Saturday, October 2, 2010

Generation Landmine

I have a "thing" for AMC's "Mad Men."

In the current season that allegiance has risen to the level of a school girl crush. Remember the shrill of victory surrounding Don's scoring of the Beatles tickets for Sally in last week's episode? That's the tonal range. My screech is exceeded by the portfolio of character-builds and plot twists from the inter-generational histories that co-mingle in the fertility clinic otherwise known as the writing laboratories of the Mad Men Control Center. There's excessive social angst under the surface -- even if it's just Matthew Weiner and cohorts cranking out those dangerous scripts. How else to explain how deeply we care about the numerous fates of unsympathetic characters?

This admiration is not contained to the scaling of an entertainment level reached during the airing of each show. It's way more personal than that. There is a certain lifelong lesson that we either let life teach us or we fight at every turn. That's the notion that the preceding generation is doomed to fail us -- specifically mom and dad. Not because they're bad people or even fundamentally flawed but because they join groups. They become figureheads and role models. They sign up for things they didn't know they were now responsible for providing (and which they could never rightfully deliver). They're way over their heads, lose their way. Then they climb back on the relationship wagon and "they" lose "our" way -- the kids their new spouse has no interest in helping raise.

This is another way of saying that I made my peace with my parents by seeing them as people. Their failures as parents were to be acknowledged, never rectified. When they married in 1959 that was about catering to the place-settings of matrimonial lineage. This was the social norm. Not the personal discovery that came later with open marriages, no fault divorces, and piss poor step-parenting.

The fact that I'm now one marriage deeper than either parent ever waded is more of a personal mystery than journey. The fact that I strive to appreciate others for who they are -- not what they represent or signify -- is something I try to live up to in my current marriage and teach to my 17 year-old. He teaches this right back out to me!

That's what I bring to each wrested secret, indiscretion, and dilemma of strangle holds in each unfolding act of Mad Men. Perhaps the greatest payoff is not the resolution of that mystery but the knowledge that our parents' failings is what lifted us to levels of self-preservation and inner-resourcefulness we could never have attained had they actually been there for us latchkey Mad Men offspring. Here's the reason I know this. We post boomer parents were determined to make the difference. If not in the world as the over-reaching boomers believed than in the worlds of our over-achieving kids.

What is it about 20 somethings? The impacts are plain to see:

* School grades are now about inclusion: B+ is the new D-.

* The family nest is no longer empty once the graduation ceremony ends. Lousy economy you say? Look at the unemployment rate in the first Reagan administration when we purchased our liberal arts degrees. It was a full two points higher than today.

* It's not just that our kids are ill-equipped to make it on their own. We don't want to let go. They're not just our flesh and blood. They're our friends and confidants. That's something that Mad Men and Ladies didn't embrace with their Mad Boys and Girls until the grand kids had escaped reality for an alternative life of instant texts, online gaming, and the willing suspension of face-to-face communications.

That's the reality series of generation landmine. That in our quest to be world's greatest moms and dads we haven't given ourselves the room to disengage. This means being removed long enough to encourage the same growth we're stunting in our kids. But how could we not? We know all too well the allure of the surrogate parent that made Don Draper -- but it didn't raise Don Draper.

Like all past TV obsessions I never want the drama to quit. But instead of rewinding the DVD box set, my fixation longs to burrow deeper into the scenes of bedrooms, kitchens, and garages left unmapped by conventional storytelling. I want to follow all the characters home and walk through the rooms of their lives unimpeded by electronic screens or paper scripts.

Now that's a lifetime that may not happen in this dimension. But I am grateful to Matthew Weiner, his writing team, and the cast for enabling me to fathom it.

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