Responding to Katie Roiphe's argument that we've gone all virtuous since the gin-soaked days of Sterling-Cooper (which arguments in sum Amanda Marcotte termed "so wrong that it makes people physically uncomfortable") people are making the case for our own debauchery:
You'll recall that, writing about "the allure of messy lives" Roiphe contrasted Mad Men's libertine tendencies - romanticized or otherwise - with "the tameness of contemporary sins." Anna did a pretty neat job of debunking one of the central fallacies of this argument yesterday when she made the point that these sins - both vintage and contemporary - are the purview of a select few.
But of course, there's a big swath of America that has neither money for therapy nor time for yoga, and it's hard to say whether they'd recognize themselves in either Mad Men or Roiphe's Pilates-washed view of modern life. When she talks about today's staid cocktail parties ("most people go home with the person they are supposed to go home with") and the wild bacchanals of yesteryear (those held "in the literary circles orbiting the Paris Review"), she's talking about events with pretty select guest lists, whose mores may not say all that much about how "we" as a society live.
Roiphe's insinuations that our repressions are the same as they ever were, but we're just less fun when we cope through escape, is missing the point in the ugliest way. Maybe our escapes are less dramatic because our repressions are so severe. Maybe it's because you can be the 30-year-old secretary without having to convince yourself to give in to a dissatisfying sexual encounter with your drunk boss on the slim hope that he'll up and marry you. Maybe it's because we don't get married at age 20 because someone got knocked up, only to find ourselves restless 10 years later because we never got a chance to experiment a little before settling down. Really, it's sad that we even have to have this discussion, because frankly, it should be obvious.
In Salon, Mary Elizabeth Williams pointed out that in point of fact, "sin" as defined by Team Roiphe is alive and well: "Clearly, Roiphe is unfamiliar with the perfect storm of one-upsmanship that is college students and Twitter updates. (Three words: O. M. G.) It's not just crazy kids, either — an adult woman is no longer automatically tarred with the strumpet brush if she has multiple partners, and the Gallup numbers show a dead equal percentage of self-professed drinkers in the 35-54 age group as the 18-34 one. Katie Roiphe, maybe you're just partying with the wrong people."
And the "dubious fun" question gets more numerical backup from XX's Libby Copeland, who observes,
This is the sort of social commentary that begs for hard data. For instance: If we lack old-fashioned "boozy fluidity," surely that means we're drinking less than we were during Mad Men days. Right? Well, no. According to this new Gallup study, the number of adult Americans who say they drink is currently at its highest recorded level in 25 years. The nation experienced a record low in drinking in 1958, just a few years before the fictional setting for the first season of Mad Men. (For more debunking, see Amanda's recent post on Roiphe's essay). The fact that we go to the gym or that there are a lot of gluten-shunning vegans (Chelsea Clinton!) floating around these days doesn't prove that we don't have fun anymore. I can take any stray anecdote and use it to prove any old point, but that doesn't make it true.
Everything else aside: surely I can't be the only one who's starting to get uncomfy with one TV show coming to epitomize, almost qithout question, an entire and complex era. However accurate the size of the danish on the coffee cart, the spread of the collar or the brand of the cigarettes, it's still a show: generalizing - be it to romanticize or condemn - based on this is starting to feel not just lazy anymore, but irresponsible, too.