Midge’s reappearance last season had me thinking about Bohemia, the Village, the Underground.
Midge is the former middle-class girl who wants to be an artist. We’ve all known someone like Midge and, often, she’s seen as a poseur. (Why is being middle class in and of itself is automatically considered suspect in artistic circles? Lots of great artists and revolutionaries came from the middle-class, after all. But never mind…) The idea of the pure artist is that you’re making art for no other reason than to put beautiful things out in the world. You don’t need to get paid for it. In fact, you shouldn’t. On the other hand, there’s that famous quote: Art without commerce is a hobby. Yet the contempt for money and business is still present in artsy and spiritual circles, as if being above the need to pay the rent and eat made us superior!
Midge represents the hobo side of Don. The side of him that is attracted to the edge, to the Other, to the Iconoclast. A world of free love, of freedom, of breaking society’s established mores. At first, she, too, was dabbling with that world. Now she’s delved into it so deeply that she’s gone over the edge. Midge and her friends have always looked down on Don. They see him as a guy in a suit with pretensions of being creative because he’s in advertising. The rub is that Don actually knows more about being down and out, a bona fide downcast outcast. (A perfect example of the arrogance of judging people by appearances.) Don comes from a much more hardscrabble childhood, that took place during the Depression, a time of true scarcity.
There’s a close connection between art and suffering. On some level a lot of us believe that in order to be true artists, we have to suffer. In the modern world, being homeless and hungry is true suffering. But it is the kind of sacrifice that often—though not always—people are more willing to make if they’ve never experienced lack or want in their lives. My artist friends from working class backgrounds don’t quit their day jobs. They keep creating but first they make sure they have enough to pay the rent and the utilities.
Don has graduated to a world into which he doesn’t have to worry about money. He is not rich but he’s well-paid and he’s assured of a paycheck. Nevertheless it is interesting to note that after his divorce, he chooses to live in the Village. Back in the 60s, Greenwich Village was still a neighborhood with Bohemian and working-class roots. Families could still afford the rents there. In fact, it was a bit shabby. Notice too, that the apartment he chooses is rather miserable. (Or is that just me who thinks so?) Why didn’t Don go for the glitzy bachelor pad, like the ones pictured in the glossy pages of Playboy? He certainly looked the part, plus he had the salary, the career, and the tattered resume of a real ladies’ man.
Why doesn’t Don live in glamor? On some level, yes, at the end of his marriage he is lost. On some level, yes, he is returning back home. It’s the season in which Don first openly confesses who he really is to a woman he’s sleeping with and the season in which he comes closest to being found out. It’s as if he were moving closer and voluntarily toward the edge of destruction. And then he escapes into another fantasy, into the arms of another woman, one who will presumably balk at living in such dark and inhospitable quarters.