfed our culture as diversity causes people to seek the familiar and certain. Enough people who mattered liked Mad Men, therefore they made the show matter and appear better than it was. This is why The Wire is so lauded while The Shield is relatively forgotten for cable cop dramas. Both were very well done, but one played to the liberal narrative while the other was dark from start to finish with no real heroes. One show became the subject of Harvard courses, while the other has seen supporting characters move onto decent roles in other cop dramas.

This is also why white pundits wrung their hands over liking a show that was so white. How could they love something, consider it cool and hip, but it was so white??? They overlooked the reality of 1960 Madison Avenue and expected a rainbow to be onscreen. Media members also overlooked the heavy female writing crew. It is never quite enough for them. This is also why the few minorities allowed to grace the pages of the NY Times bemoan the whiteness of Mad Men and Girls. "A show is considered excellent, why aren't we on that show? Quick sound the alarm? We need black bodies and homos STAT!" It is a pathetic weird way of trying to skeeze some credit off the celebrated show; like adding a few blacks to Girls and Mad Men will allow some Afro-Am studies professor to think blacks contribute to high/middle brow culture. For a comical juxtaposition, the children's show Veggie Tales for years was Christian and unapologetically white. It had a Mexican character straight from the '50s Warner Brothers set who often played the antagonist and another Indian stereotype character. The NY Times never noticed because the show was for the rubes and never crossed their radar screen. No worries about anachronistic stereotyping with Veggie Tales.

It is not really how many people you reach, but who you reach. I Love Lucy's reruns scored nearly double the viewers, but for right now, which telecast mattered more to viewers? SWPLs and television critics raved or ranted about the series finale as well as the end of the Golden Age of television. I Love Lucy's reruns received a nice blurb about being colorized. This is also a product of the modern inclination towards deconstruction. The tastemakers are pretty detached in their views as they continued to push Mad Men as a very important show with very important messages in contrast to fans who wondered where America went wrong and rolled their eyes at new characters that reflected the Jewish/black/gay experience in the late '60s. The intelligentsia, if it reaches low to dicuss television, while want to deconstruct a show like Mad Men and discuss its dissection of '60s culture with 50 years in between. Your viewers at home do not care. People just wanted to see if Don failed just like people just want to see Lucy get into some hysterical situation and nail a few punch lines.


sykes.1 said...

I was lead to watch a couple of seasons because of the hype. But after two seasons, it was highly repetitious and boring. The minimal inclusion of blacks and gays must have been some of the attraction.

pariahinside said...

I never got into shows like Mad Men because they struck me as culturally degenerate. Perhaps better than most of the stuff on TV at some level, but still degenerate.

I pretty much stopped watching "TV" several years ago and didn't feel like I lost anything of value. When I would travel for work I would occasionally watch TV while in a hotel only to find myself feeling repulsed by how just plain stupid and vapid every show seemed to be.

It is interesting that other mini-series of popularity in recent years seem to be Breaking Bad which had a main character that was white, loyal to his family and ultimate destroyed by the corruption he fell into and The Walking Dead which could be seen as an allegory of western civilization in a world over run by the masses of the degenerates.

Regardless, I still find myself disgusted by so much of what is called entertainment and news, not just by the fact that they are portrayed as such, but that so many people will mindlessly fill their heads with this garbage.

deconstructingleftism said...

Both The Shield" but especially The Wire owed a lot to Homicide: Life on the Streets. Shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men and HBO shows in general are heavy on self-conscious cultural importance. It's tedious but it feeds the egos of the viewers. You, dear viewer, are not some philistine but a sophisticated consumer of serious entertainment.

The elite is most talking to itself now. They are telling themselves what they think, and what we should think, but no one is listening. In the 70's- if you are old enough to remember- the cultural Marxist message came in loud and clear on the shows everybody watched, particularly the Norman Lear shows, on the three major networks. But there was nothing else to watch, so it was easier for them.

stengle said...

My theory, for what it is worth, is that shows like I Love Lucy were essentially stage shows. The camera view was the audience view (at normal head height, in effect), and while no doubt it was directed it was directed in a way that the audience wouldn't be distracted. All the audience/viewer did was watch a story unfold.

Mad Men I never got into, but a host of other shows have tried to be clever or dynamic and resort to tricks and angles and odd moments that can disquiet a viewer. Clever direction and editing may appeal to the critics/reviewers who need something to write or talk about, but essentially the old style of telling a story in a way the audience can follow still works best of all.

Toddy Cat said...

"You, dear viewer, are not some philistine but a sophisticated consumer of serious entertainment."

This even worked on some alleged race-realists/reactionaries. I'll name no names, but you know who you are...

Of course, for most ordinary fans of the show, the draw was women who looked and acted like women, hot Don Draper, and cool Modernist aesthetics featured in a low-crime, optimistic mostly white America. No wonder the show's popularity declined the farther the story advanced into the 1960's.

The thing that "Mad Men" really tells us is that there is tremendous nostalgia for the old, pre-1968 America even at elite levels, and the show was popular because it gave these people a guilt-free way of enjoying what amounted to chronological porn.
There's something desperately wrong with this country, and even our NYC-based elites know it. Something to build on, perhaps...

Anonymous said...

Hmm, a show with CGI vegetables is "White"?

Son of Brock Landers said...

Besides voices and activities, the vegetables talk about "polka". Can't get any whiter and squarer.

Linda F said...

I've pretty much given up on following the "important" shows that the media tells me are SO essential to watch. What do I REALLY watch (a lot of this is driven by my husband, who sets the channels - but, for the most part, I go along)?

- Blue Bloods (we're historically Irish, so...)
- Big Bang (I like this one - although, it's less nerdy and more relationship-driven, so if I miss an episode, it's not a catastrophe)
- HMC - funnily enough, my husband likes this one the most
- NCIS LA - a good show to go to sleep with, putting the TV on a timer
- PBS Nature shows - I find them a bore, but hubby likes them

Really, most of the time, I don't turn on the TV unless he is home. I read, use the internet, but when he is out of town, don't bother to watch it - get my news primarily from the internet.