Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

Footnotes of Mad Men: Your Prison, Your School, Your Hospital

The Foucauldian adage goes something like: prisons, hospitals, and schools have the same architecture because they are all centers of confinement. (But is there anything more confining than the suburban nuclear family? Not according to John Cheever or Matthew Weiner!) In Mad Men episode 305, "The Fog," we got a field trip to all three institutions! A sexy school teacher, a surly prison guard and a McMurphy-hating maternity nurse all served as uniformed ambassadors. So how much has changed and how much has stayed the same inside these linoleum-plastered hallways?

§ Sally Draper is acting out and her teacher is concerned. A teacher discussing a student's 'feelings' with parents would be flouting classroom management conventions, and would be part of a progressive new school of teaching. Behaviorial studies of the 50s suggested teachers assume a role of strict authority; if a student was misbehaving, then they were expected to be disciplined, not "counseled," the way Sally's teacher (clumsily) attempted to do. This 1963 guide to the role of a teacher in the classroom is a fine of example of changing attitudes: it encourages teachers to shed their roles as petty despots and "synthesizers of information" and assume a looser, more maternal role.

The ideology in transition recalled this passage about teaching, from Zoe Heller's book on stuffy old teachers and drippy new do-gooders:

Many younger teachers harbour secret hopes of "making a difference"… They, too, want to want conquer their little charges' hearts with poetry and compassion. When I was at teacher training college, there was none of this sort of thing. My fellow students and I never thought of raising self-esteem or making dreams come true. Our expectation did not go beyond the three R's and providing them with some pointers on personal hygiene. Perhaps we were lacking in idealism… We might not have fretted about our children's souls in the old days, but we did send them into the world knowing how to do long division."

There was that lovely contrast of touchy-feelyness with the cold columns of long division on the chalkboard in the background.

§ Speaking of being maternal, Betts has endured a nightmare; meanwhile, Don had his feet up in the cozy solarium. It wasn't until the late 70s that men were regularly allowed in the delivery room. Until then, men's role in a pregnancy, as far the medical establishment was concerned, ended at conception. Before then it was argued in the pages of women's magazines and medical journals that men would "contaminate" the delivery room, both physically and psychologically. Doctors didn't want to encourage the "prurient interests of men." Surprisingly, according to obstetrics historian Judith Walzer Leavitt, the consensus of most men was that they did want to be in the delivery room. In one waiting room guest book, a kind of semi-public library that was kept in expectant father's waiting rooms, one man wrote he wanted to "grab hatchets and chop through the partition" separating him from his laboring wife.
§ Which brings us to the anxious Sing Sing prison guard. Besides being holed up in waiting room, didn't the guy strike you as a bit unstable? Too agitated and erratic even for a papa-to-be. Weird? Actually, no!

From a 1967 study of prison guards:

When the recruit arrives he is plunged into an alien environment, and is enveloped in the situation 24 hours a day without relief. He is stunned, dazed, and frightened. The severity of shock is reflected in 17-hydroxycorticosteriod levels comparable to those in schizophrenic patents in incipient psychosis, which exceeds levels in other stressful situations. The recruit receives little, or erroneous, information about what to expect, which tends to maintain his anxiety.

And then there is our hero/antihero. Though Don's appeal, throughout the show, has been his effortless masculine attitude, he also always is extremely reluctant to engage with other men in the rituals of manhood. We all pace those cold floors alone, I guess.

25 Comments / Post A Comment

Don Draper's Draperisms ("limit your exposure") are clever ways of maintaining one's individuality in the soul-killing "Organizational Man" structure of that era. This episode, with its institutions (and how Don navigates them) is one of my favorites.

Don is my favorite institutional body of confinement.

mathnet (#27)

Was the prison guard pissed and distant while he was wheeling his wife down the hall past Don, or what? (I'm serious. I had to look away for a second and I'm not sure what I saw or didn't see.)

mathnet (#27)

(No, millionaires, I do not have DVR.)

Yeah, he was. I'm thinking that Mr. Prison Guard was being all tough guy, embarassed by the amount of messy emotion he showed to Don while awash on the USS Johnny Walker.

holycalamity (#1,234)

…which makes perfect sense. Though almost-as-plausible alternate explanations I've read are:
1) He already went and strayed on his wife after the child was born
2) They lost the child
3) He's embarrassed to be seen with his wife, whom he implied that he beats up (the part about bringing work home – how else would a prison guard bring his work home?)

narnio (#38)

speaking of the USS Johnny Walker… that bottle looked SURPRISINGLY like the one right here on my desk. Has their image/identity/branding not changed in 50 years? I just took a gander here, and I feel like they might've missed some portion of the historical continuity… the cap on the bottle, at least.

I think he was embarrassed that he displayed such tremendous vulnerability with a stranger. A man at that! Lest he be thought of as some kind of 'mo.

propertius (#361)

Gilbert Highet will make you like Latin poetry.


He's like the Bob Ross of books! Happy verses!

propertius (#361)

Indeed! But seriously, he was a very fine writer, one of the last of the classicists who wrote beautifully instead of in an awful dialect of academese, and his "Poets in a Landscape" might actually make you like Latin poetry. Or at least appreciate it more if you're stuck reading it anyway.

I read a chapter last night. He's a really crisp writer. He was warm but still with the street-wise style? The book seems like it would be great for new teachers. It's all about not letting the institutions stamp out the creativity of teachers.

Abe Sauer (#148)

So true. At the very rural hospital were I was born (now a nursing home! So appropriate!) my dad fought hard to be allowed in the delivery room and finally they gowned him up and let him in (to shut him up probably). But he was the first to ever be allowed.

hhoran (#1,642)

“Don Draper’s Draperisms (”limit your exposure”) are clever ways of maintaining one’s individuality in the soul-killing “Organizational Man” structure of that era.”

While the show does a wonderful job portraying the specific way these things played out mid-60s Madison Ave/Westchester; they are quite generic. The “Joe Cool”/alpha male mannerisms attract the ladies in any day and age (especially if you have a high paying job and Jon Hamm’s looks) and make Roger Sterling-types happy to include you in their club. The play your cards extremely close to your vest/avoid expressing opinions is a smart strategy in any organizational environment where you don’t share all the cultural norms and biases. It is what a 1930’s Draper would have done at a white-shoe law firm, or a 2000’s Draper would have done at a Greenwich hedge fund. All organizations are “soul killing” if you have values/beliefs that violate their norms. Pete’s social background fits, but his nerdy style makes Sterling uncomfortable. Kinsey has the smarts to become a valued member of the firm, but no matter how hard he fakes the prep school accent, his attitude telegraphs the “I’m not one of you, and I really don’t like you” message.

It isn’t clear where the show is going with the Draper character. The larger “man with a stolen/false identity” as a plot device or a metaphor for advertising in general seems to have dropped out of sight, just like Peggy’s baby. Don’s blunt “people think you’re foolish” to Roger, and his taking advantage of the bimbo flight attendant were out of character versus years 1 & 2, but didn’t contribute to any plot/character development either.

OOoo i love the insight! DO DUCK!!

You think Kinsey could cut it? He seems a little more caught up in persona than with actual ideas. Cosgrove strikes me as the most upwardly mobile. He's also the most insufferable but least meddlesome. The Brit bosses seem to like men more like Crane and Cosgrove than Draper and Campbell, you know, servile.

It just dawned on me that Matt Weiner wrote at least one of those dream sequence Soprano's episodes where Tony was in a coma. Does Don Draper — the “man with a stolen/false identity” — bare a vague resemblance to "Kevin Finnerty," a solar heating system salesman from Arizona?

I was thinking that whole time, like, 'Here comes the Tony dream sequence!'

Especially the feather turning into an UNWANTED worm. Re-watch the Melfi dream sequence after her trauma ('Employee of the Month'). Very similar.

We are all citizens of Costa Mesa.

Abe Sauer (#148)

Shit. Now I have to watch this show. Thanks alot.

Replicant Betty (#1,658)

I have been holding my breath for the dream sequences that had me shaking my head during The Sopranos and thinking "ok, one episode with dreams is ok, get all the symbolism out of it, It's cool." To my dismay they went on and on into "Finnerty-reality" which was so horrible I can remember vividly thinking, "This show has now jumped the shark." (wept)
was so hoping not to delve into to many in this series, because there are so many other places to go. We already have Don flashbacks with a dream like quality. Now this with Betty. I really am bummed.

hipstr (#963)

Wait what about the whole "Our inmates played the Yankees thing"? Isn't that footnotable?! You'd think a momentous occasion such as that would be written down somewhere in the annals of sport history.

hhoran (#1,642)

Kinseyâ€"you’re correct, he’s not a first rate ad man. But if an outsider tried to “rationally” assess the smarts/aptitude of the Sterling Cooper junior staff, he’d probably rate highest. Point being that at any professional firm, style and fit with the cultural norms has much more to do with success than “rational” criteria like talent or diligence. If you have superstar talent like Don, different rules apply (thus Sterling shrugs when told he’d not the real Don Draper, or when he vanishes to Palm Springs without telling anyone).
Cosgroveâ€"he got the better half of Duck’s accounts because he’s the senior folk naturally feel more comfortable with than with Pete, but he seems to lack talent and drive. The staged competition is a wonderful device to show a firm like this actually makes the substance versus “fit with cultural norm” tradeoff.
Duckâ€"his role last year nicely illustrated the “sales” vs “talent” tension you find in every professional services firm, also the emotions of someone who reached a certain position of status and power in a firm, and still feels entitled to it, despite the obvious, visible reasons that he lost it. Those emotions made him even more resentful of Don, who is socially inferior and doesn’t have his resume/credentials.
Kevin Finnertyâ€"Tony Soprano had a very clear idea of what he was and where he’d come from; the Costa Mesa dream broke Tony out of his coma and got him back to his real self. Don Draper deliberately abandoned Dick Whitman, and appears to have had good reasons for doing so, and a modern day Dr. Melfi would tell him that abandoning his childhood was a healthy choiceâ€"you didn’t really need to steal Draper’s dogtags, but as long as you’ve cleared that up with his widow, no problem. I thought Betty would hire a divorce lawyer last year, who would discover that Don Draper had already been divorced!

Do you prefer the nickname "The Oracle" or just "Oracle"?

hhoran (#1,642)

Promise me a copy of the book, and any nickname you want is fine with me.

dallasite (#1,297)

Yes, theoretically, Don is "allowed" to transcend his social status within Sterling Cooper but he doesn't do so cleanly or above suspicion. Gene, Pete & Duck are status-conscious and voiced their concerns whereas the non-traditionalists all forgave him. The writers accentuate the undesirable qualities about those who know the truth about Draper, with his defenders, the defenders who forgave him are non-traditionalists like Cooper, Anna Draper, the wedding guest (Connie), & the anti-establishment aristocrat from Palm Springs & somehow lacking (wanting?) as well.

Class consciousness, the Civil Rights Movement, stifling gender roles are employed as effective tensors between characters, accenting that all lies in perception. Is it ironic that Don's character, built on the death of another man, is no more than a manufactured perception that is not true nor false, but no longer authentic, which segues neatly to the disillusionment & anti-consumerism seen in the Counter Revolution, literally the anti-establishment (as hinted in Sally Draper's character)?

Adouble (#1,300)

If Sally Draper become this Counter Revolutionary character, they might as well change the name to "American Pastoral".

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