Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Footnotes of Mad Men: How You Get Your News

Not to be contrary for the sake of it-because what can you say about November 22, 1963 that hasn't already been borrowed three times over?-but the Kennedy family has only limited emotional resonance for those of us born to the baby boomers. This is particularly true for those of us who grew up in the West, far beyond the sway of East coast political dynasties. Sure, we can identify the Kennedys as a cultural shift, as style icons, as political talking points. We can also relate to the transformational power of their tragedies-hypnotic television coverage, live carnage, and, last night, an unmoored Betty Draper unable to make sense out of any of it. But for us now, that afternoon Dallas is more illustrative of something else: the swift and unscrupulous pace of history. Particularly, recent American history and how it is so phenomenally compressed. In just one generation, the psychic trauma of RFK and JFK has been largely erased. So maybe Don Draper's aloof attitude is enlightened rather than repressive: "Everything's going to be OK. We'll have a new president. And everyone is going to be sad for a little bit."

KISSINGBut stoIcism aside, there was a reference to the Kennedys in this episode that is not often discussed: the death of Jackie's baby while in office. In August 1963, a special press briefing was held to announce Jackie's fifth pregnancy. Ted Kennedy's wife was also pregnant, so he was chosen to deliver the news. Before, a reporter asked Ted if he was going to confirm the President's rumored upcoming trip to Ireland. "No," Kennedy said. "It's much sexier than that." The baby, Patrick, was born five weeks premature with respiratory problems. He survived two days in a glass incubator and was then buried in a cemetery in Massachusetts.

§ To understand how news of that day would reach a young bride sequestered in her hotel room or a secretary who had her radio off, let's look at the numbers.

Out of a group of 500 people that were polled ten days after the assassination, the majority reported learning about the shooting from other people-either by phone, by a co-worker or out while shopping or eating. Almost half said they learned about it first directly from another person.

Nine out of ten respondents said they knew about the shooting within an hour. Their reaction was to then use mass media to confirm what they had heard. Researchers suggested that the data showed that news of immense importance is most likely to be disseminated person-to-person than less important news. This ran contrary to earlier studies that suggested mass media disseminated important news faster than interpersonal communication. Which makes the wedding table chatter about 'what those phone operators were really up to' when phonelines in entire cities went dead perfectly in step.

79% of these people surveyed knew about the death within 15 minutes; the last person to hear about the assassination was someone who heard the news three hours later, at 1:30 p.m. Could you imagine what that guy's story was? Additionally, the majority of the respondents said they learned more from the radio rather than the television.

§ Speaking of numbers, what about the almost-too-precious poetry of Betty's favorite movie: Singing in the Rain, then 11 years old. (Notable movies of 1963, by the way? They include: The Birds and Hud.) The title song, and the best number in the movie, is set at night; Kelly is alone, for the most part, doing what you would expect. He is impervious to the elements because of his cheerful mood. Beyond the intricacy of the dance, perhaps one of the reasons why that scene is so indelible is because it's what so many Americans wanted from the movies: a quick respite from the hard rain falling outside, alone, in the dark.

You can always find more Footnotes, with your hostess Natasha Vargas-Cooper, here!

63 Comments / Post A Comment

mathnet (#27)

Pete in a turtleneck! Talking about insensitive people!

"What do you want me to do, Don? Keep it from them?"

Duck ripping the cord out of the plug!

Betty going out 'to clear her head'!

Roger having Joanie's new phone number memorized! (Right? Greg didn't move into her old apartment, did he?)

Best throwaway line:

Roger: "Keep an eye on my wife."
Bert: "Oh, I will"

or something totally dismissive.


mathnet (#27)

But "Pee-Wee" is worse than "Tweetie." :(

davidwatts (#72)

Best line goes to Roger.

[to his wife's yell to "GO AWAY!"]: "What are you gonna do, kill yourself?"

Just at once dismissive, parental, and sort of weirdly charming. ROGER!

mathnet (#27)

"Would you keep an eye on her?"


cherrispryte (#444)

I am not alone in desperately wanting Joan and Roger to get back together, right?

mathnet (#27)


adriana (#1,654)

It's a freaking party.

mathnet (#27)

Also thanks for talking about the Kennedys' dead baby because I hadn't even realized he'd been born alive and made it two days! I'd always thought she'd miscarried that pregnancy. (I was born in '76.)

After the baby died, she took some time off to recover and had a short vacation with her sister I think….on Onassis's yacht.


Could you imagine that happening now? With a first lady being all,
"Hey, Barack, I'M ON A BOAT."

She had a stillborn birth in 56!

There was/is a rumor that Jack gave her chlamydia and that is why she had difficult pregnancies and miscarriages.

LondonLee (#922)

The best moment for me was Don walking through the SC office with no idea what was going on and hearing all the phones ringing, then they all went dead.

What on earth is Peggy going to tell her children when they ask where she was when she heard Kennedy had died?

mathnet (#27)

OMG totally!

mathnet (#27)

It was so great hearing her use Don's printer line (in such a wrong, obvious way)!


(name of my swing band)

mathnet (#27)


mathnet (#27)

When Betty finds Don rocking Baby Eugene back to sleep and she says, "I thought you'd left," what is she talking about? Left for work?


mathnet (#27)

Did Connie ever own an ad agency?

belltolls (#184)

According to this article – — Mad Men writers did research on this and Hilton did shop for an ad agency around this time. In other Connie related news, Steve Hilton remembers the "moon" Hilton:

"But I do remember when I was a young boy we had a party at our house and the theme was the Lunar Hilton. It was all about putting a Hilton on the moon. There were posters of a hotel on the moon."

Awwww it's like the glow in the dark stars in my room! But CRAZIER

mathnet (#27)


BTW when the "Sully" Sullenberger TV movie is made, Chelcie Ross should totally play him.

mathnet (#27)

And Elisabeth Moss should play Emily Gould. (Because she'll obviously be in that movie, right? But I mean, I think of Emily Gould pretty much every Sunday night between 10 and 11 PM and then again between 11 PM and midnight–don't you??)

Emily (#20)

Usually I am thinking about Mad Men during that time actually

mathnet (#27)

Does Duck have enough money to buy Sterling Cooper?

He spends it all on gin and silk scarves for his lady.

Also, what a goddawful underminer the roomie is!

mathnet (#27)

"Then why are you dating him?"

But Peggy gives it right back! "I think it's good that you're being picky finally."

cherrispryte (#444)

the Peggy/Roomie convo was fantastic.

adriana (#1,654)

I liked how they brought her back. We were all so sure they'd be mismatched and it would be a terrible roommate situation (we've all been there, right??), but it's so cute! They're going to lunch together and throwing sharp comebacks at each other! BFFLs.

sigerson (#179)

What is up with the casting links with Californication? Peggy's roommate is played by the porn actress Daisy that Runkel agented last year. And this year's Dean Koontz's wife is played by the same actress who plays the wife of the English office manager.

dallasite (#1,297)

@sigerson: As Teddy K would say there was a "need to synchronize and … to synergize."

oudemia (#177)

@Sigerson: And she was the main gal on Undeclared, too, no?

mathnet (#27)

I would just like to express my dismay that we have to see Suzanne again next week.

mathnet (#27)

Oh! So do we know for sure who the hang-up call was a couple of episodes ago? Both Suzanne and Henry denied it. Are they both telling the truth? Was it Anna?


mathnet (#27)


mathnet (#27)


berthamason (#740)

Did we ever find out to whom Don sent the Frank O'Hara poetry at the beginning of season 2? Was it MENCKEN? Anna?

Mencken must return. This will happen.

mathnet (#27)

He sent it to Anna.

sigerson (#179)

It was the Jewish department store heiress, OBVIOUSLY.

belltolls (#184)

I have to keep in mind that this is a TV show, this Mad Men, but it is awfully good. There were some things last night in the set design that really stood out: Is there any 1960s suburban family room that didn't have a braided circular throw rug and an afghan on the couch (not the dog, the hooked multi-colored yarny thing that was actually kind of itchy?)

Well the Drapers do. See the 1967 George Lois Esquire cover of the kid on the braided rug watching the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on the TV — and the absolute addiction to the television coverage (every waking second) was spot on.

I don't mean to nitpick but Betty could not have reacted immediately to the Oswald killing — you couldn't have known what was going on. TV cameras and televisions were not all crispy HD and if the announcer hadn't said Oswald had been shot you would not have known by the images. The eyes never would have seen it anyway: you didn't have murders on television (fictional or real) and it would have taken several seconds of WTF to know what happened.

Sorry. I should just join one of those online Mad Men chat rooms and get a funny name like: DonDraperLives, BettysRevenge or LovesToDrinkAndSmoke.

adriana (#1,654)

I dunno, that gunshot came through loud and clear.

belltolls (#184)

Well sure last night in AMC-digital-enhanced-audio-external-speakers-below-the-massive-flat-screen it did but back in 1963 (come time travel with me) it didn't…like at all…unless the dog barked and I missed it. Also TV tubes when they heated up or burned out had the coolest smell.

adriana (#1,654)

What is this world?! Can we please time travel back? Why can't I rewind Oswald's murder on my DVR??

belltolls (#184)

Okay. I placed an video call to my aged mother (yes, she has all her marbles and she is very handy with the computer and knows how to do video calls on Messenger) and she informs me that I could not have possibly been watching when Oswald was killed because my father took us to a football game that day (Green Bay v. San Francisco at Milwaukee County Stadium) but she was watching and new immediately that Oswald had been shot and heard the shots and knew before the announcer said, "Oswald has been shot." She also says she had the same reaction as Betty (like what is God's name is going on) but didn't take a pill and go to her bed, because she was a good mom. This is why we need old people.

bb (#295)

Belltolls – great reporting!

mathnet (#27)

It's the language that makes me nitpick-y. Like, OK, when Lane said to Pete, "Somebody could distinguish themselves." HIMSELF. There is no way Lane would have matched "somebody" with "themselves" in 1963.

sunnyciegos (#551)

I am so happy. Duck is indeed as foxy as I had suspected. Kind of a crap secret boyfriend, though.

sigerson (#179)

His mental calculation: find out horrible, world-changing news but keep it from your girl coming over for a nooner until after you've finished. I mean, why ruin a good hotel suite because of something you'll know about later anyway? Makes perfect sense.

sunnyciegos (#551)

You guys – you should check out Nellie McKay's newly minted cd of Doris Day covers – I promise it's quite wonderful and will totally allow you to geek out on early 1960's nostalgia! Even that old coot Christgau liked it!

mathnet (#27)

"She's happy."

"That's because she doesn't know his net worth just dropped by half."

What does this conversation-while-dancing between Margaret and Roger (about Mona and her date) mean, Somebody Smart?

hungrybee (#2,091)

I'm pretty sure the market plunged that day – assassination day was a trading day. Maybe new man only held securities, whereas old Roger is so old-money that he feels smug about his bonds and annuities and what have you's?

mathnet (#27)

Makes sense–thanks!

bb (#295)

Thank YOUuuuu for this good column. Super smart. Surely I am not the only NYer thinking of 9/11 during this.. with the city all shut down, phones not working, etc. And even that line about how we're all going to be sad for a while, and move on is accurate to living in NY the few years after. I haven't decided if this is a good thing or not.

BTW Vincent Kartheiser was HOT in this episode. "Everyone's drinking!"

I didn't get to vote for him!

mathnet (#27)

Do we know how/why Don got a job in advertising at a fur company in New York City (after sort of looking for work in San Pedro with the hot rod dudes)? It was through that job that he met both Roger and Betty, right?

revmeg (#2,083)

I remember where I was when I heard about the death of President Kennedy. I was at school. We were called into assembly and told what had happened, our parents had been contacted, and we were to wait for them or whomever they sent to take us home. School was closed until Monday. There was no joy about school closing early that day.

I walked home with the mother of a friend, and when I got there the first person I saw was my mother sitting on the floor surrounded by white curtain material, sewing curtains for my room and crying. Let me tell you, there is nothing that frightens a bewildered six-year-old girl more than seeing her mother cry and not understanding the reason. I thought my dad had died. It was not until he called home and reassured me he was all right, it was the President of the United States who had died, and Mom was crying because she had liked him; Dad then reassured me he would be home shortly, and he was home within an hour.

The next four days consisted of one or both of my parents taking me and my new baby sister to the park, to the playground, shopping, or to the movies to get us away from the news coverage and the upset adults surrounding us. This was the first time all three networks showed the same thing, and there were no dvds or video tapes to distract bewildred kids.

Those who have no memory of the event, like my sister (who was six months and one day old when the president was asassinated) or were born in the years after this event have no idea how much this can affect the average person, even those too young to vote.

mathnet (#27)

I love this story, and I also love the fact that you and your sister are exactly Bobby and Eugene Draper's ages!

hhoran (#1,642)

I was eight and in parochial school on 11/22; the nuns were especially distraught at losing our only Catholic President, and they transmitted a lot of the confusion relayed by press bulletins in the first couple hours, but by 3-4pm Eastern Time absolutely everyone understood what had happened. I think the show captured the children's reaction well. Sally, like us, really understood everything that was going on, and was able to accept what was happening at face value, and knew that her mother's "this can't be happening" shock could be safely ignored. Like the rest of the nation, I was glued to the TV for four days, even though (Oswald and Ruby excepted) very little action was taking place. As is widely known, TV served as a national chapel, creating the first national event shared by 100 million people, so that by lunchtime on 9/11 we were explaining to our juniors, "this is exactly what we went through on 11/22".
On the 30th anniversary PBS rebroadcast the unedited NBC coverage of the first 12 hours following the initial news bulletin, which anyone interested in the history of this era should see in this format. You literally saw modern TV news coming of age before your eyes. The first couple hours were slapdash production–card tables in front of curtains, Edwin Newman and Frank McGee with rolled up sleeves, loosened ties and cigarettes, winging it in front of a single camera, with disembodied hands delivering fresh wire copy every so often. By 4pm, the production had gone prime time, and more importantly everyone was working to craft a coherent narrative out of the fragmented, messy information available. The J. Edgar Hoover's of the world didn't invent the "weird, loner gunman working alone" meme–if you watch these tapes you'll see that this evolved naturally from TV's need to be telling a coherent story, and law enforcement (who had no idea what wa happening) grabbed on to this storyline to make it seem like they were in charge and had everything totally under control.

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