Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mo and Me

I've been trolling around the blogosphere, looking at other blogs about culture, posting comments, trying to drive traffic to this blog, because I have like 4 readers and you all happen to be on my speed dial. I mean, it's only my best friends reading at this point, but what good is a blog if strangers don't come along and post nasty comments?

In any case I found Maureen Ryan's blog. She's the TV critic for the Chicago Tribune. She posted a long interview with the creator of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner. It's a thoughtful (and long!) article and interview, but in it they try to expain the character Sal, the only gay character, and frankly I think this character, how he's written and acted, is the one flaw of the show. Below is what they said in the interview, and then follows my dialog with Maureen Ryan.

Article says:

Sometimes the characters’ choices are not what you would expect, because human nature is not as predictable as more conventional dramas would have you believe.

At first glance, Salvatore Romano (Bryan Batt), a closeted gay art director at Sterling Cooper, appears to be the ultimate Manhattan sophisticate. Nothing would faze this dapper, worldly man — or so you might think. But Romano freezes up when a client makes a subtle but unmistakable pass at him, and quickly flees the scene.

"I knew I wanted Sal to be tempted," Weiner says. "But then I started thinking, ‘Well, what does Sal know so far? Who is Sal? Is Sal ready for this? And what does the audience expect?’"

As Weiner says, the drama would have far less impact if the characters’ actions didn’t have very real consequences. Draper lives in fear of being revealed as a fraud. Despite her husband’s infidelity, Betty is terrified at the prospect of losing her home and her marriage, having never fended for herself. And for Sal Romano, a gay man in 1960, the consequences of being outed at work would be severe, if not catastrophic.

“The guy says, ‘What are you afraid of? And Sal says, ‘Are you joking?’ Like, ‘My whole life is at stake here.’ And that is never taken seriously,” Weiner says. “The same way [infidelity] is never taken seriously – what would really happen if you were having an affair and your wife found out and you could lose your whole life? I went out of my way on an episode level to tell those stories with that in mind.”

And I said:
Great review and interview. I'm sure you've written about this before, but what also makes the show brilliant is the art direction, even the sound. Those typewriters, those cigarette lighters, the clicking of the heels.

One very small nit to pick. I don't think you have it right, or the writers have it right about Sal and his hesitance to take that guy up on his pass. See, Sal is *constantly* making these really obvious double entendres that no one notices. Therefore the character would have some self-awareness about being gay. But refusing an invitation from someone he was obviously attracted to, someone who could pretty much guarantee discretion. . . well it might fly if we had come to believe that Sal was miserable and repressed, but that's not how he's portrayed with his glib little remarks. His refusal was out of character.

And then she said:
Mark, regarding Sal, I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I think he was afraid of the repercussions of acting on his feelings. I'm sure he's known he's gay most of his life, but he is just too afraid to do anything about it.

Someone can come off as well adjusted and more or less happy day to day, yet be afraid to act on impulses having to do with sex and desire, especially when those impulses might get him fired, and he knows that full well

To which I replied and she replied back:
Thanks, Mo. I appreciate your comment.
I do see how he could be petrified of being fired in a way that gay people today (like myself) possibly can't imagine, because in most places it's different now, but then I have one question: how do you explain his constant double entendres? Isn't he playing with fire? Interestingly, and true to your theory, he does go out of his way on occasion to fake heterosexuality, but isn't he worried that one of the guys will pick up on his remarks? See I think the writers have two different characters in mind with Sal: a campy art director, and a super closted, fearful ad man, but they're trying to have it both ways with Sal, because TV typically affords only one major gay character in a series. Let's just see if he doesn't end up dead which is what usually happens, as Vito Russo so brilliantly examined in The Celluloid Closet. Not much has changed, really, on that front.

[Mo here: I take your point. They do seem to go out of their way to make it clear to present-day viewers of the show that Sal is gay. It's abundantly clear that he is. Yet I'm not so sure I agree that he's making constant double entendres. I know he's always making witty remarks, but to me the majority of them don't have a subtext indicating that he's gay. Plus you have to balance those kind of remarks with his willingness to kiss Joan, and do other things that'll make the guys think he's straight. Also, I think the show is just pointing out how clueless most people were in that day and age -- and how little the subject of homosexuality was even broached. The guys at Sterling Cooper probably never mention the topic, and quite literally don't know it when they see it -- or if they do see it, purposely ignore it.

So if I were to leave one final word--and I'm trying not to have the final word, not to be "that guy" who can't leave it alone--I would say, "are you f'ing kidding me? Listen to Sal! he can't say one thing without it meaning another, usually a comment on the male anatomy." Then I realized the writing is brilliant if it's even getting by the straight audience. Sal is only as suggestive as he can be; his comments are so subtle only the gay guys are getting them. I'll publish some examples soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I'm a "Mad Men" addict and couldn't agree more with your Sal analysis. HIs refusal of sex in that scene just doesn't add up, struck a false, hollow note I rarely experience while viewing. Me thinkst they don't got no gays on the writing staff, so me also thinkst you should write them and volunteer.