An incomplete Mad Men download becomes something sort of … beautiful? Conor McGarrigle, a Dublin based artist, has set a jumping, pixelated, corrupted bittorrent file of fan favorite Mad Men to the poignant sounds of “The Grass Harp,” a song by Silje Nes. McGarrigle describes the video as an “aesthetically beautiful byproduct,” a visualization of the practice of filesharing in a transitory in-between state.
I know I’m just a huge Mad Men fan, but the intrigue of the video has very little to do with the communal act of filesharing and everything to do with the nature of the men and women fractured in its process. I suppose anyone could watch this video, even with no knowledge of Mad Men, and find it aesthetically pleasing (to be fair, the most banal of video feeds could seem meaningful when properly set to Silje Nes’s “The Glass Harp”). But for me, it’s the brokenness and fragility of these well-loved characters that makes it so affecting.
McGarrigle’s corrupted bittorrent file, nothing unusual or exceptional in itself, feels like a reminder of how far away this time really was - more so than just the strange sight of watching a pregnant Betty Draper socialize with a cigarette in one hand and a martini in the other. Mad Men’s characters live in a different world, and while we’re invited to listen in, to be fascinated and enthralled, its characters are not up for debate - they have already lived the bulk of their lives a half century ago, already made their mistakes, already navigated the psychological wasteland of 1950’s American social structure.
The quiet simplicity of the mid-twentieth century that Mad Men expresses so perfectly is no longer possible, but that’s because it never actually was quite possible, especially then - as every season has shown (especially its most recent, as Mad Men lurches towards the late 1960’s), it was never so black and white. Below the smiles and the 1950’s shiny veneer, there’s a crippling brokenness to every major character that makes it both thrilling and heartbreaking to watch them maneuver the suffocating social confines of their era. McGarrigle’s video has caught them at their most vulnerable, reveals their fragility and fractures, reminds us that we can only ever catch glimpses of the scratchy jumping video feed of the real lives lived out not so long ago.