Bad Men: The End of Mad Men

mad-men-2

The series Mad Men ended the other night after a celebrated eight-year, seven-season run. The show was consistently brilliant in many respects. Amazingly executed, written and performed. But I was a little slow on the uptake where the series  was concerned—in more ways than one.

For one thing, I didn’t start watching until midway through the second season. I was hearing lots of buzz so I checked it out, and was immediately drawn in on two fronts. The first was the show’s meticulous . . . make that maniacal . . . recreation of the early ’60s in every detail. I was born in 1959, so my earliest memories are of that era.

Long-time readers will know that I have a soft spot for Mid-Century ephemera and design. (A glance at all the headers from my old blog will confirm this.) (As will the vintage 1964 Omega Seamaster watch I’m wearing as I type these words.)

So at first I enjoyed watching just to bathe in details of each set. For me, and many other loyal viewers, nostalgia was a big attraction. Behold . . . Mid-Century Modern awesomness . . .

Mid Century Modern

Mid Century Modern

The second attraction for me was the window the show offered into the inner workings of a NYC ad agency. As a child, my favorite episodes of Bewitched were the ones that showed Darren Stevens in his role as an ad man at the firm of McMann & Tate. Anytime an episode featured Darren working on a new campaign or trying to come up with a new slogan, I was fascinated.

In fact, I recall thinking that Darren Stevens’ job was precisely what I wanted to do when I grew up. And in a strange way, that’s what happened.

It was only after watching Mad Men for a few seasons and then going back to watch the series from the very first episode that the worldview and agenda of the show—created and guided by Michael Weiner—became abundantly clear to me. (As I mentioned, I was a little slow to catch on.)

A simplified summation of the show’s theme and message is this:

“Men are pigs.”

Or to be more precise, “Straight, white men are pigs—at least they all were back in the day . . . before the noble cultural revolutions of the ’60 overturned the oppressive order and put us on the path to cultural enlightenment.”

That’s the pervasive, overarching, unfolding narrative of Mad Men. And all one really has to do to see this is the case is merely watch the very first and last episodes of the series back to back.

The pilot is set in in March of 1960. The events of the final episode occur in November of 1970. They bookend a decade of extraordinary cultural, moral and technological change.

Drinking DonIn the pilot episode, Don Draper is introduced to us as a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, philandering, anti-Semitic, arrogant cad.

Roger Sterling: Hey have we hired any Jews here?

Don Draper: Not on my watch.

But we soon discover Don is actually one of the more sympathetic men in Weiner’s caricature world. Indeed, every other male we encounter in this fictional universe (with two significant exceptions) are the most horrible and horrifying human beings you’ve ever observed.

Every single scene of the first episode is a freak show of misogyny, racism, entitlement, crudity, rude-ity, and  cringe-inducing frat-boy boorishness.

Every woman in the pilot is always and only running a harrowing gauntlet of sexual harassment punctuated by insulting condescension. Some, like the va-va-voomy head secretary Joan, have learned to enjoy the attention. But most just try to put on a brave face and periodically retreat to the bathroom to sob.

Mad Men ElevatorI mentioned there were two exceptions to the “men are monsters” theme of the first episode (and indeed the entire series.) They were the closeted, repressed homosexual art director, Salvatore; and the frustrated novelist copywriter, Paul—a marxist intellectual (who in the first few episodes seems to be the only white person on earth who can actually see the black elevator operator.)

Other than these, there are no male characters with even a shred of decency—much less nobility. None. It’s bad husbands, bad fathers and bad bosses as far as the eye can see.

In other words, Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men was viciously, relentlessly anti-male.

Validating Liberal Mythology: Redeeming the Sick ’60s

hippiesConservatives tend to believe that our nation lost it’s way in the 1960s. That the drug culture; the sexual revolution; the rejection of traditional sex roles; the abandonment of marriage and family as the organizing paradigm of society; and the embrace of Marxist-Socialist premises about how the world works economically; set our nation on a disastrous course.

One from which we’ve never recovered.

Liberals like to believe the opposite–but point almost exclusively to the Civil Rights Movement to make their case. The argument over the 60s usually goes something like this:

Conservative: “Fatherless-ness in this country is a heartbreaking tragedy—creating widespread poverty, crime and imprisonment rates. Back in the 50s most kids got to grow up on a two-parent family and our society was much better for it.”

Liberal: “Oh, so you want to go back to the ‘good old days’ of separate water fountains for blacks and whites, eh, Hitler? You probably have a Klan hood hidden in your sock drawer.”

Conservative: “Um, no. It’s just that a lot of the key supports under-girding our civilization were deliberately knocked out in the 60s.”

Liberal: “You mean like the Jim Crow laws? Why do you hate black people?”

Conservative: “That’s not at all what I’m . . . oh, nevermind.”

It’s true that conservatives were largely wrong about the civil rights movement, mainly because they couldn’t find a way to separate it from the larger cultural battle taking place over traditional values; or from the Cold War paradigm (the threat of the Soviet driven spread of global Marxist-socialism) that permeated every other aspect of life in the ’60s.

In other words, the civil rights movement was presented to most Americans as only one element in a Protestlarger bundle of societal changes being relentlessly pushed by Progressives. That bundle included rejection of capitalism in favor of Marxist redistribution of wealth and the rejection of the notion of private property.

It is no coincidence that Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964 and his “War on Poverty” legislation were presented  simultaneously and as two halves of a whole.

The former was noble and necessary. The latter was arguably the worst thing to happen to black people since the first Portuguese slave ships showed up off the west coast of Africa.

In retrospect, conservatives were wrong to oppose the first and absolutely correct in opposing the second. Unfortunately, the two were inseparable.

If you read conservative essays from the ’60s you’ll find lots of hand-wringing about whether or not civil rights leaders were being influenced or financed by Soviet front groups. These fears may seem comical now, but the concerns were very real at the time. And, as we learned after the collapse of the Soviet Union made lots of Kremlin records available to researchers—the Soviets were indeed actively encouraging, not to mention financing, a lot of Progressive groups and campus rabble rousers—and had been for decades.

Many of these ended up running the country in the ’90s and beyond . . .

God help us.

God help us.

So the dispassionate verdict of history is that conservatives were wrong about the Civil Rights Movement and right about everything else. But liberals don’t like that verdict. So, on to . . .

Validating Liberal Mythology: Redeeming the Dreadful ’60s

mad-men-header

In response, Matthew Weiner seems to have written Mad Men as an attempt to redeem the cultural upheavals of late ’60s by painting the world of the early ’60s in the darkest possible shades.

  • He refutes critiques of the sexual revolution by depicting virtually every person in the Mad Men world as being sexually amoral and in constant violation of their marriage vows.
  • He negates condemnation of the drug culture by making every character a high-functioning alcoholic and chain smoker.
  • He attacks negative perceptions of the feminist movement, as I mentioned above, by creating a world in which every straight white man is insulting, selfish, abusive, harassing, and belittling to women.

In other words, it’s the typical Progressive argument. That is, the ’60s didn’t really represent a change in behaviors. It just made all the depravity less hypocritical by moving it out in the open.

By Eastern New Age Group Therapy Are Ye Saved

Photo Credit: Justina Mintz/AMC

I’m crushing this meditating thing.

The most disappointing (but given everything I’ve already cited, not all that surprising) aspect of the way the series ended (spoiler alert) is having Don Draper—hitting rock bottom— find peace and enlightenment at a New Age-y group therapy retreat camp on the California coast.

Observers have noted that the place Don lands is surely modeled on a place called the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. The place was ground zero for something in the sixties called the “Human Potential Movement.”

In the final episode Don stumbles into the place and ends up in a series of group therapy sessions in which the participants are incessantly asked about their feelings. “How does that make you feel?” has become a jokey cliche associated with quack psychiatry, but in these groups this is taken to absurd levels.

How does my shirt make you feel?

“Carl, how does that make you feel?”

“And John, how do you feel about how that makes him feel?”

And so on.

That’s right. Mad Men ends with America’s most iconic selfish rogue being transformed into a touchy-feely new age sensitive guy through the power of meditation, hugging and hippie love.

Ask my wife . . . As this became clear the first time I viewed the finale, I started yelling at the television:

“Are you serious?! You’ve got to be kidding me!”

I haven’t been as let down by a series finale since LOST wrapped up.

But there was one aspect of the transformations that occurred in the sixties that Weiner & Co. couldn’t conceal—not and still remain true to their fanatical devotion to recreating the period’s look and feel. I’m talking about how hideously ugly everything got as the decade of the sixties progressed.

Plaid Men

Plaid MenWhat this series makes massively clear is that in one short decade this culture lost its collective mind where design and aesthetics are concerned. Everything—architecture, clothing, art, typography—went to hell.

We started with the clean, classy Mid-Century furnishings that are so prized today. Here’s Roger Sterling’s office in 1960:

Roger's Office 1960

Roger’s Office 1960

Here’s Roger’s office nine years later . . .

Roger's Office 1969


This is now the enhanced interrogation suite at Guantanamo.

In which space would you rather spend your days?

Those two pictures pretty much tell you everything you need to know about the the sixties—the decade the wheels came off.

Remembering Nepal

Three years ago I spent an unforgettable week in Nepal on a work-related trip—helping document the fight against human trafficking in that nation. We were not only in Kathmandu but also ping-ponged around the country with a video crew.

Today the people of Nepal continue to dig out after the powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The death toll is above 8,000 and continues rise. Below are a few of my photos from the trip. Many of the places I shot in Kathmandu and Pokhara are no longer standing or are badly damaged.

Nepal iPhone114Nepal iPhone119 Nepal iPhone14

Pokhara

Pokhara

Family members washing the body of a deceased loved on with chai, before setting the body on fire.

Family members washing the body of a deceased loved one with chai, before setting the body on fire.

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On Being Back Up North

wisconsin

Spring has not quite yet sprung up in Minnesota and Wisconsin. But, as I was reminded last weekend, that is the way it goes up there. They’d had a little snow the previous week. And the earliest budding trees are just now showing some signs of life.

We spent five-and-a-half great years living in the Twin Cities in the late ’90s. Not surprisingly, moving there from Oklahoma involved a little culture shock (and a lot of climate shock.) The winters were astonishingly long and harsh. But the summers . . . oh, the summers were something special. And the Autumns were spectacular but also filled with a sense of dread about what you knew was coming.

Minneapolis-Fall-Colors

The window for golf was narrow—roughly mid-May to early September—but I played more rounds per year there than in any other period of my life. Here in Texas I can play 11 months out of the year but I’m out of control if I play two rounds a year.

The wife and I headed back up there to reconnect with some dear friends and teach at Liberty Christian Center in Menomonie, Wisconsin. Menomonie is a charming little college town in western Wisconsin that wraps halfway around a lake.

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The church is as cool as the town is quaint. If you know anyone who lives within driving distance of Menomonie, I recommend Liberty heartily. Here is the first of four sessions we did for their marriage retreat:

 

And here is my message from the second Sunday morning service:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hey @CBS11, Someone is Being Politically Incorrect on Facebook Again . . .

. . . Shouldn’t you guys have @StevePickett11 and a crew at her house trying to gin up a shame storm?  Maybe try to run her out of business? Go all Memories Pizza Indiana on her? Provoke a bomb threat or two?

Coverage [of Facebook] You Can Count On

Coverage [of Facebook] You Can Count On

Confused? Allow me to explain.

A troubling line was crossed here in Dallas-Fort Worth—in a lame and ridiculous sort of way—this week. The news department of the local CBS affiliate dispatched a reporter to a local woman’s business to ask her about something she posted on her Facebook page.

No, it wasn’t a bomb threat. Nor did she post the formula for a cancer cure. This woman is not a politician or an entertainer.

Dallas business owner Cheryl Rios found a camera in her face for sharing . . . wait for it . . . her strong lack of enthusiasm for the prospect of a female president.

That’s right. Cheryl prefers that her presidents come with a Y chromosome, an Adam’s apple, and a five-o’clock shadow. And she said so brazenly right there on her personal Facebook page (to her friends, relatives and former high school classmates).

(Now stay with me here. I’m not making this up.) Somewhere in the bowels of the CBS11 Newsroom—a real, honest-to-goodness news department in a major American city—someone thought this was newsworthy. Seriously.

Thus “Emmy-winning journalist” Steve Pickett sallied forth to see what this monstrous freak of nature had to say for herself. And we got this . . .

In other news, a YouTube commenter got snarky!

In other news, a YouTube commenter got snarky!

Now Cheryl obviously agreed to this interview. She could have declined to talk to these nincompoops and she would have been doing them a tremendous favor if she had—because they embarrassed themselves. But they did more than that.

They crossed a line.

You see, the moment news organizations start getting comfortable with making the off-the-cuff social media comments of private citizens fair game for news coverage—coverage which can get national traction on social media and prompt a vicious hate storm, as happened with Memories Pizza in Indiana a couple of weeks ago—then freedom of expression for conservatives and Christians is as good as dead in this country.

That’s why we really can’t allow these media enforcers of political correctness to get away with this kind of thing. If we don’t push back here it will only get worse.

Along these same lines, NationalReview.com’s Ian Tuttle took note and posted this: The Shaming of Cheryl Rios. I recommend it.

Here’s the email address for Channel 11’s news department. news@ktvt.com

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I’m going to head over to my Facebook page and post something wildly reactionary and out-of-step with the spirit of this age.

And hey, CBS11, I’m in the book if you want to chat. I have plenty to say.

On Resurrection Morning

Empty

They are laying Him in the borrowed place of burial.

“Tear down this temple and I’ll build it back in three days,” He had once declared to the bewildered Temple leaders. Now that “temple” has been battered beyond recognition. Torn down in every way a human body can be.

Loving hands have rushed to prepare the broken body for interment. Washed it. Wrapped it in strips of linen. But the customary step of anointing is skipped. They are out of time. The relentlessly sinking sun is disappearing in the western sky.

So they hurriedly hoist the limp, white-shrouded bundle and gently lay it on a chiseled shelf in that rock-hewn womb—and anoint the body only with their tears.

Moments later, with those same Temple officials looking on to assure that all is done as ordered, the hand-picked guards roll a large stone disk across the opening. The ground beneath all feet trembles as the massive wheel drops several inches into the niche carved to hold it in place.

They seal it. And the co-conspirators, breathing sighs of relief, congratulate themselves. They have won, they believe. Finally, the hope of these stubborn Jesus followers has been once-and-for-all extinguished. Indeed, they have already scattered like shepherdless sheep.

The sun is gone. Darkness and silence envelope the rocky garden. No sound is heard, save the distant, fading sobs of a heartbroken mother.

Two nights pass. Then somewhere in the courts of heaven a book is opened and a line from a song of David is sung:

For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. Psalm 16:10

Immediately, Venus, the Morning Star, rises in the east, declaring the imminent approach of dawn. The earth trembles and the powers of heaven are shaken.

Then we see Him. He emerges with a word on His lips for you, for me and for every wandering child of Adam:

“I am the living one. I died, but look—I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” (Rev. 1:18 NLT)

 

“Christian, it is your Lord,
He meets the morning of His resurrection.
He arises, a conqueror from the grave; He returns with blessings from the world of the spirits; he brings salvation to the sons of men.
Never did the returning sun usher in a day so glorious! It is the jubilee of the universe!
–Edward Thomson (1810-1870)

On Good Friday

 

Do you come here often?

Do you come here often?

Somewhere outside my home study window a male cardinal is holding forth mightily—robustly advertising his availability and suitability as a husband and baby-daddy.

I vaguely recall being in my early twenties and doing pretty much the same thing. Like my cardinal friend, I strategically deployed the color red and music. I bought a red Corvette I couldn’t afford, and was in a band.

The insurance alone took a third of my paycheck.

The insurance alone took a third of my paycheck.

I also recall using the color white—in the form of an unconstructed, Don-Johnson-on-Miami-Vice-style jacket.

Fortunately for me, all these efforts failed spectacularly. And five years later God brought me the perfect life companion as I was deploying the counter-intuitive mating strategy of simply not looking like a complete douche all the time.

I’m so grateful for the gift that is my bride. And for so many other things. Which brings me to my thoughts here on Good Friday . . .

The cross changed everything.

I know we all nod and give mental assent to that assertion. But I’m pretty sure we don’t know the half of the vast work of restoration and restitution that was embedded in the “It” of Jesus’ “It is finished.”

The cross is the hinge upon which all of human history turns. Everything before was one way—dating back to the Fall of Man. Everything after it has been different. More different than we know, in fact, because our perspectives are too limited and our vantage point to occluded.

The necessity of the cross testifies that God built this universe on a legal/judicial framework. Just rules, laws, systems and processes were woven in the very fabric of Creation itself. God’s grant to Man of dominion stewardship over planet Earth was a part of this judicial framework. It was a legal grant.

And these principles were so inviolable, that even God Himself could not trespass them and remain His holy Self. When Man’s Fall unleashed evil upon this world and made God’s outlaw enemy the legal “god of this world” God could not simply turn the Etch-a-Sketch of creation up side down, give it a good shake, and start again.

God is not free to cheat. Not and remain Who He is.

So when things went wrong, God set out to make them right again. But to do so legally and justly would require a plan which would be thousands of years in the unfolding.

The culmination of that plan took place roughly 1,985 years ago at this time of year . . . at the cross. Let’s look with fresh eyes at what transpired there.

At the foot of His cross the spirit realm is invisible to our natural eyes. We see a man suffering. What we do not see is what is transpiring in the unseen realm.

If we could, we would see hordes of gleeful, and giddy demons who have finally seen the lowering of the hedge of protection that always surrounded the Son of Man. He was finally vulnerable to torment and attack.

It’s been eerily dark and quiet on Golgotha. It would be easy to assume that nothing of significance has transpired. But in that same span, the great court of Heaven has been the scene of a remarkable flurry of activity.

Legal processes have been executed . . . accounting has been done . . . business has been transacted. . . . a kinsman redeemer has stepped forward to pay the necessary price to redeem an enslaved relative—Adam—and his every willing descendant.

A long-open set of accounting books has been reconciled and closed. A cosmic stamp pounds an ancient page leaving behind a blood-red message across the writing there. “Paid in Full.”

A corner has been turned.

The suffocating blanket of darkness that covered the last half of these proceedings begins to lift. Now that the sun can once again be discerned, we realize it has already begun it’s fiery plunge into the Mediterranean to be extinguished for another night. The Jewish Sabbath rest begins at sundown and it is rapidly approaching.

The few remaining observers on Golgotha heard the man on the center cross shout something about His God having abandoned Him. A little later He’d whispered a request for water—one that was answered, not with a ladle of cooling water but with a vinegar-filled sponge. Now we see the expiring Prince of Heaven summoning His last remnants of physical and mental strength . . . rising to speak once more.

Just one word this time. He cries out:

tetelestai

It is a Greek accounting term. Future English translations of John’s gospel will render that term in a way that tends to strip it of the legal and financial connotations. They translate it, “It is finished” (three words for one). But tetelestai does not mean merely that a thing has ended.

It has a far greater implication than merely a clock has run out and the game has concluded. It is a declaration that all has been accomplished. All that was lacking has now been supplied. The breech has been healed. The debt has been fully satisfied.

Shalom—nothing broken, nothing missing.

Charles Spurgeon called this declaration, “Christ’s dying word to the Church.” But our King’s proclamation carries even more dimensions of meaning than this. He means that all the types, shadows, and symbols of the Old Testament have now been fully manifested in Him.

He decrees that the prophecies that pointed to a future Deliverer King have been fulfilled. John the Baptist had asked, “Are you the One or should we look for another?” Jesus’ answer at that time was suggestive but indirect. Now He speaks plainly. His tetelestai! emphatically shouts, “You can stop looking! The promised One has appeared and accomplished the prophesied task. Dominion of planet earth has been restored to its rightful steward.”

Finally, in that cry of consummation, Jesus declared an end to separated man’s religious striving to build a ladder back to God.

How did this happen?

God Himself became flesh and bone and blood. Walked among fallen men. And willingly laid down on a cross.

We receive and are grateful.