First, this might be one of the best exegeses of Christopher Hitchens I have come across. Money quote:
And sure enough, Hitchens’ anti-religious arguments feel the least heartfelt — the least, well, Hitchens-esque — when they’re couched in the language of scientism. (I’m thinking, in particular, of his grating and forced rhetorical habit of referring to human beings as “mammals” or “primates” in the course of these polemics …)
Whereas they feel entirely authentic when they’re couched as “aux armes, citoyens“ rallying cries in the struggle against tyranny. Hitchens is never more himself (for better or worse) than when he’s railing against the supposed cruelties of Benedict XVI, or comparing God to Kim Jong-Il. In this sense, he’s really less of an atheist than an anti-theist: Whereas Dawkins and co. are appalled by the belief in God, Hitchens is far more appalled by the idea that anyone would want to obey Him. Every true romantic needs a great foe, a worthy adversary, a villain to whose destruction he can consecrate himself. Never one for half measures, Hitchens just decided to go all the way to the top.
Second, an interesting take on how Mad Men compares to its fellow high-brow serialized television shows. Not having watched Breaking Bad, I cannot comment on the veracity of his specific comparisons, but I really liked this summation of the inherent challenges the show faces:
There’s no question that “Mad Men” is the most ambitious artistic effort on television at the moment. The show aims to be sociological and psychological all at once, simultaneously immersing the audience in a fully-realized historical setting and populating that setting with characters whose interior lives rival Tony Soprano in complexity and depth. In this sense, it’s trying to marry the strengths of both “The Sopranos” and “The Wire” — its recreation of Madison Avenue in the 1960s is a more extensive exercise in world-building than David Chase’s portrait of the turn-of-the-millenium Jersey mob, and it pays more attention to its characters’ inner lives than David Simon’s urban drama ever did. What’s more, in a sense “Mad Men” has to work twice as hard as either of those shows to hold the audience’s interest, because it doesn’t have any obvious genre conventions to play with — it’s neither a mob drama nor a cops-and-robbers story, and with the exception of the occasional lawnmower accident, it can’t rely on the constant threat of violence to keep the viewer hooked. It has to rely instead on the drama of ordinary life (or at least ordinary life, circa 1963), which means that it’s always in danger of teetering into soap-opera territory, or else leaving the audience wanting more excitement than an ad agency’s social dynamics can supply.
This bifurcated approach is not just a burden because of the work it entails, but also because the two halves are so interdependent that they cannot stand on their own. The Wire delivered a whole season without McNulty, but Mad Men starts to crumble whenever Don Draper slides out of focus or it gets too involved in its characters it loses sight of the larger milieu. I think, despite the hurdles it faces, Mad Men still delivers more frequently than not and CF and others would do well to take Douthat’s advice and push through their knee-jerk distaste. Even the sociological half (which I think is the weaker of the two) is much more subtle than the scolding-through-hindsight it initially appears to be.