Why did it irk me so much, the high-handed dismissal of Mad Men by Jenny Diski in the January issue of Harper's? I am a fan of the series, true, but I don't expect everyone to agree with me. No, it was the smug, knowing voice that got my goat -- that, and the substitution of bias for reasoning. Consider:
The style of the Sixties in Mad Men is so relentless and polished in every detail that it actually deals a death blow to authenticity. It is caricature, not authenticity, and although that, in a David Lynch sort of way, can be thrilling and effective if you subvert the style to darker devices, Man Men isn't sure whether it wants to be pastiche or historical realism. It wants it both ways, and for me, it is this indecision, which feels muddy and expedient as opposed to subtle or sly, that is Mad Men's self-sabotage.
This is double-think -- as the "actually" in the first sentence concedes. Notice that approval is withheld not only because of too much accuracy but because Mad Men does not "subvert" and is not "dark" enough. These are code words. Again Diski's rhetoric gives her away. Reread the passage and ask yourself what David Lynch is doing there. How does exactness of detail compromise authenticity? And what does it mean to say that some alleged trait of the series "feels muddy and expedient"? Only two words in the passage stand up to the skeptical reader's close gaze: "for me."
But perhaps one shouldn't be surprised by the resentment that the popular success of a culturally ambitious television series will arouse among theoretically-correct (TC) critics. Jenny Diski, the author of a bad-girl-in-the-1960s memoir, exemplifies here what Susan Sontag called the perils of "interpretation." It is, in Sontag's words, "not simply the compliment that mediocrity pays to genius" but also "the revenge of the intellect upon art" and "upon the world." -- DL.