Burn Down Monks

Betty Draper’s dad died on June 11, 1963. This date is 8 days after the death of Pope John XXIII, upon which Peggy’s mom commented, and the date on which Thich Quang Duc burned himself to protest the Ngo Dinh Diem administration’s treatment of Buddhist monks.

One Catholic leader died, while another continues to slide the path towards his own.

Slate’s review (http://www.slate.com/id/2225274/entry/2227536/) complains about the “heavy-handed” death scene, with the adults sitting around the table, condemning their daughter’s emotional outburst while scenes of Vietnam air on the television.

But I think the real message was from what little Sally yelled: “He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s really really gone, and he’s never coming back.”

Because the world is gone. The world as they knew it is gone. And it is never coming back. June 11 marks the day upon which the conflict in Vietnam first entered American living rooms. It is also the day when Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the door of the University of Alabama to protest integration. And I’m sure there is something subtle about Vatican II and the death of John XXIII. The world is changing.

Like Betty, and her insistence that she is her father’s little girl when he attempts to talk about his end of life planning, these characters want to be treated like children and remain oblivious to the fact that the world is not static. They want to hide because it bothers them.

However, it will take the younger generation to implore upon them that their previous world is gone, gone, and never coming back. The gap between the adults and Sally will come forth full scale with the Vietnam and Civil Rights marches, with youth riots, and the rise of youth culture. Perhaps it all could have been avoided if Betty had just hugged her daughter upon receiving the news of grandpa’s death, rather than marching inside and closing the door behind her.

The coming conflicts become all the more apparent when one goes back and watches the conversation between Bobby and grandpa about war.

“War is bad.”

“Yeah, but it makes a man out of you.”

Given his age, Bobby (or at least kids his age) will end up serving in Vietnam. While Grandpa Gene may relish in his World War I years, despite how violent and pointless the war was, for some reason he can take pride from it. The only Vietnam vets who seem to love their time there are politicians who want it on their resume. 

What is the difference? Is Bobby’s generation more self-aware? Are Grandpa Gene’s senility and constant strokes a metaphor for his generation? Or was Vietnam just a different war?

As part of this conversation, Gene tries to give Bobby a German soldier hat from WWI, one of those hilarious stereotypes with the spike on top. However, Don tries to stop him. Despite the obvious parenting conflict, which is a large message of this episode, this scene has two interesting points. First, Don critiques the helmet as “a dead man’s hat.” As the Salon review says, Don is the one actually wearing a dead man’s hat, living under the stolen name from a fallen peer in the Korean War. Second, Gene backtracks from his comment of “here’s where I shot him,” (or something like that) pointing to the bullet hole, to saying that there were a lot of people shooting at a lot of other people, and he doesn’t know whether he got him or not. War is not a battle between men. 

And maybe that is why Don is so uncomfortable with war. He knows people. He knows the stories we want in our lives, our hopes, dreams, etc. But that is not what war is, despite the glamour that media and commerce throws upon it.

Anyways, I was going to comment on the parenting throughout the episode, but I think I’ll end here. 

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One response to “Burn Down Monks

  1. I’m so glad you’re doing this. now I can procrastinate even more.

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