Kaite Roiphe with a Spectacular Swing and Miss in her NYT review of “Mad Men”

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The phenomenal success of the show relies at least in part on the thrill of casual vice, on the glamour of spectacularly messy, self-destructive behavior to our relatively staid and enlightened times. As a culture we have moved in the direction of the gym, of the enriching, wholesome pursuit, of the embrace of responsibility, and the furthering of goals, and away from lounging around in the middle of the afternoon with a drink.

Watching all the feverish and melancholic adultery, the pregnant women drinking, the 7-year-olds learning to mix the perfect Tom Collins, we can’t help but experience a puritanical frisson about how much better, saner, more sensible our own lives are. But is there also the tiniest bit of wistfulness, the slight but unmistakable hint of longing toward all that stylish chaos, all that selfish, retrograde abandon?

In the early ’60s they smoldered against the repression of the ’50s; and it may be that we smolder a little against the wilier and subtler repression of our own undoubtedly healthier, more upstanding times.

All I can say is I sat here wondering if Ms. Roiphe and I were inhabiting the same globe, much less the same country. In any event, read it all--KSH (and you already knew this--the emphasis above is mine).

Filed under: * Culture-WatchHistoryMarriage & FamilyMovies & TelevisionSexuality* Economics, PoliticsEconomyCorporations/Corporate Life* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.

Posted July 31, 2010 at 2:25 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. MarkP wrote:

I’m not sure I understand your surprise, Kendall. Is it that you think we live in an “anything goes” world today, rather than a repressed one, so you don’t agree with Roiphe’s basic premise? But aren’t conservatives always worrying about neo-puritan nanny-state liberals discouraging everyone from eating high fat foods as they’ve already quite successfully discouraged people from smoking cigarettes and drinking hard liquor (but wine not so much)? Don’t you complain about political correctness, and isn’t the non-PCness of Mad Men (women as sex objects, etc) part of what she says we’re guiltily enjoying? Aren’t parents busily keeping their kids from playing by scheduling them into enrichment activities?

August 1, 1:26 pm | [comment link]
2. pendennis88 wrote:

That’s funny.  I’m old enough to recall the latter part of those times in Manhattan and Greenwich, and I look back and think about how sad some of the most amusing people were underneath it all, and how many tragic endings there were - not least from the alcoholism.  I am not a teetotaller, but it is not a time I would particularly relish returning to.

And also that not everyone lived like that.  I suspect Roiphe is making the common error of thinking that everyone lives just like the people in her set.  My parents definitely drew distinctions between the social sets within their neighborhoods and clubs (drinking before 5, for example, definitely stirred speculation that one might have been raised in a barn).

Back to the subject of this blog, I have tended to think that the revisionist leadership of TEC had in some mind that they were achieving a cultural prize by taking over an influential institution such as TEC, only to find that it was as hollow as the party crowd in the 50’s, and no longer influential or respected.  The academics wanted to capture the episcopal church found in the Kittredge’s book as the chaplaincy to the upper classes, not to realize that not only should that not be desired, it was evaporating.  Even among the insouciant who in those days seemed to be the majority of every parish, it is no longer fashionable.  Well, if fashion is what you want, you can still put on your hat from Worth and Worth (if you can find someone to re-block it) and a grey J Press suit with a Chipp tie and go to your club in the East 60s to get an old-fashioned.  And, frankly, that is about all of the 1960’s worth recalling, other than times with the family.

August 2, 10:42 am | [comment link]
3. Larry Morse wrote:

So what is the surprise that sin tastes good for the first dozen sip-s, that it is habituating, and that after the habit is established, the sweet becomes sour, the tangy becomes flat, the risque becomes dull, and the exhilarating becomes stale and drab. Watching Mad Men (which I have not seen) is like watching porn, I suppose, a substitute for the real thing so that one can sin in safety. Ms. Roiphe is just another urban voice that has too little real work to do and too much time on her hands.

Slightly edited.

August 2, 2:04 pm | [comment link]
4. MikeS wrote:

Has this author never read Texts From Last Night?  What is she talking about when she says no one would drink during the day or have affairs with multiple partners as if life was too short to waste any other way?

The behavior of the elites then in the 50s and 60s, matches in many ways the behavior of the elites today.  If this life is all you think you’ve got, people tend to go for the gusto, no matter the consequences.

August 2, 10:17 pm | [comment link]
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