Monday, August 16th, 2010

Footnotes of Mad Men: The Two-Way Mirror and Social Anomie

TWO GIRLS"This is the most underwhelmed I've felt on first viewing in quite some time," begins the recaplet of last night's "Mad Men" on Television Without Pity this morning. I find that astonishing. Maybe insane! Last night's episode, the first to be directed by John "Roger Sterling" Slattery, was an incredibly nuanced, thoughtful and intricate construction. There are the mirror babies of Pete Campbell; the mirrored women of Don Draper and the mirrored sexual choices of Don Draper's past and present secretaries; the mirrored salesmen of different firms, sitting across from each other at lunch. We haven't seen such careful opposition and careful organization since the season two finale, in which we dealt with Betty Draper's rather unwanted pregnancy (she sought to 'deal with it' by horseback riding) while Peggy at last told dreadful, rapey suck-up Pete Campbell that she'd had his baby.

● Jacques Lacan, at the Fourteenth International Psychoanalytical Congress on August 3, 1936, first presented on the "mirror stage."


While the idea of this enlightenment supposedly occurs before the age of 18 months, well, we're not always all grown up, or not narcissists, are we?

"Mad Men" is built around moments of seeing oneself in other people, with understanding or with misidentification, resulting in horror. Picture Peggy blowing up at Don's poor discarded sex-toy secretary, who views Peggy as a former Don cast-off. Peggy is revolted, somewhat unfairly-although, yes, this act of assumption strips Peggy of all her hard-won authority and competence. Not everyone sleeps with the boss, sister! Particularly when sleeping with the boss, contra Helen Gurley Brown, seems like the fast ticket to lack of success, not your own office.

● While Don isn't wrong entirely to berate our lady of the focus group (though he is doing it for the wrong reasons, his wounded male hubris), he's wrong about their efficacy and use for good.


February 4, 2003:

Robert K. Merton, one of the most influential sociologists of the 20th century, whose coinage of terms like "self-fulfilling prophecy" and "role models" filtered from his academic pursuits into everyday language, died yesterday….. His studies on an integrated community helped shape Kenneth Clark's historic brief in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that led to the desegregation of public schools.


One early example of such illuminating insight appeared in a paper called "Social Structure and Anomie" that he wrote as a graduate student at Harvard in 1936 and then kept revising over the next decade.

Mr. Merton had asked himself what it was that brought about anomie, a state in which, according to Mr. Durkheim, the breakdown of social standards threatened social cohesion. In a breakthrough that spawned many lines of inquiry, Mr. Merton suggested that anomie was likely to arise when society's members were denied adequate means of achieving the very cultural goals that their society projected, like wealth, power, fame or enlightenment.

Look how far we haven't come!

● Malcolm X was shot on February 21, 1965, placing "Mad Men" now at the end of that month. In May of 1963, Playboy published an interview with Malcolm X, conducted by Alex Haley.

PLAYBOY: What is the ambition of the Black Muslims?

MALCOLM X: Freedom, justice and equality are our principal ambitions. And to faithfully serve and follow the Honorable Elijah Muhammad is the guiding goal of every Muslim. Mr. Muhammad teaches us the knowledge of our own selves, and of our own people. He cleans us up−−morally, mentally and spiritually−−and he reforms us of the vices that have blinded us here in the Western society. He stops black men from getting drunk, stops their dope addiction if they had it, stops nicotine, gambling, stealing, lying, cheating, fornication, adultery, prostitution, juvenile delinquency. I think of this whenever somebody talks about someone investigating us. Why investigate the Honorable Elijah Muhammad? They should subsidize him. He's cleaning up the mess that white men have made. He's saving the Government millions of dollars, taking black men off of welfare, showing them how to do something for themselves. And Mr. Muhammad teaches us love for our own kind. The white man has taught the black people in this country to hate themselves as inferior, to hate each other, to be divided against each other. Messenger Muhammad restores our love for our own kind, which enables us to work together in unity and harmony. He shows us how to pool our financial resources and our talents, then to work together toward a common objective. Among other things, we have small businesses in most major cities in this country, and we want to create many more. We are taught by Mr. Muhammad that it is very important to improve the black man's economy, and his thrift. But to do this, we must have land of our own. The brainwashed black man can never learn to stand on his own two feet until he is on his own. We must learn to become our own producers, manufacturers and traders; we must have industry of our own, to employ our own. The white man resists this because he wants to keep the black man under his thumb and jurisdiction in white society. He wants to keep the black man always dependent and begging−−for jobs, food, clothes, shelter, education. The white man doesn't want to lose somebody to be supreme over. He wants to keep the black man where he can be watched and retarded. Mr. Muhammad teaches that as soon as we separate from the white man, we will learn that we can do without the white man just as he can do without us. The white man knows that once black men get off to themselves and learn they can do for themselves, the black man's full potential will explode and he will surpass the white man.

Mosque Number 7 is still open on 127th Street, which is nowhere near "Ground Zero."

Look how far we haven't come!

● Dan Graham, then 22, co-founded the John Daniels Gallery in New York City, on East 64th Street, in 1964, where they showed Donald Judd and Robert Smithson. Smithson had begun working with mirrors then, exhibiting "Untitled, Mirror Surfaces" in 1965, and then, a few years later, the first "corner pieces."


In the 70s, Graham himself would begin making pieces like "Alteration to a Suburban House": "It proposes replacing the siding of a single-story 'ranch' style home with glass; a mirror would bisect the house lengthwise." And mirrored and semi-mirrored rooms, like 1976's "Public Space/Two Audiences." From Parkett, 2003 [PDF]:

A game of prestige, it took advantage of man's very ingenuous perception of space to double the reference coordinates of a place, using a "simple" mirror-wall and another in transparent glass that intersected a rectangular room. It was like looking through a bottomless mirror, with one's ego reflected in it; but it was also pervaded by a transparency. Meanwhile other wandering presences could be discerned, though it was impossible to ascertain their exact whereabouts. This work inaugurated a new approach by Graham to time delay: a dizzy perception postponed, an opportunity to observe a stranger, albeit only for an instant, before recognizing the stranger as oneself.

And still later, he'd turn to the two-way mirror, just as our callow, lady-baiting shrink focus-grouper on "Mad Men" does. "Two-way mirror used in office buildings is always totally reflective on the exterior, reflecting the sunlight and transparent for workers inside. Surveillance power is given to the corporate tower," wrote Graham.

Over the years to come, Sterling Cooper Draper Prices of the world would move from their glass-walled entryways and sunny towers and shared elevators-all the better to meet the fun local lesbians in-to more forbidding and mirrored corporate towers, as corporate power began to be expressed by outward-looking, all-concealing, security-conscious hide-outs. All the better to see you with, my dears.

Natasha Vargas-Cooper is on vacation this week.

Still, you can always find more footnotes right here, or, you know, you can get a whole book of 'em.

47 Comments / Post A Comment

Blackcapricorn (#4,791)

Don't forget there was a viewing of David Kellogg which is a very deep reference:

keisertroll (#1,117)

This and five minutes of "Cool As Ice" I saw late the other night is all I ever want to know about this guy.

jrb (#3,020)

Hats off to Slattery for placing the incredibly funny 'Peggy Peekabo' moment onto the edge of the farcical without pushing it over. It was so funny and felt real, which is really accomplished nuance. I loved that.

Ribs (#2,690)

Agreed! Subtle but not too subtle. Was a nice parallel to Don catching her looking at the ring.

Annie K. (#3,563)

I just have to express myself, irrelevantly but with great passion: Lacan's sentences make me spitting mad.

belltolls (#184)

Is that a fire over in Times Square? Sorry Lee, we gotta go.

bb (#295)

no 'twas Radio City Music Hall! which makes sense since the Time-Life building is at Rockefeller Center.

keisertroll (#1,117)

Mad Men always seems to work for me better when it gets gayer. And here's hoping YOU DON'T OWN YOUR VAGINA becomes the next hot catchphrase.

David Cho (#3)

I REEEEEEALLY want Don to stop drinking. He's ruining everything.

keisertroll (#1,117)

This is almost as bad as when Karen was drinking.

cherrispryte (#444)

Can I say, I don't see a real difference in the quantity Don's drinking now as opposed to earlier seasons.

David Cho (#3)

I don't think we see the difference in quantity, but clearly he's a lot more drunk a lot more of the time. He also never eats, so when you drink as much as he does without food trouble ensues!

jrb (#3,020)

A lot more drunk, but also a lot less cool. And he probably smells. People are calling him pathetic. Pathetic! Don Draper!

satyricrash (#784)

I don't know, I think there still a long way to go until he reaches "Sue Ellen Ewing drunk."

keisertroll (#1,117)

At this point I wouldn't be surprised if Don Draper kills himself before the season finale. Or is it just wishful thinking?

mrschem (#1,757)

Oh no, no, no. I hope he antagonizes the hell out of Betty a la Tony and Janice.

joeclark (#651)

Nytasha Varges-Kuiper wouldn't misspell "Pryce." Choire misspells the darndest words. (Then leaves them there.)

sigerson (#179)


mathnet (#27)

We'll discuss it inside.

sigerson (#179)

Are you scared of the subway.

bb (#295)

so many meanings, right? Did you get the pairs?

also, this might be a stretch, but I am a nerd and therefore know that Pears' Soap was one of the first beauty products with illustrated/advertised packaging (ca. 1850s). Is it possible that Weiner is making a little ad history reference there too (in the same category as Pond's and Clearasil)? Or am I looking too hard for footnotes?

& thanks for the Washington Market reference too.

sigerson (#179)

When Don waves his hand at his secretary and says to Dr. Miller, "Help yourself", I laughed out loud. When Peggy's head slowly rose above the partition, I howled with laughter. When Roger Sterling said, "No, Lee. Lee, the JOCKEYS smoke the cigarettes!" I had to stop and rewind a few times.

GOD DAMN, what a great show.

mathnet (#27)

Yes! And I loved that moment when Don caught Peggy admiring Dr. Miller's engagement/wedding ring on her own hand.

One of my favorite episodes of the series! Great laughs; touching, relatable moments of real drama. . . It has to be Elisabeth Moss's favorite episode so far, too. AND NO BETTY. If there'd been a little touch of Sally and a bit more Joan, I would have been totally and completely satisfied. The writer(s) and Slattery focused on the best characters–at their most essential–and told those characters' best stories.

lululemming (#409)

I think I just hit the depth of my shallows because halfway through the first Youtube I started thinking "Oooh, I really want to watch Drumline again".

Also, David Mamet's daughter as Joyce! OMGoggles!

mathnet (#27)

She was great in The Kids Are All Right, too!

sigerson (#179)

Choire, I think one of the footnotes that you should have dropped was the reference to Washington Market. This episode transported us to piece of old New York that is gone. Washington Market was on the "Lower West Side (what is now Tribeca) and, like the old finger docks that disappeared into Battery Park City, was razed as part of the World Trade Center construction and a housing project. Only a park in its name remains.

sigerson (#179)

This was a fruit and vegetable market that spanned several acres — you only see a bit of it in the external of Peggy and her new friend sprinting down the street, with some lettuce sellers setting up in the early morning hours.

I hope Mad Men gives us a few other period side trips. Like maybe to one of the Soho blocks that was light industry back in the old days. Or to old Yankee Stadium.

La Cieca (#1,110)

Washington Market was in a way the Meatpacking District of its time, though presumably with less fisting. Is it possible that the location used for the establishing shot was the same building used for the strip club (presumably in Queens) in "Date Night?" And am I right that the building in Washington Market was abandoned, and so the exhibition/screening/happening thing was happening illegally, and that's why they were raided?

The "after Warhol?" line was very resonant too: I was ready for Peggy to snap back that Andy spent a decade as a commercial artist before his first gallery show.

mathnet (#27)

Yes, Peggy said something about how the place seemed like an abandoned warehouse (which made me think The Factory), and then Peggy's conversation with the Artist was so similar to Don's conversations with Midge's friends! (Not quite as cool as "on a bed made of money," but 'to earn money to support your art' and 'That IS a writer' were OK for a beginner.)

mathnet (#27)

Oh, but, right, I was confused about the raid, too. Somebody (Peggy?) asked, 'Are they beating people?' Was she suggesting that it was, or could have been perceived to be, some kind of civil rights movement-associated event? Was it just about drugs and trespassing, but Peggy made it bigger in her imagination? Were raids at illegal parties routinely violent?

kat klags (#6,848)

I think that violence during police raids could certainly have been common, if you think of something like Stonewall, which was a different situation and wasn't until 1969 anyway, but I doubt that kind of violence came out of nowhere.

LondonLee (#922)

I'm sometimes "underwhelmed" by episodes of MM at first viewing but then I see them again and they reveal their magic. That's what makes it such a great show, it's like a song that doesn't grab you at first then slowly becomes your favourite thing ever.

And just to lower the tone, that Megan! Phwwoooaar! Hope they keep her around.

mathnet (#27)

"My friends want to see Megan."

cherrispryte (#444)

She's of French extraction!

City_Dater (#2,500)

And she doesn't wash her face!

mathnet (#27)

(Well, not with soap. She lets the faucet run until the water's just the right temperature–not too hot, not too cold. Then she splashes some water on her face and dabs with her fingertips, like this.) GIGGLE

En Vague (#82)

"All my art comes from anger, is made for children and on the side of women", Dan Graham's first line at the greatest lecture by an artist I've ever seen.

mrschem (#1,757)

Oh and Choire, this was awesome. Thanks.

mathnet (#27)

Oh, here's a question about the focus group. Were the participants all supposed to be SCDP secretaries (in which case, why are there so many secretaries at SCDP?), or was it just Megan and Allison with some others from the building? Because Allison seemed to know they'd be viewed and listened-to from behind the glass, but were the other ladies supposed to be unaware? (Why would they talk so openly, is what I'm getting at.)

La Cieca (#1,110)

This is a guess. The partners, account execs and copywriters at SCDP all have their own secretaries, plus there's probably at least one girl on the switchboard and maybe a pool stenographer? In the days before word processing, offices were extremely labor intensive that way.

Allison knows about the two-way mirror because she works for Don and has transcribed tapes of the focus groups, possibly even has sat in on the other side of the mirror to take notes.

mathnet (#27)

Totally reasonable–thanks! And I loved Allison's "This actually happened" line to Don afterward. (Just generally because it was RIGHT, and also because it echoed Peggy's 'I can't shut it off; it's actually happening' line from the last SC focus group we saw.)

caw_caw (#5,641)

A fine episode. But I can't help wondering if Don Draper is ever going to have any fun again. The closer he gets to what he thinks he wants, the more miserable he becomes.
Being on top can be very fun, and that's why everyone fights to get there. Don Draper is smart enough to know that. I trust the writers not to stoop to the "Be careful what you wish for" cliche moral lesson because they've always been good at circumventing expectation – I hope I'm not overestimating them.

ComradePsmith (#4,477)

Ok, it's a little nitpicky, but how was "Signed, D.C." available in 1965 to play at parties? It wasn't released until 1966, and even if Love had been playing it before then, I don't think the song would have made it to New York. They weren't very popular outside L.A. until much later, as far as I know.

They usually get these things right, so it was kind of jarring.

Jovial (#6,939)

Oh, I was shaking during the Alison/Don scene. Must admit a little 'whoop' escaped when she threw the paperweight, been wanting to throw something at Don myself for weeks. Having Peggy peaking in the window at the end was a nice way to end such a scene. Kudos!

Muni Voter Guide (#6,940)

great episode, a bit subtle for some people's tastes. I liked it. We don't have to see every character in every episode every week.

SCDP needs new clients. in a few years they are going to lose all that TV money they make off of Lucky Strikes.

kat klags (#6,848)

I think another reason why Peggy reacted so harshly to Allison, is because finding out that Pete is having a baby brings up what happened between her and Pete a few seasons back. No she didn't sleep with her boss, but she did sleep with him, and the consequences were much much worse than just hurt feelings. Not that I think she expected to end up with Pete, but seeing him take this next step casts her again in an unpleasant light: the rejected one, as the title of the episode suggests. I imagine it made her feel like a bit of a whore, for lack of a better word, particularly with her current preoccupation with getting married. Maybe she's wondering if she screwed up her prospects in life by what happened back then, even though it's a secret? She's certainly concerned about her reputation and trying to start over, which I guess is why she lied to her current awful boyfriend about being a virgin to hold him off. Maybe she's thinking about what happened with her and Duck too? It's interesting how she's sort of toeing the line of being in the "new" generation in a lot of ways, such as at this "happening" downtown, and some of her past affairs, but now with her current boyfriend she's taking the completely traditional line, "so he'll respect her" as I think one character put it a few episodes ago.

kat klags (#6,848)

Just realized another "mirror" too: Peggy got her big break from secretary to contributing ideas specifically in an in-company focus group for lipstick way back when. She distinguished herself by having an original idea and the bravery to say it; Allison cried.

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