Does Mad Men love L.A.? If their annual trips out there right about this time are any indication, the answer is sunny, sunglasses-wearing “yes.” However, does the Retrolicious Roundtable love Mad Men in L.A.? Weeeelllllll…
Tami, Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs For The Fantasy, and I debate the merits of these westerly jaunts, the naturalness of Joan’s and Peggy’s alliance, and the existence of moderate Republicans, complete with a bunch of spoilers.
Tami: I am usually the person who gets the conversation started on these roundtables. And my tablemates can attest that this week it took me several days. This episode of Mad Men felt like filler–the weakest of the season for me. I hate it when they go to Los Angeles!
Renee: I didn’t necessarily consider it filler this time because of everything that happened at the office while Roger and Don were gone. Seeing Joan assert herself was worth quite a bit to me, and I am so tired of them overlooking everything she does and treating her like a glorified secretary.
Editor’s Note: Sometimes, it’s a good thing to give people room to express their own pop-culture crushes. So, I’m going to give the floor this Friday to guest contributor Crunkista, who has a postful of love for the iconic Wonder Woman. –AP
We need you. It’s time. You can no longer remain silent. You must act. You must step up. White men alone cannot decide the fate of the Wonder Woman movie.
As I write this, I understand the sad truth that many people (ie too many of our young) today do not know Wonder Woman: her power, strength, ideals or her significance to women’s empowerment and history. So, strap up. I’m about to blow you away with some knowledge.
In 1941, a psychologist named William Moulton Marston began writing comic books under a pseudonym. Marston, a respected Harvard-trained lawyer and Ph.D. was one of the few men of his era that believed in the untapped potential of comic books to teach children right from wrong and elicit positive change. He asked, “If children will read comics, why isn’t it advisable to give them some constructive comics to read?”[i] Marston, known as a flamboyant opportunist/marketing guru, also had very controversial beliefs about human psychology and was utterly obsessed with the ability to determine when a subject was not telling the truth. He was convinced that one could test for deception by studying subject’s physiological reactions (primarily changes in blood pressure) and is credited with the invention of one of the first lie detector tests.
Along with this obsession for the truth, Marston loved Greek mythology and believed in women’s overall higher moral compass. He alleged that women were innately “less susceptible than men to the negative traits of aggression and acquisitiveness, and could come to control the comparatively unruly male sex by alluring them.”[ii] This controversial ‘girls run the world’ prediction was very much ahead of his time. In a 1937 interview with The New York Times he claimed –
“The next one hundred years will see the beginning of an American matriarchy–a nation of Amazons in the psychological rather than physical sense,” adding that, “women would take over the rule of the country, politically and economically.”[iii]
Marston, a complicated man, was very much interested in bondage and the relationship between dominance and submission. He believed that the fairer sex would basically be able to control men through sexual governance. In his wildly sexist and heterosexist worldview, the world would be a better place if women ran it — mostly through the use of their sexuality of course. Sexually satisfied men would then happily submit to women’s power and we would all live in peace. (Side note: I don’t really hang with many white men, but this one definitely would have been invited to some of my parties. Did I mention he was poly? In 1941?)
It’s a minute after Dr. King’s assassination, and the Sterling Cooper Draper Price gang are back to business as usual: Don does his usual dick-swinging; Pete fails in coming for folks far more grown than he; Roger Sterling goes after a woman young enough to be his daughter. And Joan and Peggy…well, check out what Tami and I, along with Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs For The Fantasy, said about those two, complete with spoilers.
Tami: Oh, Pete…naw! He was totally creeping on Joan. I think we all realize that Don Draper is a horribly broken human being, but what is it that makes Pete feel so much more objectionable? Is it just that he is soooo bad at being the alpha? Is it that his privileged disdain for most everyone seeps through in every interaction? You can just feel him feeling he is better than you. Is it that he rarely–save the occasional monologue on racial equality–shows a shred of human decency? The bank guy compliments Joan on being an effective CFO; Pete makes it about the man “wanting” her. Ugh.
Renee: For me part of it is that Pete is a rapist. As bankrupt as Don is, he has never raped anyone. Like Pete, Don has had his moments of basic human decency as well. For me it comes down to how low each individual man is willing to sink.
Andrea: Renee, Don did use sexual coercion to make an ex-lover, Bobbie, get in line. So there’s that.
As for Pete…I think his leering is more along the lines of his always angling for a moment to lord something over someone than creeping on Joan specifically. Coming for Joan was his latest lording attempt. And, as you and I have discussed before, Tami, Vincent Kartheiser possesses that physical trait that creeps you the hell out: the baby head on a man’s body. (Cf: Leonardo DiCaprio.) So, Pete looks like a 12-year-old trying to get shitty with grown-ass Joan. As always, my reaction to Pete’s attempts is, “Really?”
Well, Mad Men fans and critics wondered how the show would handle the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hosts Tami Winfrey Harris, along with Renee Martin from Womanist Musings and Fangs for the Fantasy and Racialicious staffer Joe Lamour, chat about how Weiner and Co. does, as well as how plaids mark a character and why white hipsters wouldn’t live in Brooklyn yet–“yet” being the operative word.
You know the drill: spoilers. And here we go…
Tami: Before we get into this Mad Men episode that deals with MLK, Jr.’s assassination and the racial unrest of the late 1960s, I have to ask: Where does the group stand on Matt Weiner’s treatment of race in Mad Men up until now?
As a survivor of campus sexual assault, and as someone who became a feminist and an activist after my own experience of institutional apathy towards my attacks, I feel conflicted. I am so glad that this serious issue is getting more attention, but I am increasingly frustrated and almost scared by the lack of diversity that I see in the survivors receiving national media attention. As I look at photos and watch the media appearances of these resilient, brave survivors I can’t help to feel invisible. I browse a network of campus rape survivors who are working to combat institutional apathy towards rape victims and struggle to find other women of color who are like me.
The crew at Sterling Cooper Draper Price were definitely trying to hold on to something this week–a sliver of self-respect, an image of the role of other people in their lives, a job. Tami and I, along with Womanist Musings‘ and Fangs for the Fantasy‘s Renee Martin and Racialicious staffer Joseph Lamour, talk about who had to hold ’em and fold ’em in this week’s ep–along with a bunch of spoilers, like our seeing several Black people in this episode. No, seriously…
Tami: I was watching Mad Men in bed Sunday night with my husband beside me near dozing, but obviously listening to the program, too. Just after 10 p.m. he sat up: “Wait. Are those black people? There are black people on this show now?”
Yep, Sunday night Matt Weiner and Co. make Mad Men history with a scene populated completely by black folks–walking, talking and being black. Since we’ve seen Dawn and her friend sitting together and talking about their lives, does this mean Mad Men passes the race-based version of the Bechdel Test?
Renee: One scene cannot undo years of racist, sexist exclusion. They are not going get a cookie from me for doing the the bare minimum to create a change. It has after all taken Man Men six seasons to have a scene with two Black people in it.
Hosted by Tami Winfrey Harris and Andrea Plaid with featured guest, Sikivu Hutchinson, author of “Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars”
Tami:Kumaré follows a filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi, who transforms himself into a fake guru to explore the concepts of blind religious faith and devotion to spiritual figures. It is interesting that Vikram and his assistants–all American-born and -raised–adopted accents in the subterfuge, playing off the magical brown person/foreigner trope.
Andrea: Would he be believable if he didn’t take on the accent?
Sikivu: Channeling the authentic brown magical mystery tour exotic (and I’m thinking specifically here of the sixties cult of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi legitimized in the West by mega-celebs like the Beatles) wouldn’t be complete without the right “Orientalist” lilt.
Tami: There are plenty of American religious/spiritual figures who inspire a devotion similar to that demonstrated by Kumaré’s followers. But I also think his race and faux accent provided a short cut of sorts.
Andrea: And I think that shortcut allowed the subterfuge to be more successful. Deepak Chopra wouldn’t be where he is if he didn’t have his accent.
Tami: …or if he were named Bob Henderson. It’s the otherness that adds credibility.
Andrea: Great minds, sis! That’s why I see some white people adopt “exotic” names when they become gurus or get deep into yoga.
Sikivu: Yes, and the drooling idolatry of Kumaré’s mostly-white female acolytes underscores this—I know a number of lib/progressive white women who have adopted trendy “yogic” names to buttress their devoutness and confer them with the Eastern mystic equivalent of “street” cred.
Tami: This ties into the biased belief that brown people (and I say that meaning all brown peoples–black folks, Native Americans, etc.) are inherently plugged into something
beyond the physical world…some magic. And that “magic” can be positioned positively or negatively, but it is part of the mantle of “other.” By adopting guru “drag,” the filmmaker successfully plugs into that idea. A brown guy with short hair and a clean-shaven face in jeans and a button down, may be too Americanized (read: normal) to work his magical mojo.
We went to see this awful movie, The Last Exorcism II, and at some point (of course) the protag goes to visit a black roots woman in New Orleans. I commented to my husband about the character’s vaguely African headwrap and her exaggerated accent. But the viewer would likely not have accepted that part if she had a Queen Bey lace-front and sounded like a black Brooklynite or had my Midwestern twang. We like our magical brown people unassimilated.
Sikivu: And the noble savage sexuality of Kumaré goes hand-in-hand with the way the film trots out and parodies the West’s eternal fascination with the Magical Negro/Indian/Asian (take your pick) other. The blond woman gushing in her living room about how Kumaré has “touched her life” looks practically orgasmic. So much of this guru shtick is tied up with the charade of liberating the repressed uptight “rationalist” white folk from their shackles a la Norman Mailer’s “White Negro” paradigm pimping “black soul” as antidote to all that ails the modern white man. A brilliant send-up on this theme is “The Couple in a Cage,” by Guillermo Gomez Pena and Coco Fusco—they mounted a performance piece where they pretended to be indigenous primitives displayed in their “native habitat” for the delectation of mostly white museum-goers seeking authentic savage artifacts. While there was no overtly religious element to it, the Western impulse to gain validation through the body/essence and “shamanic” wisdom of the other is similar.