Old Fashioned Tiffany T
4 dashes bitters
1 splash soda
2 oz Bourbon
1 bar spoonful Goldschläger
1 tsp sugar
1 orange wheel
1 candied cherry
Mad Men is finishing its final season, and I have to say, it’s probably one of the best shows ever made for television – because Mad Men not only understands cultural inscription it embodies the same shit it criticizes. My friends attend Mad Men viewing parties and re-write what it means to drink an Old Fashioned, and once I was told by a girlfriend: you are such a Joan. A compliment that I took to heart. “Wow, thanks” I said, “I could only hope!” later thinking: what did she mean by that – my body? my humor? my nerve? Because I am not a Joan I want to be Joan.
What confuses me about this kind of compliment is its level of mediation, in which the gesture is not really intimate with me at all. Instead it’s about a constructed identity as it circulates, or a myth defined by my friend and mapped onto me. This style of communication works in constant referents and confusing signifiers. The signifier that always “at play” is just so very, light-hearted–because I’ve never seen the Last Days of Disco, and I only know it as a group of words and a remembrance of a movie poster, and still a friend of mine keeps saying, “oh God, you NEED to see it, you ARE it,” but I’m completely at a loss.
In class we tell the lives of theorists and books, and at the bar we talk about movies and television shows and sports, and it’s all fun but usually my favorite moments are when most of that is turned off and we aren’t speaking through objects, and some newer narrative just emerges – but maybe that emergence is a re-run that feels like it’s only just airing.
Mad Men would never have worked as a film, because Mad Men gets that it’s a story about the stories that happen between other stories. Advertisements are always sandwiched between the main event, and these lives move in and out of our own. Like Don’s ex-wife, lover, mother, all in a mind-numbing channel surf or TV marathon, and the only thing that seems stable is the desire to be someone else, or, a desire to be desirable and to desire.
This is what makes Don a model hero for a prosumer society. Don eventually realizes that his identity is his most valuable commodity. We watch as he manufactures a self, fetishizes his own myth, consumes his own sales pitch, and now at the end of however many seasons, Don ends up in that floating surplus, like a bargain-bin-Walter-Mitty-gray-flannel, dreaming about distance as he looks out a boardroom window.
Try having a conversation with someone without a cultural reference of any kind – it’s hard to do. This includes idioms. In American English our desire for writing narrative rests deep inside the idiom. Mad Men gets this. Its idioms are taglines. The show gets the American obsession with writing the self. The show reads like a bi-coastal myth of mid-century America – an America that is always moving toward California while remembering Plymouth Rock.
“You like the beginning of things” Dr. Faye, the analyst, said to Don in that one episode.
This is why I predict Don will end up (living or dying, or symbolically dying) in California – the newest, now waterless America. I imagine Don drunk-stumbling into the end of The Awakening. He’ll smoke-up deep underneath the water, and blow smoke bubbles up toward the surface. Then he’ll look into the camera and mouth four crisp and refreshing bubbles: “CO” “CA” “CO” “LA”
Dave Hickey loves a good dialectic, and I just began his new book. Hickey begins by defining popular taste against popular desire, but from what I’ve read so far, he avoids the temporality of this bifurcation. For me, contemporary taste defines the new in reference to the past, while desire mythologizes the past in order to seek newness. Taste and Desire then require different depths of engagement with history, and to cultural inscription.
“All humans have a death-drive” Dr. Faye said. “but we can’t sell that.” Psychoanalysis made a built environment out of the human psyche, Freud’s topography is still with us in language and in imagination. The body as architecture is so alluring because it makes us determinate, and even when I write the words taste and desire I feel taste in my mouth and desire in my belly – my neurons are little architects. The word we feel the most is shame. Where do you feel shame, because this is the area where Don makes profit.
Coca-Cola is the realest thing. To describe taste, Hickey invokes Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe screenprints. For Hickey, The Marilyns transpose color and flavor – red and green become cherry and lime – they appeal to both taste and vision.
Here’s a narrative: a baby rattles for milk and grows up to eat taffy at a swimming pool snack shack. She grows up to watch porn stars with bubble-gum-smeared lips. That’s the Ohio I knew and maybe all of what gets called “middlebrow” America. These are the “realest” lives, squished through a wormhole into parody, and out the other end is normcore (if normcore can be described as having an elitist taste for populist taste.)
There is a current print advertisement for Tiffany & Co. featuring a smiling young woman, of course beautiful, and a little girl, also beautiful. The girl is up on the woman’s shoulders. The woman’s blouse is unbuttoned at the collar, effortlessly revealing her collection of tiered diamond necklaces. Her smile dimples around adolescent teeth. “Introducing the Tiffany T Smile” the ad reads, referencing her necklaces. Each necklace is the same shape as the woman’s smile, complete with dimples and diamonds for teeth. The model mom and daughter have the same kind of far-away look –
In Chicago, the man behind the counter at Harlan J. Berk, a dealer of antiquities and rare coins, will, as long as he can keep an eye on you, let you hold a genuine gold bar. “They are terribly nice at Tiffany’s!” I held one yesterday, and I couldn’t get over how this material, if you were to pound it as flat as it could possibly stretch, could cover X number of tennis courts, or decorate a ridiculously expensive cake. Around the corner is Phillip Johnson’s U.S. Bank building. Its lobby is full of gold leaf, like a Reagan-era Ancient Rome built for the tastes of 1987, where this gold now seems so excess, so tasteless, like when you eat gold leaf and realize it has no flavor, it’s a flat cola, and it’s only a chalky, terrible texture on the tongue.
Mad Men appears on AMC Sundays at 10/9c
Watch the Final Episode this Sunday (tomorrow!).