"Mad Men," "Far From Heaven," and the Nature of Social Change

Frank Rich has a terrific essay in today's Times op-ed section. (Well, okay, he writes for that section most Sundays, and most of the time his essay's are terrific).

The short version, if you don't want to read the whole thing, is this: Forget Woodstock. If you want to find an era of social and cultural upheaval, and one that, in many ways, mirrors our own season/era of discontent/uncertainty, look at the early 1960s, the same era explored in the AMC series "Mad Men." (The third season of which debuts tonight.) (*1) I

agree. "Mad Men" is fascinating on many levels, but what's most interesting is seeing an era of immense turbulence play out in the confines of a Madison Avenue ad agency. As Rich points out, we know what's about to happen to these men and women; we know bra burning, war demonstrations, and the Stonewall riots lie just ahead.

But these characters are, of course, completely unaware of that.

Which was precisely what I found so fascinating about the film "Far From Heaven." When the film came out in 2002, reviewers mostly focused on the film's "authenticity" and the costumes, and the way the film's "look" mirrored that of the technicolor glossies of the 1950s.

As far as I was concerned, they completely missed the point of a brilliant film (which, as a result, didn't get the attention it deservered). This was a film about how eras of profound social and cultural are born. If I remember correctly, the film is set in 1958. I

won't bore you with the synopsis (you can read that for yourself), but the plot revolves around the characters' struggles' with racial, sexual, and personal issues. In the course of the film, they they make decisions about how to resolve those issues. They opt for change rather than misery because the change makes more moral sense than the status quo.

Put another way, the tensions they're experiencing seem to them to be the result of moral values that no longer seem to make sense. Or, as Yeats put it "The center cannot hold." They have NO idea that in another decade, their small decisions will produce events like Stonewall and Woodstock. Bra burnings and the march on Washington.

That's how change begins: Ordinary people of the kind portrayed in the film make small, seemingly insignificant, decisions about how to live their lives. Then others, unconnected to them and living in other places, do the same. And as thousands and then millions of people make the same kinds of choices, well --- from decisions and choices come change: Stonewall. Selma. Woodstock War protests.

So . . . my words of wisdom on a Sunday afternoon. And now? Back to work.


*1: I got hooked on "Mad Men" after a friend told me about it. I bought the first season on dvd, but managed to get my act together to record the second season when AMC re-aired it this past spring. So I"m caught up and plan to record the third season as it happens. That's the plan anyway.