What? We’re All the Same

The UMF production of Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano” was an excellent portrayal of the absurd, while not losing its audience. The comedic aspect of the play was effective, since some of the exchanges between the characters mirrored life. The opening scene between Mrs. Smith and her newspaper-reading husband was almost a familiar trope, where the husband acknowledges the wife he isn’t listening to go on and on about something to fill the silence. In this particular instance, Mr. Smith comments on the fact that the ages of the newborn are never listed but the ages are always listed in the obituaries. Mrs. Smith agrees with him which is perplexing because though she may be expected to agree as a wife, the age of a newborn baby is obvious. The conversation only gets more absurd when Mr. Smith announces the death of Bobby Watson. It would be assumed that he read it in the newspaper in his hands but then it seems he died a long time ago – but the length of the time always changes. Then there is a clarification between the couple to determine who exactly died. They use relationships to describe who is who which is generally how people would figure out who they’re talking about. In this case, all of the people they’re talking about are named Bobby Watson which gets funnier as you realize that literally everyone in this family has the same name. Again, this is almost how real life would be – just one or two things are off. The rest of the play progresses much the same.

There are increasingly more absurd moments, but a good portion of the interactions are nearly conventional. The end of the play is when it gets really weird. The characters start chanting common phrases but they lose all reality. The set reflects this break with flickering lights and the breaking of the clock. Had the play started out so odd, the audience would have been lost. The buildup of absurdity was steady enough to make it practically expected that the characters could lose their minds. Had the play ended after the lights went dark, the end would be a neat and tidy shipment to the looney bin. That is why I think the end is the best part – the repetition of the beginning of the play with Mr. and Mrs. Martin (if that’s who they really are) doing the same thing as the Smiths makes the audience question what everything they’d seen means. How many times do people sit in their living rooms knitting or reading the paper and have the same conversations? This production compared to the script we read in class was funnier, because watching the absurd is easier than reading it. The characters were Americanized which doesn’t make too much of a difference because if the Martins can replace the Smiths, their nationality doesn’t matter very much. This could be translated into any language and be relatable since the themes are universal.

Ornamental Mad Men

The meat of the argument Roland Barthes makes in “Ornamental Cookery” is that the poor readers of Elle are not entitled to “real dishes,” which is why the magazine whose audience is primarily “small income groups” showcases such pretty, impractical dishes like partridges with cherries.

Like pink chicken, Barthes thinks that something isn’t quite right with the food presented in Elle. The food has a “smooth coating” that hides an unimportant “interdeterminate bedrock.” There are glazed, rounded surfaces, sauces, creams, icing, jellies, and a penchant for a pink theme throughout the tableau. It’s what’s on the outside that matters. The final presentation is the important part of the dish – the dish must show the “working class” public gentility through sight, not attainability. They’re poor, so they can’t actually buy a partridge, and even cherries are expensive. The chef puts a little sauce over the fowl and just like that, the “brutality of meat” is disguised. The meal is made respectable, what the masses want to be. Here, the practical and primary use of food is secondary to the myth of ornamental cookery. The consumption that’s happening is of pictures of the food, not the actual food.

If you’re thinking of pictures in a magazine that are good enough for consumption, then you might think of AMC’s Mad Men. The aesthetic is like a polished version of history far enough back that most of us only have hand-me-down memories of it, but close enough that it seems somehow attainable. Nearly every scene in the series is perfectly framed, the colors are coordinated, and it is all just pleasing. Even mundane settings like driving in a car or taking a meeting in a conference room seem to be a study in composition. The characters themselves are works of art, there is no detail spared. It always seems that the characters are frequently lost in thought, holding a smoking cigarette, which adds to the “cool” vibe.

Don Draper makes millions of dollars, has beautiful wives and girlfriends, and is considered to be one of the brightest stars of the advertising agencies where he is a partner. He has fine suits, a stream of new, nice cars, and (later) a fancy apartment. On the outside, he has everything and is massively successful. Everything always works out in the end for Don Draper.

His job and lifestyle is enviable – but unattainable to nearly everyone around him. He is thought of as a genius, effortlessly coming up with ideas that blow away clients with little to no preparation while it seems Pete and Ken are always working. His love life isn’t always happy but he always has hope for a romantic encounter, unlike Harry Crane (or most of the men at one time or another). Much like the boring or savage part of the meal under the glazing or glacé, he is made better with the ornamentation of all his achievements. The audience is able to overlook his flaws to consume his life as a whole.

Even though Don has a few terrible qualities, somehow a good mind and lots of luck let him coast through life, doing everything right even though he never seems to do anything and at times seems to sabotage himself. He is the artistically composed cherry covered partridge. He came from nothing, though, so isn’t he more attainable to the average working man? Not quite. When his past is revealed, it isn’t in the form of an inspiring come-up to where he is now but something that is terrible and needs to be repressed. An average man could never do the same, even the characters that come from money aren’t as successful as Don Draper. Are we not worthy of someone who has a smaller degree of success but who achieves it in a more natural, human manner? Would that be as interesting?

Anyway, what are the chances you get the chance to switch dog tags with your commander in Korea so that you can simultaneously fake your death and get a new identity? I wouldn’t count on it.