[opendtv] The Death of Adulthood in American Culture

  • From: Monty Solomon <monty@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: undisclosed-recipient:;
  • Date: Thu, 11 Sep 2014 20:12:03 -0400

The Death of Adulthood in American Culture

SEPT. 11, 2014

Sometime this spring, during the first half of the final season of 
"Mad Men," the popular pastime of watching the show - recapping 
episodes, tripping over spoilers, trading notes on the flawless 
production design, quibbling about historical details and debating 
big themes - segued into a parlor game of reading signs of its hero's 
almost universally anticipated demise. Maybe the 5 o'clock shadow of 
mortality was on Don Draper (fig. 1) from the start. Maybe the 
plummeting graphics of the opening titles implied a literal as well 
as a moral fall. Maybe the notable deaths in previous seasons 
(fictional characters like Miss Blankenship, Lane Pryce and Bert 
Cooper, as well as figures like Marilyn Monroe and Medgar Evers) were 
premonitions of Don's own departure. In any case, fans and critics 
settled in for a vigil. It was not a matter of whether, but of how 
and when.

TV characters are among the allegorical figures of our age, giving 
individual human shape to our collective anxieties and aspirations. 
The meanings of "Mad Men" are not very mysterious: The title of the 
final half season, which airs next spring, will be "The End of an 
Era." The most obvious thing about the series's meticulous, 
revisionist, present-minded depiction of the past, and for many 
viewers the most pleasurable, is that it shows an old order 
collapsing under the weight of internal contradiction and external 
pressure. From the start, "Mad Men" has, in addition to cataloging 
bygone vices and fashion choices, traced the erosion, the gradual 
slide toward obsolescence, of a power structure built on and in 
service of the prerogatives of white men. The unthinking way Don, 
Pete, Roger and the rest of them enjoy their position, and the ease 
with which they abuse it, inspires what has become a familiar kind of 
ambivalence among cable viewers. Weren't those guys awful, back then? 
But weren't they also kind of cool? We are invited to have our 
outrage and eat our nostalgia too, to applaud the show's 
right-thinking critique of what we love it for glamorizing.



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