Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Footnotes of 'Mad Men': "A Secretary Is Not To Be / Used for Play Therapy"

THE SECRETARY THAT GOT AWAYIf real intimacy comes from shared vulnerability, perhaps there is nothing that makes one feel more used than false intimacy. We saw examples of this all throughout last night's episode: the invasive psychological test that went straight for the Freudian soft spot (how do you feeeeeel about your father?); Peggy's wormy baby-faced boyfriend cajoling her into sex; the instant kinship between creepy Glenn and Sally; and of course, the great climax featuring a broken Don Draper who, after a lonely Yuletide party, breaks all his own rules not so much for a quick plow on the couch but for a sleepover with the woman who knows what his kids want for Christmas. It's also the betrayal of intimacy that can bring out the most savage impulses in us-why Glenn was willing to trash Betty's kitchen, in a ploy to help Sally out of the house she hates-and I can think of few other scenarios more humiliating than having your desire for intimacy taken advantage of… especially when you're given a half-hearted non-apology and two crisp fifties the next day.

ALL THE THINGS ARE ROUND... AND THE SKY IS GREY• There's a coldness to the new digs, no? The modern design of Roger's office serves as headquarters' frozen center. The layout is far from cozy-it's antiseptic, and frightfully full of symmetrical things. Roger chalks up the Stockholm style to Joan who, as we've learned, is a gal that prides herself on staying in touch. The Scandinavian influence was the big design fad at the time and has remained the iconic interior decor of the period (this sort of pop Scandinavian modern has also been adopted as a lingua franca of decor among young Americans today due in part to it's unobtrusiveness and, on a different level, to a company called Ikea.) Tranquility through minimalism; uninterrupted lines, efficient instead of ornate design, neutral colors thought to soothe the eye and spirit: the critique of this sort of modernism is that it goes too far in soothing and actually numbs those who are exposed to it. It can become a visual novocaine that makes the visitor sedated but not relaxed.


• Freddy's back (with the serenity to accept the things he cannot change and the courage to change the things he can). He's a member of a fraternity that has only one rule for admission: a desire to stop drinking. It seems Freddy is somebody's sponsor now, seeing as how he made a not-really discreet phonecall to his buddy at Pond's, who had just spent an afternoon with a truly boozy Roger. We're assuming Freddy took Roger's advice from season two and checked himself into Hazelden. Hazelden was founded on a 217-acre farm outside of Minneapolis by a few members of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1949-it was intended for the rehabilitation of priests. But things changed fast; the American Medical Association categorized alcoholism as a disease in 1956, and Hazelden grew from 26 to 157 beds in the mid-60s. By the time Freddy would have gotten there, in 1963, their main facility was also just beginning to convert to coed. Turns out women sometimes had trouble with alcohol and drugs too… although at this time Betty Ford, who would become one of the first famous and public female faces of addiction, was just beginning to be prescribed the painkillers to which she would become addicted.

• Musical break! Here's some advice to Don, via one of the founding texts for the ethos and aesthetics for "Mad Men": How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (featuring a bushy tailed Robert Morse).

A secretary is not to be

Used for play therapy

Be good to the girl you employ, boy.

Remember no matter what

Neurotic trouble you've got

A secretary is not a toy. 

This play was produced in 1961. It snagged Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Drama Critics Circle Award before the movie version came out in 1967.

THE DEVIL SMOKED LUCKY STRIKES• Lee, the devious and rather evil and at-least bisexual Lucky Strike heir, got his Christmas wish: a pretty new Polaroid camera. Polaroid became a hot consumer item in the mid-sixties largely thanks to its advertising campaign by Doyle Dane and Bernbach. The ads were cheap looking and marketed the bulky camera with text heavy spreads that explained the new technology of "instant photographs."

The team at DDB decided to focus on the pictures instead of the process. They hired photographer Howard Zieff to shoot a series of homespun pictures that gave the feel of a candid shot of typical but familiar snapshots of American family life: barefoot kids catching toads, Sunday dinners in messy kitchens, daughters giving living room dance recitals. To best communicate the simplicity of the product, the copywriters used only sentence: "It's like opening a present."


Polaroid's TV campaign perfected the pitch. They captured moving and sentimental moments-an accomplishment in sixty seconds of commercial time about a chunk of plastic.

Polaroid sold millions of cameras for the first time in 1961.

You can always find more footnotes by Natasha Vargas-Cooper right here, or, you know, you can get a whole book of 'em.

69 Comments / Post A Comment

Logan Hill (#6,515)

i love these every week.

mathnet (#27)

Jon Hamm's crazy musical-theater-intensity FUN-FUN eyes at the Christmas party killed me.

(I enjoyed his German accent. For real!)

mathnet (#27)


keisertroll (#1,117)

Evil bisexuals? Gay people falling off the face of the earth? Wow, they're really going for 60's-era accuracy on this show.

mathnet (#27)

What was that essay on Swedish love that wormy, baby-faced Karl was using on Peggy?

The Swedish Way of Love, which obviously, I need to own in hardcopy.

gumplr (#66)

Natasha, I have a question about one of the lamps in Don's apartment. You can see it resting on his living room credenza with the front door in the background. It's a black horsehead, like a knight from a chess set. The second story of my grandmother's house is straight out of the early '60s, and she has a pair of them. It's another one of those impressive minor setpieces, and I was wondering if there's any history behind the design…? Thanks

I will investigate! and report back. I wonder when, like, sculpture-based lamps went out of style, only in the recent past I assume.

Jetpacks (#2,220)

I love the alt text on the Sterling office photo. Random genius.

Jetpacks (#2,220)

And you spelled grey the English way. Damn, you're awesome in sublime ways.

mathnet (#27)

I need to be annoying for a minute. The scene between Allison and Don? They start boning, clothed. With her coat on. For about 90 seconds. And then we come back to find them in the same position, but minus her coat, with not a single hair on her head out of place, and with her hose still on, and then she stands up and walks to the bathroom without picking up her underpants off the floor or anything. . . I was distracted by the dumbness of it all!

Crantastical (#4,127)

Yeah…he asked her to stay but she wanted to go meet some other people…then the next day she seemed let down by it all. I was surprised she didn't turn him down like all the other women in his life lately. The nurse neighbor seems like a better prospect.

Maevemealone (#968)

Garter belt and thigh highs? I figured more time than that had passed since I thought they had dozed off but you may have a point.

La Cieca (#1,110)

Some women were wearing pantyhose in 1964, but not many. Most likely Allison was wearing a girdle with garters. I am not sure where the underpants would have gone. It does seem to be a convention in Mad Men that women can have intercourse without taking off much of anything, and given the generally high level of research that goes into this show, I don't see why they would flub this detail.

La Cieca, you are supposed to wear panties over the garter belt. I know they are always shown the opposite way in photos/ads. I don't know why that is. Perhaps advertisers want unsuspecting women/cross-dressers to pee on them selves.

La Cieca (#1,110)

You have just answered a question that has been plaguing this homosexual for decades now. Thank you!

kat (#6,338)

Also, afterwards he was instantly not drunk anymore?

Jen Myers (#6,517)

Was I wrong in thinking Roger said it was Jane who decorated his office? That seemed to make sense, since whoever decorated it clearly didn't bother suiting it very well to his personality, and I think Joan would have known better than that.

mathnet (#27)

That's how I heard it, too.

La Cieca (#1,110)

I got the idea that Jane hired whoever was the trendiest and most expensive designer, or else was sold whatever was the newest and most expensive furnishings. Her look at the Christmas party certainly looked as if she'd swanned into Bonwit Teller and purred, "Give the whatever Elizabeth Taylor would order."

sigerson (#179)

CORRECT. Jane is the dipshit who put Roger freaking Sterling in that "Italian hospital" hellhole. Joan would never do that.

katiebakes (#32)

I want that zero gravity-esque sleeping chair that he has and I want it this instant.

bb (#295)

yeah, I heard that as well (also wondered if he financed it himself, given his "brought it from home" comment about the booze) and Katie Bakes, you too can have a Corbu lounge chair..

Baroness (#273)

I heard "Jane' too.

I admit –ALRIGHT I CONFESS–that I may have been too eager to put the Kubrickian decor on Joan's shoulder's because she is such a sainted character that any evidence of her making a mistake, particularly a design-related one, makes her a little more human. So when I thought I heard Joan I was like 'oh! Joanie has human error!" 'Cause lord knows I'm also guilty of some sterile ass chairs in the spirit of Modernism.

mrschem (#1,757)

Harry takes three cookies!

mathnet (#27)


mrschem (#1,757)


squaream (#6,336)

While I loved the Joan-led conga line, I was hoping Mr. Rumson's return would inspire someone at SCDP to "Do the Freddie" at the Christmas party.

hockeymom (#143)

She is a very good dancer.

That's adorable!

mathnet (#27)

Kiernan's delivery of "Doing what?" was Emmy-worthy.

LondonLee (#922)

I'm not sure Don was non-apologizing for, you know, that, I had the feeling that in his drunken state he'd forgotten it had happened at all. It did seem like a real quickie too.

mathnet (#27)

I think he definitely remembered–that's why he avoided her when he first arrived at the office. The Christmas card with the cash had already been signed and sealed when he brought it out of a drawer and handed it to her, so it's clear that he'd set it up before the sex. He felt horrible when he spoke to her and gave her the cash because he knew that exchange made an already awkward situation truly hurtful. I actually thought, at first, that she was typing up her resignation. Was she?

La Cieca (#1,110)

Of all things to bother me, I noticed she put only a single sheet of paper into the typewriter, which it seems like a secretary in 1964 would automatically know is bad practice. Ruins the platen or something. Ask Joan.

LondonLee (#922)

Oh yes, I forgot about him going the long way around to his office after seeing Alison at her desk. Did set up that great chat with Roger though:

"Did you enjoy ze Fuhrer's birthday?"
"May he reign for a thouzand years!"

HelloTitty (#830)

I thought so too, but since she was in scenes for next week (where it appears that Don is not through with her. Upsetting!) if she was typing up her resignation, it was not accepted.

Maevemealone (#968)

I thought/hoped she was typing up a resignation as well. I think she just reabsorbed some tears and kicked herself under her cold desk as she stared out the window …

mrschem (#1,757)

Oh, I thought that too. They kind of dropped a piano on our heads with that scene though. Too much, I thought.

I thought so too! Cause she did it with so much purpose! Had I not seen the teaser I would have assumed she spit.

Joe Crawford (#6,547)

I predict that letter she's typing is that it's a formal letter to office manager Joan to be transferred to another position.

Second prediction is that she's typing a letter to Don to try and delicately say what was unsaid as after they were no longer so chummy chummy.

The other interesting dynamic is that Don has in the back of his mind what the psychographic researcher said, that he'll be remarried in a year. I expect that's going to haunt him a bit.

Danish Modern is totes not as austere as Ikea.

Maevemealone (#968)

What did her card say at the end? I was polishing my glasses at that exact moment so I was literally blind. Also, I sort of wish they hadn't given away in next weeks teaser that Don asks Alison about New Years. Let Don seem an irredeemable ass for a whole week for once!

mathnet (#27)

"Thanks for all your hard work. Merry Christmas. Don"

I missed the promo moment when he asks her about New Year's. . .

sigerson (#179)

Acupulco for the holidays with your secretary? Why not?

KarlLaFong (#3,568)

A minor but significant quibble: the two $50's weren't crisp, they were dirty. They said, "You're a whore," to the poor woman.

Also, "How To Succeed…" starred Robert Morse (certainly in the movie, and I think on B'Way), who is brilliant as the paterfamilias (I'm bad w/ names) on MM.

La Cieca (#1,110)

I wonder if Morse is under consideration for next winter's revival of How to Succeed on Broadway, obviously this time in the Rudy Vallee role of Biggley. That would be the best sort of stunt casting!

mrschem (#1,757)

I know I am a nerd but I loved that the cash Don counted out for the kids gifts was actually historically accurate. (much darker ink and smaller typeface) I still have a five dollar bill my stepdad gave me in 1974!

David Cho (#3)

Conga line!

hockeymom (#143)

There should be more conga lines in life, just on general principle.

hockeymom (#143)

"I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"
Hate that song and now it's stuck in my head.

Also, (because I'm uncool, busy and uncool) I haven't been watching Mad Men. Last night was my first time. What evil thing did Jeff (?) do to Freddy?
I plan on getting the entire first season, soon, to catch up…though I feel like I know what's going on because of helpful recaps like this one!

hockeymom (#143)

Thank you.

mathnet (#27)

Here's a question! The music on Toyota's 'Moving Forward' commercials–one of which I just sat through–sounds just like Don and Betty's theme. Is it a copy? Was it composed by a third party that both the commercials and the series are sourcing? Am I crazy?

David Cabonara composes all the original music which seriously, and I don't just say this a true-bluer but as a devoted lover of the period music, it's divineeee.

(also, MM doesn't have a big budget for music in general so they tend to lean towards the obscurer titles because the rights tend to be cheaper so thanks to the show I have discovered Ruth Brown who I'm amazed I went this long without.)

mathnet (#27)

OK! But, wait, but so, are you saying that you've heard the commercial's music and I'm not crazy, or are you saying you don't know yet if I'm crazy? BECAUSE YOU KNOW WHAT? I just realized–the commercial's tag is MOVING FORWARD DO YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYING!!!!!!


mathnet (#27)

HA! Here's the Carbonara piece (at about :20 is the part that's also in the Toyota commercial):

mathnet (#27)

Blah. I can't find any videos of the Toyota commercial I'm talking about! Guess I'll have to watch more TV.

Leon (#6,596)

ENLIGHTENING. Please do not let this conversation end. Maybe Baby Gene's theme will end up to be a string version of Lynch/Ivers' "In Heaven"

J. Scott (#6,542)

Regarding Roger's office, as someone already mentioned, he did indeed say Jane and not Joan when mentioning who decorated it. Also, the decor doesn't seem particularly Scandinavian. It strikes me as more Italian (hence Freddie's joke) and the chaise lounge is definitely a Corbusier.

bb (#295)

yup, agree with this – think Fiat, Olivetti, before Italian design went inflatable furniture (actually- young designers rebelled against sterile modernism at the 1964 Milan Furniture Fair with stuff like giant colorful beanbags). As someone says above the Scandinavians are more about warm wood tones at this time (think Aalto).

Also, hardcore Mad Men fans should be reading Project Rungay's style recaps, where they point out how a lot of times the women match the interiors (mostly Betty and the Draper house) – here Roger points out that his white hair blends in! It sure makes Joan's red dress/scarf/hair stand out bigtime, while Jane (at the party) was also in white/metal tones. Just riffing here.

kfon (#3,209)

Can I just say how much more I enjoy these recaps than the ones on Gawker, which can take a flying leap? That guy throws the word "slut" around in reference to women like its going out of style. And it ain't ironic, methinks. NVC, you are the bees knees. You also undid all the sluts I read over yonder with this: "…a sleepover with the woman who knows what his kids want for Christmas."

EXACTLY. False or quicky intimacy does not a slut make!

It shows that you get it, and that you get Don, and that you get the women and the show and the subtext. You're thoughtful instead of dismissive. Consider your book bought!

mbrodie89 (#6,550)

Let's not forget that the lead role in How to Succeed in Business was in fact played by Roger Morse, who now plays Bert Cooper!

Joel Rosenbaum (#6,565)

Couldn't get past the advertisement for HELVETICA on the wall of the breakroom.

I totally saw that too! I was like 'HIP! HIP, PEGGY!"

Leon (#6,596)

This blog from some guy ( ) mentioned that last week, the poster – I love that Mad Men is font nerd city!!! My favorite city since I discovered New Orleans allowed go cups!

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