Monday, September 21st, 2009

Footnotes of Mad Men: American Grit

DRAPE IT"Japan" is the explanation that Bert Cooper offers his British bosses for why they're standing in their socks inside his office. Japan and our role in WWII can also be offered as the explanation for what cinched America's role as the then-new empire. It must be a bit awkward for citizens of the waning imperial power that was England to strip down to their socks together. (Did you notice the armor lurking in the corner of Bert's office? And the buffed knight's suit standing guard in Lane's? Empire-building does come with some marvelous accessories.)

But American destiny is not just our military might after all, according to American mythology. It's our uniquely American character that enabled us to be the chief influence in global affairs. We are allegedly self-made men, free from rigid caste systems of Old Europe. Who knows? The son of whore could grow up to be an ad executive-and a country boy could be hotel magnate.


Conrad Hilton beat back Communism. Well, that what's he joked to a TIME magazine reporter in 1963. One of the main reasons Hilton was able become the head of the inn-keeping empire was because this hotel chain built clean, efficient, new hotels in developing countries where people could meet and "get along with each other."

Hilton was willing to lose some initial profit to gain a foothold into new markets. "We think we are helping out in the struggle that is going on in the cold war today with world travel," says Hilton. "These hotels are examples of free enterprise that the Communists hate to see." He likes to say that "we beat Communism into the Caribbean by ten years," and one of his top financial backers, Henry Crown, adds: "We're second only to the Peace Corps."

CONNIEBut Connie, as he asks his friends to call him, was also a success due to his American charm. He was quick to respond to inquiries put out by po-dunk tourism ministers and would close the deal with face-to-face meetings. From TIME again:

The surprise about Hilton is that he is so much like the guests he caters to. Boyish, candid, trusting, he never fails to be amazed and pleased-even astonished-by the world around him. He cannot get over the speed of jet planes or his possession of a $100 Texas-style Stetson, whose price he mentions to anyone who will listen. He is susceptible to even the most transparent flattery.

So speaking of global expansion, Lane tossed off that 'Pax Romana' line within minutes of the Vietnam reference. Too rich! It precisely captures where the two countries were in their in their jockeying for global influence. The Pax Romana refers to a time when the Roman Empire cooled its heels on the whole military conquest thing and established a level of order in its territories. The empire, for the first time in centuries, was free from civil war or any social disorder on grand scale. Not really the case in 1963 America? We were entering the period of tremendous social upheaval and trying our luck at violent military influence in South East Asia-while, across the pond, pretty much they were putting their feet up after a job well done in WWII.

And so the conquest moves on: out of the farms and into the American suburbs. During the post-war housing boom, suburban homeowners were eager to cultivate turf around their properties. This interest in manicured lawns was not lost on Deere & Company. To meet the demand, the first John Deere lawn tractor (Model 110) was manufactured in 1963.


John Deere has been a symbol of the self-made man for nearly two centuries. Deere was born in Vermont in 1804. He began as a blacksmith, then created a low-cost line of farm tools. When farm equipment entered the age of mass production, tools were marketed as a way to plow one's way to independence from banks and industrial overlords.


Now juxtapose this earthy American grit to the stuffy, predestined men of England. Compare Ken Cosgrove's John Deere account to the recently-maimed Brit ad man Guy McKendrick's claim to fame: Mercedes Benz. Sure, comparing tractors and luxury cars is unfair. Americans, particularly in the mid-century, are subject to all types of castes and smothering subjugation. But England, well, they take the crumb cake on that sort of thing. If baby Eugene Draper had been born in England, with his haitches, he'd have little chance of ever setting foot-or losing it-at a place like Putnam, Powell and Lowe.

21 Comments / Post A Comment

mathnet (#27)


BAAAAH!!!! Brillz.

sunnyciegos (#551)

And the episode was titled "A Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency"!!!

Was Barbie wearing a swimsuit and a fur cap or was that just some kind of hair hat?

I think she was just a brunette. Maybe Betty is like, "her moody dark child, play with the edgy brunette doll."

Also, another thing that just clicked. Did you notice the resume listing when GUY was introduced to Don? A list of all the fancy limey institutions. Yuck.

mathnet (#27)

And then Don picked her out of the front bushes and was like, "I used to fuck her in the Village."

JGP (#1,686)

I liked the scene where the Brits are praising Don's brilliance and he's doodling nonsense on his paper. What was that, anyway? Seems like it should have meant something.

Not trying to belabor the point but it looked like he was drawing 50 stars…

bb (#295)

yep. I slowed it down and it was big stars in the corner of a rectangle. Only better thing would be if he was making a "don't tread on me" flag.

LondonLee (#922)

"If baby Eugene Draper had been born in England, with his haitches, he’d have little chance of ever setting footâ€"or losing itâ€"at a place like Putnam, Powell and Lowe."

Oh rubbish, especially as this is the 1960s we're talking about when pop culture in England was taken over and driven by people who dropped their 'aitches – Michael Caine, David Bailey, Twiggy, The Stones and those Beatles chaps.

PP&L would have been desperate to tap into that. Don should move to London, that's where the creative centre of gravity will be in a couple of years.

Sure, sure. But you think the PPL higher ups would be so enlightened to tap into that? Doesn't seem like it to me.

Don could have marched right in but he's also free from the class restrictions because he's an American. Exotic chap and all.

LondonLee (#922)

Of course it would depend on what sort of job "Gene" was after, an account manager might need a silky tongue and posh manner to dazzle clients with, but on the creative side – believe me, I've worked there – talking common and being a bit rough around the edges is an asset.

You write like a Brit. Will you be my pen pal? ;)

hhoran (#1,642)

The TIME article on Conrad Hilton got a bit of the history wrong. Hilton’s overseas hotels were mostly in big western cities (London, Paris, Rome). Intercontinental Hotels, a subsidiary of Pan Am focused on second and third world locales (Bucharest, Medellin, Beirut). Pan Am was one of the rare mid-century US companies following the old world Colonial/Empire model, and as a result, never made money unless massively protected (or subsidized) and collapsed quickly once fully exposed to market forces.

Hilton’s overseas hotels were designed to be the place where the Roger Sterlings and Trudy Campbells of the world would feel comfortable. Rich Americans who wanted to dip a toe into postwar Europe without sacrificing the protective comforts of Westchester would stay at the Paris Hilton. The authentic local luxury hotels (like the George V in Paris where Bert Cooper would have stayed) were non-chain establishments with distinct characters and histories. Midge Daniels would have stayed at a wonderfully cheap and charming place on the Left Bank but the communal toilets would have been down the hall.

Unlike Intercontinental, Hilton was part of the US trend to highly branded and homogeneous products (McDonalds, Holiday Inn). While it is easy to look down on the boring/vanilla products, the real value (as with McDonalds) was the vastly improved efficiency and product consistency, which allowed exports of American products (be they hotels or tractors) to overwhelm the local competition. British firms were owned by “clubbable” gentlemen like Harold and Saint John, and run by narrow-minded mandarins like Lane. They were more sensitive to local culture (Lane could adapt to New York and Bombay, while Hilton’s middle-American style was totally obtuse) but utterly incapable of producing cheap, reliable mass-market products.

The key comment about Conrad Hilton from TIME in terms of the show’s plot development "He's the most naive man for his experience I've ever seen; he will not believe that anyone would tell an untruth.". The show has raised the relationship of Don and other characters (and advertising in general) to “the truth” without really addressing it.

That was one of my favorite quotes from the peace. Perhaps a nod to future tensions between Don and Con? Known from here on out as ConDon!

Marco Sparks (#1,685)

Mad Men Footnotes, I love you so hard.

propertius (#361)

So, we can add tractors to chemistry on the list of things that produced "better living".

The tractors may have gotten us more wheat, and chemicals made good sprays, but chemicals also didn't improve baking any, you could say they made it worse. So it's a case of the improving industries (at least partly) cancelling each other out.

Chemicals created CK One. I see no problem here.

propertius (#361)

Calvin is a wizard of chemistry. And when he shakes his sleeves, underwear models appear. As seems to have happened overnight, because a new one was sighted this morning on a kiosk.

Well, rather, I sighted him. We should eliminate the passive voice, right?

fnarf (#1,695)

Brits have tractors too, you know. And that John Deere was not a tractor; it was a lawnmower, the first ever riding one, and was designed and sold solely to Ossiningites and their peers in suburbia, not to farmers. Farmers have no use for lawns.

They also don't smell very good.

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