One man hates when TV shows try to pull a fast one on the American public.
Brett Berk: As a professional advocate for young children, I've often been a bit ... startled at the way that little Bobby Draper -- the son of adman Don and anomic housewife Betty on the AMC program "Mad Men" -- has been treated.
In Season 1, he was smacked across his juice-stained face by a total stranger for running around inside the house. In Season 2, his mom campaigned hard for him to be spanked, hard, after he allegedly broke the family record player. (Aiming for redemption from his own brutal boyhood beatings, Don chose instead to smash his son's toy robot against the kitchen wall and give his wife a shove.)
In my heart, I can forgive the show for this brutality because I know that that a) these displays are meant to shock us by demonstrating the archaic child-rearing practices of the Jet Set era, b) according to the end-credit disclaimer, No real children were injured in the making of this program, and c) as a parenting guru, I often wish that contemporary parents assumed the tiniest iota of Don and Betty's "authority" instead of pretending that their kid is their best friend or equal (to the adverse effect for all). Plus it's not like the Draper's daughter, Sally, fares much better, getting shamed, locked in a closet, and having her arm twisted, not to mention nearly suffocating in her mom's dry-cleaning bag.
But, in the premiere episode of Season 3, "Mad Men" crossed a line. Unlike many other viewers, I look forward to the bits of the show that feature the younger Drapers, and I waited expectantly for the little buggers to appear. But when they finally did in the episode's final minutes, I was rendered speechless. There, hoisting a giant suitcase onto the foot of Don and Betty's bed, was a child who was obviously meant to be Bobby. But he looked ... different. At first, I suspected that the kid had simply aged, the way that Tina Yothers -- Michael J. Fox's "little" sister from "Family Ties" -- had grown about eleven inches and put on 40 pounds in the show's final years. But in squinting at the screen, I quickly discarded this notion. "They replaced Bobby!" I shouted to my boyfriend, who was too busy hoping Don would get undressed for bed to notice. I punched his leg. "It's a different f*%king Bobby. It's a different kid." Tal shrugged.
The actor had only been on screen for a moment -- devious Matt Weiner was clearly trying to ease us in with a classic bait and switch. But a quick jump over to IMDB proved me correct. The frightened, and mildly anemic looking "Classic" Bobby played by Aaron Hart -- veteran of two seasons of "Mad Men" as well as 52 (!!) episodes of "Guiding Light" -- had been excised, and replaced by a round-cheeked imposter named Jared Gilmore. I felt like that mother in Massachusetts who, on clicking on some scammy online adoption site, found a picture of her own son being offered up as a "cute Canadian boy" living in an orphanage in Cameroon. According to his database listing, little Aaron has moved on to other things -- an upcoming episode of "Ghost Whisperer" most prominent among them. Perhaps he grew depressed by "Mad Men's" depiction of emptiness at the soul of the American family. Perhaps he became befuddled by his dual 1960s/2000s lives, confused as to whether a daily breakfast of fried eggs and bacon would cause him to grow up and become a big strong man, or put him in his grave before sprouting his first pubic hair. Perhaps he simply got tired of being smacked around. Whatever the cause of his departure, I want to go on the record as saying: I noticed. In the immortal words of Angelina Jolie: "This is not my son." Jared Gilmore, you devious little changeling, I'm watching you.
|Brett Berk, M.S. Ed. has worked with young children and their families for over 20 years--as a classroom teacher, preschool director, and research consultant--and is the author of "The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting."|