I’d Like To Teach the World To Sing

What follows contains all manners of spoilers about the finale of Mad Men. If you haven’t watched it already, don’t read.

Overall, I thought the Mad Men finale offered a lot more fan service than I expected. Matt Weiner is like David Chase in the regards that I don’t think he really cares what fans think, he’s going to tell the story the way he wants it (his paranoia about spoilers and leaks, though, is unmatched). That’s been obvious throughout most of this season, as we’ve watched Don go after yet another conquest and frankly cost two or three episodes that could have been spent exploring other things. Despite this, the finale tried to deliver for the fans. Our core group of people all got resolution to their stories, and an ending, even if we might not have liked each one. Even Meredith, Don’s ditzy on the surface (but obviously a lot smarter than she looks underneath) secretary got a nice send off. That’s a lot more than a lot of shows will offer. I’m good with how Joan, Roger, and Peggy ended up, even if some of the endings were a bit saccharine (although the Peggy and Stan thing feels right. She has the job and the man and the man understands her love of the job. Could she ask for more?).

Here’s my problem with the damn Coke commercial and the obvious insinuation fact that Don’s whole takeaway from the time at the retreat thing was a better way to sell fizzy sugar water. When you look at it that way, I feel like it invalidates what they were building to this entire season with Don’s actions, the pursuit of the damn waitress, and etc. When you simply look at it as “Don’s done it again! It’s the next Carousel”, why did we bother with anything? Let’s just skip to the usual refrain. Don is unhappy being one in a sea of many. He runs away, because he’s fucking Don Draper and Don Draper always runs away. He magically comes back and wows the world with some new fake nonsense from his fake life. End of show.

If you instead look at Don’s epiphany, or whatever you want to call it, as finally accepting who he is and that he has personal value, things are so much more interesting. Then the Waitress story makes sense. Here is Don, doing Don things like always. And it ends poorly, like all of his other conquests do. Except, this one isn’t the same. Don can’t let go. Maybe he saw a little too much of himself in her. Maybe there’s a pang of remorse about everything. Maybe the fact that he’s just a cog at McCann is weighing on him. Whatever it is, Don watches that airplane flying through the sky and realizes that he needs to find… something. Maybe this waitress to fulfill those Don Draper things he needs. Maybe something else.

Cut to Don on the road. He doesn’t find the waitress. But he finds something else. The courage to tell the truth about the real Don Draper to a bunch of vets. The desire to try and turn that young con artist’s life around before he becomes the next Don Draper. The need to try and help Stephanie, misguided as most of Don’s attempts to help are. And so on. And it all culminates in his experiences at the retreat place. For most of this, this is Don being Don. He can’t relate to the old woman in the one session. He’s clearly skeptical of everything and can’t believe he’s there. He’s pissed when Stephanie takes off with the car and strands him. He’s sticking out like a sore thumb. But he’s not the same. The weight of his calls with Sally and Betty are weighing heavily on him (and can we discuss how those two still are in love with each other in spite of all the terribleness that they endured together?). He breaks down on the phone with Peggy, perhaps the person he has the greatest hopes for. He’s left sitting in front of the phone in an almost catatonic state when that seminar leader pulls him into that class, and he sees that schlub guy break down, talking about how unlovable he is. And you see that look of recognition on Don’s face. That guy is him, the Dick Whitman he has spent years burying under his Don Draper facade. Suddenly, this whole season of nonsense has paid off. Maybe Don can become a new man, an honest man.

And when we get to him doing yoga on that cliffside, it certainly looks that way. But no, same fucking bullshit from another show creator who thinks that he’s way smarter than us. An empty payoff. If we were just going to get this, why not just let it be Don being Don at this place and then he comes back and says “I know how to market this staid beverage to these young people.” That would have felt way more honest about things. Or, even better, why not let Don keep his moment of enlightenment and come back to New York and see Peggy, his protege and one of the very few people he actually respects in this world, and tell her about his experiences and let her go off and do the damn song. That would have felt honest and vindicating, because while the show may have been about Don, it’s often felt like the show has secretly been about Peggy, and her trip up the ladder in the 60s. Tell me those outcomes would not have been way more satisfying.

Overall, still a good ending, and I didn’t have to worry that the cable went out like I thought during The Sopranos finale. Still, sometimes it pays to stop thinking that you’re the smartest guy in the room and see the big picture. Just saying. Ommm.

Lemon Crush

So the girlfriend and I went to see Avengers: Age of Ultron over this past weekend. In short, this is what I thought of it:

  • Not enough of the stuff I liked: character development, conversations between characters, motivations for why they do what they do, etc.
  • Too much of what I don’t: Giant action set pieces, destroying whole cities with little or no consequences, and good luck keeping track of who everyone is and what they’re doing.

Let me break this down a bit more, because I think this highlights a lot of the problems that we’re experiencing with comic book movies as they become more and more popular and lucrative.

The too much of what I don’t is pretty easy to figure out. It’s become a growing (pun not intended) problem with these movies as they progress. Too much time spent on these action pieces that are almost indecipherable sometimes. Can you really keep up with all these different people fighting through a whole city? I didn’t think so either. And it’s not just this movie that’s guilty of it. Putting aside the fact that Zach Snider really has no idea whatsoever about what Superman is really about, does anyone really think that there would not be repercussions for most of Metropolis basically¬† being leveled at the end of The Man of Steel? And putting aside the fact that Christopher Nolan turned one of the best superheroes ever written into a one super dour note guy by the time we got to The Dark Knight Returns, they more or less turned all of Gotham into a prison! In the real world, no government would have let that happen.

There are plenty of reasons we could look at for why this happens. A lot of it has to due with international audiences, I’m sure. Stuff doesn’t always translate away from English all that well, but everyone speaks the language of explosions. That’s part of it, but I think the fanboys are the real reason we’re here today.

People forget this by now, but when it was announced that Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the 1989 film, the fanboys were angry as hell about it. They’re letting the guy who did fucking Mr. Mom be the Caped Crusader? What the hell is that shit?? Yet, the 1989 Batman movie was a revelation that picked up the baton that the Superman franchise had dropped and pushed comic book films into the stratosphere. If that wasn’t bad enough, fan boys are still angry about the retconning of the Joker’s back story. They dared change an iota of Bruce Wayne’s backstory? That’s fucking heresy. Forget that the change made the whole thing more compelling, not less. I think you get what I’m saying.

I understand the desire for some fanboy service in these movies. If you don’t do that, you end up with Batman & Robin and George Clooney is the caped crusader with BatNipples in his Batsuit. I’ll never understand the thought that went into those meetings, but I think everyone involved with that movie wishes it had never been made. The problem is when you surrender completely to the fanboys and offer up some sort of orthodoxy that these kinds of movies cannot really sustain. Even when you go with a mostly original story like they did in Age of Ultron, fanboy service must be met and it changes the tone and effect of the movie.

Instead of tearing up a whole town, give me more of the interactions between the characters. That scene where all of the Avengers, plus Falcon and War Machine are at the party trying to lift up Thor’s hammer? Give me 45 more minutes of it. I would have loved to hear more of the banter that would have surrounded that. Playful insults and injokes and innuendo. That would have made for great fun. After all, it could be you and your friends sitting around a table joking around, except that there’s a Norse god, a billionaire, a 100+ year old super solider who still looks under 30, and a few other interesting characters involved. Tell me that would not have been better than the appearance of the Hulkbuster and demolishing half of a city just to more or less say that they got the Hulkbuster into one of these movies? I thought so.

While we’re at it, give me more of that Banner/Romanov… uh… whatever that was. They could have done so much more with it, but didn’t. Maybe it’s because fanboys are scared of girls and fear romance? Who knows.

More than anything, give me tons more of Tony Stark’s broken psyche. There’s a lot of fertile ground there. The actual Iron Man films did a decent job exploring some of this (including daddy issues in the 2nd one; if my daddy was Roger Sterling, I might have some issues as well), and there are some scenes here where we can tell that Tony was very affected by what happened at the end of the first Avengers. That’s super interesting stuff in the right hands! And Joss Whedon was those hands! But, still, nope, need to make room for another robot being blown up super easily.

I think it may be time for comic book movies to rein it back in a bit. Take on smaller stories and let the characters shine through. I say this because both a good superhero and a good villain are more defined by their internal shortcomings and fallacies than just oh look I’m the bad guy, and he’s the good guy.

In the end, though, these movies keep making obscene amounts of money, which will make studio heads decide there is more and more need for bigger set pieces and more action. And it is only we, the fans, who end up losing out the most in the end.

Raining in Baltimore

West Baltimore

I kind of feel that this expresses so much of the anger and the fury behind the current troubles in Baltimore. Sometimes, you can say a lot in only 140 characters.

Photo credit: /u/rudmad on Reddit.

We Shall Overcome

I honestly feel that with the world currently being the way it is, the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. are more important to our current society than ever. Today made me think about the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, which may be right behind the “I have a dream” speech as one of King’s most famous and important writings. I thought about it because of that famous line about just and unjust laws:

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

This still rings true today. We may not have laws that are explicit in their racial connotation (i.e., no laws that say white people can do something that black people can’t), but there are plenty of laws that overtly do this. Take, for example, voting laws in many states that don’t explicitly outlaw minorities from voting, but aim to make it more difficult to vote by adding requirements that are harder for minorities to meet. Also consider laws that are designed to limit abortions by making it harder for doctors to perform them by adding draconian stipulations on what make a clinic pass muster. Hell, even think about the process in which prosecutors hide from having to indict a white police officer for killing a minority by hiding behind a grand jury. What you have is what King described succinctly:

Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.

That was America 50 years ago. And it’s still America today. We can claim to be more enlightened about things all we want, but we’re not. Almost all of us revert back to these ingrained ways whether we know it or not. It’s not because we’re bad people, per say, but it’s just human nature, for better or for worse.

There is also this:

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

No one should let the role that the church did and did not play in the Civil Rights struggle, because I think it’s still valid today. I don’t think that these problems have gone away. In fact, the church is one of the last places that there is vociferous opposition to gay marriage, which is as much of a Civil Rights issue today as race is. It becomes very easy to hide behind the cloth in the defense of the status quo.

I think that what I am trying to say is that what Martin Luther King Jr had to say and what he did are just as important now as they were 50 years ago. We need to remember less for what was accomplished as much as what remains to be accomplished and what we have given back over this time. Every time a person of color is denied their rights, we need to remember. Every time a white cop thinks its defensible to shoot an unarmed black man without fear of retribution, we need to remember. Every time a woman loses her right to choose what is best for her body, we need to remember. Every time a gay person cannot experience the same joys of matrimony that their straight counterparts can, we need to remember. In this day and age, memory is power. And if we remember well enough, we might get to that mountaintop yet.