Very aptly, I am the son of a Mad Man. In the 60s and 70s, my father was with one of the larger ad agencies that are referred to from time to time in the dialogue of Mad Men. He accepted a position to head up the Italian operations of that agency, the purview of which was expanded over time, but we the family were based in Rome while he traveled around. The real reason we were there is probably because the US was afraid to lose Italy and France to the communists during the 70s, so we sent some of our “businessmen” over there to help bolster the interests of democracy. If I were in a pitch meeting and had to do a mash up of references to describe Dad, it would be Mad Men meets The Good Shepherd.
I won’t delve too much into The Good Shepherd aspect because much of it is conjecture, albeit conjecture based on high probability. Dad has expressed a desire in this last chapter of his life to tell me his story, and I would like him to feel free to do so without fearing that it’s going to end up in a blog side by side with some willfully salacious anecdote that involves sodomy, haute couture and Class A drugs. Suffice it to say, there is a reason the period we lived in Rome is referred to as the anni di piombo, “the years of lead,” referring to the flying bullets and the bombings that seemed to be a part of our daily lives. After we left in ’79, things calmed down in Italy considerably. Hopefully that was just a coincidence.
I bring up Mad Men today because a sixth season has just been announced of that excellent series. After the first season took television by a storm, I asked Dad what he thought of the show. “Well,” he said in his best chairman-of-the-board-deliberating-a-weighty-issue. “A bunch of us from that era got together to discuss it ….” Oh, great, they focus-grouped it on each other. Typical. “… And we decided that it was painstakingly accurate, with the exception of two things: A) Either you got drunk, or you fucked. You couldn’t drink that much and fuck. And we drank that much. B) We always had those little slide rules in our breast pockets. We never went into a meeting without them.” But of course. This was before calculators, when the only thing available was a manual analog tool like a slide rule. I’ve never understood how one works. Luckily, IBM and Texas Instruments had come to the rescue by the time I needed one.
When Dad told me this, my instant thought was an imagined production meeting with the prop master duking it out with the diva from the costume department, who just knows she is poised to influence current fashions more with this show than “that tacky Patricia Field from Sex and the City.” It doesn’t end favorably for the prop master, a geek for historical accuracy who has already put in an order for three dozen “slipsticks,” as they were commonly known. It is decided that since the slipstick doesn’t advance the characters or the plot, there’s no point ruining the line of the men’s costumes.
The actress who has always troubled me on Mad Men is January Jones. I get Don Draper, and Jon Hamm himself; not my type, believe it or not, but I like him. I buy him. She makes me uncomfortable. I’m always aware of her and her performance. I don’t know what it is. Certainly the character is unsettling; she’s playing a standard contemporary TV series character: the beautiful bitch with no self-control who gets away with it because she’s there to make the hero more of a hero, and because, let’s face it, this is the sort of shit straight men really do put up with from many women in real life, especially excessively beautiful women. And before anyone screams misogynist, no woman I know would disagree, especially an excessively beautiful one.
January Jones’s excessive beauty cakes her like a hard lacquer that stiffens her performance, and, from what little real-world interaction I’ve seen of her outside of Mad Men, her as a person as well. She’s a sulking Stepford Wife. Apparently, her ex Ashton Kutcher told her she would never make it as an actress. I agree. I think she lucked out with Mad Men. My eyes squint a bit when she’s on screen, as if I’ve spotted the flaw that gives away the almost perfect Rembrandt as a forgery.
It’s not Jones I really want to talk about, but how onerous it must be to play a great bitch on TV. I watched the final episode of Big Love last night and was kind of torn up about it. On the one hand, religious freaks of any kind deserve as good as they give and more, seeing as they’ve been giving it hard and brutal for millennia now. On the other, I think it’s amazing that the show explored polygamy and made us sympathetic towards it, which we should be. This whole marriage issue needs to be exposed for the messed-up hypocrisy it really is, both for Gheys and other marginalized groups. I’m all for both polyandry and polygyny, why not? As long as everyone gets along.
But poor Chloë Sevigny. She played that wicked bitch Nicolette so damned believably, even if it was a gristled fatty pork product of a performance all the way through. If I saw Chloë in the supermarket, I shove her into a stack of tins; Nicolette was so fucked up and inherently wicked that I refuse to believe the performance doesn’t carry over into real life. I was desperate for Alby to shoot her in one of the last episodes. I was even talking to the screen, egging on my fellow psycho Ghey: “Jesus, Alby! PULL THE FUCKING TRIGGER, MAN!” But, of course, rather than his deserving, insane sister, he shot his own boyfriend instead. Mormons.
My new TV bitch is Lady Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey, which I’ve just started watching. I don’t own a TV; I only really started respecting TV shows in the past couple of years, when in fact it should have been the past seven or eight years, so I have a lot of catching up to do. In other words, I catch up with shows late. Lady Mary is played by Michelle Dockery, whom I assumed was Rosamund Pike for the first twenty minutes of the show until I realized I wasn’t wearing my glasses. She’s not as visceral a bitch as Nicolette from Big Love, or as overbearingly glacial as January Jones, but then again Lady Mary is a titled British bitch, so she is subtler, more nuanced, and, unlike the other two, Britishly all torn up over the fact she’s a heartless bitch, but probably won’t do much about it. Nicolette in Big Love had occasional moments of regret, too. She’d freak herself out with her own evil, throw a wobbler, be calmed by either of her saintly sister wives, and then get right back into the blazin’ bitch saddle again the next scene.
Much the same as Mama Gaddafi. The bitch will not back down; she cannot help herself. I can see her now, flinging herself around the bunker in a muumuu and matching pillbox cap, kicking her human shields, screaming through tears of rage, “Nobody loves me! I’m evil and wicked and a murderer!” But her steadfast family members just hold her, saying, “There, there, Mama Gaddafi. We love you. Russia and China love you, too. And the African Union still thinks you’re the shit.”
And to think I beat myself up when I don’t take every note from a producer or an agent on something I’ve written with absolute obsequious acceptance, that sometimes, not that frequently, I even object and try to explain my point. These are some major opinions the world is tossing at Mama Gaddafi, from President Obama and the fractious heads of state of the European So-Called Union with their combined armies, to little me sitting here in my Susan Blais-brand shithole in Hollywood feminizing and taunting her hysterical, psycho ass. But still she won’t let up.
Someone, please, just shot the bitch, already.