You Have to Assume Everyone is Terrible at Understanding Art
This scene from Mad Men, between Don Draper and Michael Ginsberg, has been memed endlessly since it aired. Draper and Ginsberg are both creatives, they're both ambitious, they butt heads, they have this exchange in the elevator. Score a point for Don Draper! What a cool insult. It's lived on like few things from the show. People share this exchange endlessly. I'm pretty sure I saw it on YouTube with the title “The Ultimate Putdown” or something like that.
So what's the problem? The problem is that this episode of Mad Men demonstrates relentlessly that Don is obsessed with Ginsberg, showing his stated indifference to be a sad lie. This is stuck right in front of the viewer’s face. He's thinking about nothing else than Ginsberg that episode! And he's doing it because Ginsberg is a young gun who really just might be better than Don. Indeed, a key plot point in this arc is that Don intentionally discards Ginsberg's work even though it's better than Don's, sacrificing the good of the ad agency and the client and the work itself for the sake of his own ego. And this is the ultimate put down?
In this sense, the meme shared here is correct, just not in the way its creator or this Twitter account thinks - Americans want to think of themselves as very cool people who float above the fray, when in fact we tend to be obsessive about the world's adulation and embarrassed about the ways our systems are worse, such as in healthcare, crime, and public transit. Our showy indifference is a coping mechanism for being so powerful and unable to solve basic problems other countries solve. I don't mean to pick on this guy; I just went looking for a recent use of this image.
Worth saying that this is a microcosm of misreading the entire show. So many Mad Men fans seem to think that the point is to find Don suave and cool. But in fact Don Draper is pathetic, a broken man, a weak, depressive liar and alcoholic who can't stop setting fire to his own life and hurting everyone around him. There's nothing admirable about him but his crisp suits. I suppose it's just the power of the protagonist. I remember in season six, when Don was falling down drunk and in danger of losing his job, a lot of people complained “I want the old Don back.” But undermining that vision of success is the most consistent artistic trait of the series. That the idealized Don Draper doesn't and can't exist is the whole fucking point of the show! It's about advertising, which is to say, empty artifice, dishonest spectacle, deception. And that's right there on the surface. It's all especially funny because the kind of people who like Mad Men tend to be the kind of TV fans who see themselves as sophisticates.
See also the notorious case of Sopranos fans who think the point of the show is that Tony is a very cool guy. David Chase had to get more and more frantic over the course of the series demonstrating that Tony is both a monster and a kind of mentally stunted child, petulant and self-destructive, and plenty of people still don't get it. I once saw another YouTube video titled something like “Tony Explains What It's All About - Family.” Among many other things, Tony tried to suffocate his own mother!
Anyway. I'm mostly just annoyed to still be seeing that meme. But I recognize that I'm shouting into the wind. People will take from art whatever they choose to see. Me very much included.