The season ender of the hit TV show Mad Men aired last night and it did not disappoint. Matthew Weiner is an absolute genius story teller. It is rare when I get really captivated by a television show, but Mad Men is something of an obsession for me.
When I watch it, I feel like I am getting a window into the childhood of my parents. Many items of Betty Draper's wardrobe were identical to the fashions my grandmother wore. The various set dressing for the Draper home in the suburbs contained items I remember from visits to the trailer in the retirement park in Florida where she lived. The strange and surreal world of chain smokers, heavy drinkers, serial polluters, and what we would considered today as abusive child rearing... gives me important hints into some of the more quirky behavior of my parents.
In The Forward this morning Sarah Seltzer writes about the Jewish characters in Mad Men. She gives a great run down of the characters and their Jewishness. None of the Jewish characters are the main focus of the story. They are like set pieces or part of the environment in which the main characters move. We are surprised by some and repulsed by others.
The exception to this is the character Michael Ginsberg. He exists in the story mainly to be the anti-Don Draper. Where Don is cool and collected, Ginsberg is spastic. Don always says the right thing and is an expert at the art of persuasion, Ginsberg on the other hand gets angry when others fail to understand his creative genius. Don is impeccably dressed and irresistible to women while Ginsberg is an abrasive schlep and attractive to no one.
However, they both share a literary, creative genius. They both come from inauspicious origins. Don is the child of a prostitute, raised in a brothel by a drunkard. Ginsburg on the other had was born is a concentration camp in World War II and was cared for by a non-biologically related "father."
While Judaism is part of who Ginsberg is, his ambivalence towards anything Jewish is easily explained by the strange personality of his father. After getting the job at Sterling, Cooper, Draper, and Price... his father gives Ginsberg a Baracha (a Jewish blessing) a few minutes after he suggests getting some prostitutes to celebrate.
I think that Ginsberg will have an important role to play in the downfall of Don Draper.
The writer of the series, Matthew Weiner (creator of The Sopranos), is Jewish. It is ironic to me that he is the modern master of the Greek tragedy. While we are rooting for Don, we all know the tragic flaw that will be his downfall. We assume that the show will end with Don jumping to his death from his Madison Avenue skyscraper... but I find it impossible not watch the story unfold.
While Seltzer, in her article criticized the series for its light treatment of the civil rights movement, I think that is the show's strength. It is not about politics. The big dramatic political showdowns happen offscreen and the main characters are left to pick up the pieces.
In short, I can't wait for season 6.