My Love-Hate Relationship with Mad Men

Like just about everyone else in America, I’m hooked on AMC’s Mad Men. I started watching it on Netflix with Matt and haven’t been able to give it up. The thing is: I hate Mad Men. I also love it–I can’t help myself. There’s just something about getting a peek at a time period when my folks were children–my mother, born in 1955, would have been able the same age as Sally Draper, born in 1954. It’s an outrageous and, I hope, hyperbolic look at the 1960s that has left me hating every single character. All of them are just terrible. They’re so completely and thoroughly unlikable, in fact, that I can’t bring myself to watch anything with Jon Hamm in it. I dislike Don Draper so much that all of my suspension of disbelief can’t erase him from my consciousness long enough to give the guy a shot.

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From my perspective, it’s an eloquent excuse to put sexism on TV under the guise of period drama–it certainly, boldly celebrates the objectification of women, who were then largely discounted as pretty and fragile, but not much else. Which is not to say that, largely, life wasn’t like this for women during this time period, it certainly was. Matt doesn’t agree, he sees it as a way to address many of today’s continuing issues through the same sort of Otherness that allowed writers of old to mock their cultures without getting into trouble. I don’t completely agree–the issues aren’t exactly addressed, they’re just put on display for the consumption of the masses.

One of the only things I like about Mad Men is the way both sexes are equally unlikable. The men are sexist, philandering drunks who cheat on their wives. The women are petty and malicious, often sleeping their way to the top only to be cruel to the women left at the bottom. The men who don’t drink and cheat on their wives (the unicorn!) go nowhere, fast. The women who didn’t sleep their way to the top are either still at the bottom or, by chance, have climbed the ladder–by the grace of men, of course–only to treat other women like shit. Notably, this is an issue that permeates literature, where women treat younger and/or less important women the only way they know how, the way they were treated, at best with petty disregard, but more often with unabated cruelty.

As examples, Don and Peggy are perfect illustration of everything wrong with the show. They’re not the only unlikable characters–in fact, all of the characters are disgusting–but they are some of the most unlikable because in some way they represent every other character who enters their orbit. They have access to every other major and minor character on the show, all of whom are flimsy stereotypes. They’re the glue that holds it all together. It’s seven degrees of Don Draper and Peggy Olson, a formula that works too well.

Don is both a terrible husband and ex-husband, a bad father, a fair-weather friend, a sexist who skirts dangerously close to predatory. He cheats, lies and manipulates everyone in his life–men and women alike–and treats his kids with careless disregard bordering on abuse. Everyone wants to know him, the other men want to be him, but his life is a cesspit of shame and vodka. A mess he blames on his bad childhood. He doesn’t ever take responsibility for his recklessness. No matter what he’s done, the audience is expected to defer to his childhood for an explanation and then feel, what, sympathy for him?

Peggy is a secretary who, through a series of circumstances that include Don’s need for someone to help him do his work while he drank and slept his way across New York, managed to climb to copy writer. Then to copy chief. She lets men take advantage of her, over and over, and treats the women around her like garbage. She refuses to remember where she came from and, in most cases, suffers from the same sort of mentality that allowed Queen Elizabeth to be queen while supporting the subjugation of women. She believes she’s above it, that she’s an exception rather than the rule. What’s more, she’s threatened by other women who have power, regardless of how they got that power. She’s also an emotional cripple who can’t sustain relationships with anyone.

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Don and Peggy are then surrounded by the usual stereotypes: the creepy ad man (Pete), the sexpot who sleeps her way to the top (Joan), the rich has-been (Roger), the unlikable stepford wife (Betty), the neglected children (Sally and Bobby Draper), the shallow representation of change/bad trophy wife (Megan). None of whom could work at all without Don and Peggy to tie them together and enable their collective unlikability.

The one shining light in a gloom of sadly realistic period melodrama is that the show is packed with stunningly accurate historical detail. The costumes are perfect, the hair is amazing, the cars are fantastic. The historical events–such as the deaths of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Martin Luther King Jr.–are sprinkled in to make the show a perfect replica of the 1960s. They even address life both in the city and in the burbs–where all the people are just as terrible as the main characters.

Still, the show is an exercise in determination and restraint. I can’t stop watching it, even though I’ve considered it on several occasions. I have to know what happens to this tragic collection of rotten human beings. I can’t help hoping that Don gets what he deserves, that what goes around really does come around. At the same time, I kind of want him to be redeemed and find some peace, he really did have a terrible childhood after all. I also continue to hope for the ending where Don is infamous 1960s skyjacker DB Cooper. Just another few months and it’ll all be over, for better or worse, and despite it’s many deplorable moments and anger-inducing characters… I’m definitely going to miss it.

RateMyProfessor, RateMyStudents

It’s pretty common knowledge that I teach freshmen composition at a local university. As much as I love my job, it’s the kind of work you carry around with you. It’s the kind of job you can’t really go home from–particularly since I encourage my students to reach out by email any time. Last night, not for the first time, I dreamt of work. This time, however, it had nothing to do with lectures or grading and everything to do with how instructors and students perceive one another–and how they act on those perceptions sometimes to the detriment of both.

More specifically, I dreamt of RateMyProfessor.com and how things would be if there were, say, a RateMyStudents.com, too. Everyone knows that RateMyProfessor.com is a website where students are able to anonymously rate their instructors on factors like helpfulness, clarity, and easiness–and, sadly, hotness–to derive an overall score.  In general it’s highly problematic and, in most cases, laughably bad. In my opinion, it also undermines the academic environment when instructors are being rated based upon such factors as easiness and hotness.

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In my dream, though, there existed a world where the opposite were possible. Could you imagine what would happen if there were a website where instructors could rate students anonymously? Where we could type in a students name by university and rate them on factors like attendance, professionalism, responsibility, attitude, and engagement? Where instructors could leave comments about student behavior, the outrageous things they said, their utter lack of respect for the class, the outpouring of excuses, how they spent the class period texting, taking pictures of the slides rather than taking notes, talking and/or going to sleep? Or the opposite, of course, when students are engaged in the process and deserve positive feedback. Imagine, then, that professionals hiring in the real world used this website to gauge job prospects based upon student performance in college? It would be the worlds most honest letter of recommendation when instructors were honest about the student’s capabilities and willingness to learn.

It certainly doesn’t seem fair, does it? Yet this is exactly what’s happening with ratings websites where instructors are being selected for classes based on student ratings. In this case, the student is the hiring professional from the scenario above. Instructors are being (often unfairly) judged by the opinions of disgruntled students. That isn’t to say that all of the negative opinions are wrong, but only that they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Most disappointing of all, recourse does exist. Instructors are able to rebut a students claimsbut can you see any way to do that without it coming across poorly? I can’t. In my dream, though, it was the students who came across like sour grapes trying to refute the claims of anonymous professors. It was the students trying to figure out which of their instructors left them the negative feedback and prove why they’re wrong to make negative claims about their performance. It was the students trying to battle against instructor credibility and losing. It was complete unethical chaos, much like the the total unethical chaos that currently exists with the arbitrary RateMyProfessor.com system.

The differences between my dream and the real world? In the real world a system that allowed students to be rated would never happen. It would violate the plethora of laws protecting students. Laws like the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) that makes sharing student information rightly illegal. In the real world no such laws protect instructors and professors from sometimes libelous accusations that instructors who “gave” students a bad grade are, therefore, bad at their jobs. Pity that there isn’t more recourse for instructors than the ability to stand out there on the virtual sidewalk beside mountains of potentially negative student feedback with a sign that says “nu uh.”

Complicated Good News…

I so rarely have good news to share that when I do I tend to put it off. Maybe I’m waiting for the other (inevitable) shoe to drop, but I tend to be skeptical of good things happening to us. This is where the pessimist comes in and when you hear our current good news, and the catch, you’ll see why.

The Good: Matt got a promotion!!  He’s been working for the same company for the last 26 months–though he’s only officially been an employee for about 23 months (his first three months there were temp work). A lot of hard work has earned him the opportunity to move up into a management position. He has already begun the training.

The Catch: His promotion means that in six months we may have to move. The terms of his promotion are such that he must diligently apply for every single open management position within the company in the US (and possibly internationally) until he gets one. If he doesn’t immediately get one, then he can stay in his currently location until he does, as long as he’s continually looking.

This means several things for me, foremost that I may not be able to attend more than one semester of doctoral work at TWU before we have to move–which means looking for another program at another school. It also means I’ll have to give up my job, which I love, and that if he moves mid-semester I’ll have to stay behind until the semester ends–whether that semester is Fall 2014 or Spring 2015. It also means we could end up in California, Arizona, Utah, Missouri, Wisconsin, or a handful of other states where his company has facilities, we don’t know.

At this point, his job is the most important thing, though. We’re at the point where career > continuing education, even if my chosen career field requires that I get more education before I’ll be able to find a good job. I can always look for another program, but there’s no guarantee that I’d be admitted. Also, he may have to move every few years to keep advancing, which presents further complications.

So you can see, at least a little bit, why good news isn’t always something I’m willing to discuss. It seems like there’s always a catch that makes one of us a casualty. That said, this is a pretty big deal and we’re both really excited about what it might mean for us in the near future–even if we’re moving at Christmastime. This is the way marriages work, compromises must happen for both people to succeed and, hopefully, as my mother is fond of saying, everything will come out in the wash.

This Isn’t the Matthew You’re Looking for…

About three years ago Matt and I switched from T-Mobile to AT&T for our cell service. When we got our new numbers Matt happened to get the a number that had previously belonged to another guy named Matthew. Okay, no problem right? Except that it has been a constant nuisance and he refuses to change his phone number because of the hassle it would cause with work, friends, and family. From my perspective, this is sheer stupidity. Here’s why…

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Immediately after getting the number he began getting lewd texts from sexting services. Not just one or two texts, but dozens of them a day. These texts were seriously nasty stuff, with very graphic details about what they were offering. Seriously gross, but he ignored it assuming they would go away when they realized he wasn’t interested.

Six months went by and those sexting texts turned into billing from said sexting company because, apparently the asshat who had the number before him didn’t pay them for previously rendered services. The lewd, graphic texts turned into threatening, angry texts. Apparently, those companies are like angry pimps when they don’t get their money. Still gross.

Meanwhile he started getting phone calls and voicemail for jobs for this Matthew guy. Apparently, someone wanted to hire him for some sort of engineering-type job. At least we think so, the woman calling was foreign and we couldn’t always understand her. Matt told her repeatedly that he was not the Matthew she was looking for, but she persisted until he stopped answering the calls completely. For a job recruiter, this woman was seriously pushy.

Then the bill collectors started calling. Matt told a lot of them he wasn’t, in fact, Matthew Garrett and that they needed to stop calling him. Some did, others didn’t. We’ve been ignoring it and laughing it off, but this last weekend he go on the phone with a woman who was so condescending–I mean so, so condescending–that she outright refused to believe Matt wasn’t this other Matthew guy. It went a little something like this…

Collector: Matthew?
Matt: Yes?
Collector: I’m calling you regarding a debt for [very large sum] that is owed to Capital One.
Matt: Um, huh? No I don’t.
Collector: It’s from 2003, you’ll need to pay or we’re going to sue you.
Matt: Who are you trying to reach?
Collector: Matthew G-A-R-R-E-T-T.
Matt: That’s not me, different Matthew.
Collector: Social Security Number ending in [numbers]?
Matt: No.
Collector: Address [street address]?
Matt: No again.
Collector: We’re going to sue you if you don’t pay. The federal law… [blah, blah, blah]
Matt: Wait, I am not the guy you’re looking for.
Collector: Then you’re refusing to pay this debt, Mr. Garrett?
Matt: Um no, you’re talking to the wrong guy.
Collector: Okay, sir (super condescending disbelief), I’m going to note in your file that you said that.
Matt: You do that.

This woman outright refused to believe that Matt wasn’t this other guy. This is the first time that’s happened, most of them are at least willing to take him at his word, and I think it was partially that Matt answered to Matthew at the beginning of the call. But, um, his name is Matthew! This woman gave us that guys last known address and the last four digits of his SSN. That’s bad business bordering on criminal. If I could remember what company she was from I’d call them and file a complaint. Give the wrong person that information and you’ve just aided in identity theft. Though, if I had to say, I don’t think anyone would want this guy’s identity.

All of this and Matt still won’t change his number. I tried again to get him to change it, but he says it would cause too many conflicts. While it would certainly be a pain in the neck, I feel like it would be worth it. Oh, did I mention he’s constantly getting text updates from this other Matthew’s dentist? He also got a call from a doctor looking for the other guy. I honestly think he’s beginning to get some perverse enjoyment out of the whole thing. Me? I would have been at my wits end with this other guy pervy, jobless, internet-shopping, indebted minutiae a long time ago. We have enough problems without fielding calls for some creep who used to have Matt’s phone number–especially when those calls are threatening or condescending.

I seriously hope either this other Matthew or all the jerks trying to reach him for money or text-sex get a freaking clue. Otherwise, I may just change Matt’s phone number against his will, seeing how the account is in my name. ;)