Mad Anachronisms

Like the rest of the planet it seems, I’ve been consumed lately by the show Mad Men. Jennifer and I are still catching up via Netflix. It really is one of those truly great and remarkable shows that comes along too rarely.

[Warning: Insignificant spoiler in the next couple of sentences]

About midway through the second season we came to the somewhat infamous picnic scene. **** The Draper’s have taken the new Cadillac for a spin in the countryside. They relax and recline on a blanket. The grass is green, the breeze is mild, they talk about how rich they are. All is good. Then it’s time to pack it up and head home. We see Don stand up, stretch, smile, and chuck his empty beer can into the idyllic landscape as if he was tossing a baseball to his son. Betty pinches two corners of the  blanket and gives it a lift & shake, distributing the paper plates, napkins and other picnic detritus across the grass. The trash begins to lightly flutter and drift down the slope. In 1963 the happy family piles into the car and motors away. Meanwhile, in 2009, we sit on the couch, jaws agape at this stunning spectacle of thoughtless littering.

It’s suprisingly shocking. There’s the shock of seeing it, and then there’s the shock at being so shocked. Every bone in your body wants to be repulsed, but the relativist mindset makes it difficult to fault the characters. As the writer points out in the DVD commentary, Iron Eyes Cody didn’t come along until 1971.

The scene also in a way briefly cracks open that narrative fourth wall in that it’s clear the writer/director is blatantly highlighting these banal actions to serve up a very in-your-face cultural anachronism. It’s only been 40 years, but wow have the dominant cultural attitudes about the environment changed.

We’ve since watched a few more episodes, but that scene still sticks with me, and lately it’s got me imagining someone sitting on their couch in 2049–or hovering in their Anti-Grav Lounger, or whatever–and passing judgment on our present day actions. It’s interesting to think what might be the contemporary equivalents of folks in the early 60s treating the planet like giant trash receptacle.

I’m guessing they’ll look back in horror at us actually throwing things–anything!–away in a garbage can rather than somehow recycling or composting.

You mean the water from the shower just drains away into the sewer?!?

They have apples in a Boston supermarket that were grown in New Zealand? Insanity!

I mean, can you imagine!?

Written on August 19, 2009