Monday, October 4th, 2010

Footnotes of Mad Men: Charismatic Domination, or, When Daddy Is A Disaster

MEN WEARING THE MAN PANTSDon! Since the beginning of "Mad Men," all have been agog about Don Draper's magnetism. What is it? Why do women wilt and men follow? How does his staff endure his endless floggings? (Ahem.) And how does he turn the most banal products into objects of desire? Granddaddy sociologist Max Weber provides an answer: Don is a charismatic. Charismatics draw their power from the mystic and divine. For the early Christians, a charismatic was a human vessel through which a god revealed its power. Charismatics are theatrical, eloquent, and fervent. We first saw a glimpse of Don's supernatural power when he coolly walked around a conference table of skeptical clients and said, "Listen, I'm not here to tell you about Jesus. You already know about Jesus, either he lives in your heart or he doesn't." The domination of the charismatic resides in the emotional response he arouses in his followers-and, of course, in the cash that he dispenses at his whim: "The followers share in the use of those goods which the authoritarian leader receives as donation, booty or endowment." Oh yes.

There are two other forms of this authority: traditional and bureaucratic. You can find their incarnations as well on the masthead of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Bertram Cooper serves as a figurehead for the company; a vestigial authority whose power is drawn from tradition and formality. Cooper's right to rule is no longer based on his skill or prowess but solely due to custom. He is a monarch, priest, clan leader, a family patriarch whose authority is reinforced through myth and symbol. Weber classified traditional authority as pre-modern, feudal, but nevertheless, it's the most popular form of government (see: world history)! What does Bert Cooper do any more exactly? It doesn't matter! He is power because tradition is still sacred. As Weber put it, he is a part of the "the eternal yesterday."

Lane Pryce is the model of what Weber called "rational-legal authority," commonly known "bureaucratic authority." The legitimacy of bureaucratic authority comes from a shared system of rules, procedures, goals with ‘members' of the organization. Rational/bureaucratic power is stable, central, disciplined, and without personality. Indeed, they are immune to personality ("Consider me the incorruptible exception," Lane barks at Joan when she tries to seduce). James MacGregor Burns described this sort of authority as "transactional": an efficient transfer of rewards and punishment between followers and their leader. Weber deemed this structure modern; Alexis De Tocqueville saw this same sort of system as something much more nefarious. It is "an immense and tutelary power" that "covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd."

What Lane and Bert have is stability. Don's power however is also combustible ("I WON A CLIO!"). Charisma is as volatile as the emotion that it inspires in others. Intense attraction can easily tip into intense hate and resentment. Charismatic authority is also unsustainable. A miracle worker's fulltime job is to make miracles, otherwise his followers turn. It's been torturous to watch Don lose his magic touch.

There is no leadership category for Roger Sterling because he is not a leader. He is a frail, collapsing charmer. Charmers have little to offer.

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

10 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#1,720)

Prediction: (spoilers ahead duh if you haven't seen the last episode?)

Roger dies (offs himself?) and the only way to keep Pete is to put his name on the door, for without Pete they are nothing. Don's a creative, not a rainmaker. One by one all of Roger's crutches have been kicked away, leaving him with horrible gnawing defeat growing inside him. There's only one way that road ever ends up. (He's gonna die alone.)

keisertroll (#1,117)

Heading into the later months of 1965, I'd be surprised if they didn't touch on the Northeast Blackout of that November. Robert Morse actually starred in a comedy about it.

rj77 (#210)

@deepomega I totally thought Roger was going to off himself while hiding out that hotel room (the one he took to boff Joan in lieu of going to SC to woo back Lucky Strike).

LondonLee (#922)

No way are they going to write out Roger Sterling. The cocky bastard will get through it.

k-rex (#2,909)

Lots of money, beautiful young wife, a new book, his secrets safe; how are things so bad for Roger right now?

Kris Collins (#7,740)

Weber! Nice work.

Erving Goffman next? Just found out (Google) he wrote a book called "Gender Advertisements".

jobbotch (#3,528)

Considering that John Slattery is directing the next episode, having that episode center on Roger's suicide sounds exactly like something Matthew Weiner would find amusing.

No one would know it from just this season, but Bert does have a function. Weiner's said (somewhere) that he's a genius for buying media space, which is very tricky. I can't find the source for this beyond my memory.

And whatever happened to his sister? Wikipedia: "Cooper's younger sister, Alice, is a silent partner at Sterling Cooper, and invested in the company when it was just getting started."

And I hope Roger doesn't kill himself – I'd like to think Weiner has more imagination than that, but he hasn't steered away from following obvious and cliched plot lines.

Zom (#7,779)

The worst cliches are those which hail primarily from the conventions of fiction, but have little basis in reality. With that in mind I'm reasonably sanguine about the possibility that Roger might attempt suicide. People do, after all, commit suicide when the going gets rough. It could be argued that Roger's been attempting to commit suicide for some time.

As to why the question is more urgent right now, it comes down to Bert's line about Roger never having respected himself. That's a reality which has been forced down Roger's neck by recent events, namely Lee and Joan rejecting him. The loss to the agency of Lucky Strike is I believe of secondary importance, although I wouldn't want to trivilise it.

The scene where he comes home to find that his book has been delivered is ambiguous, but that ambiguity keeps the door open for a rather unpleasant reading when you take the above into account. It's more than possible that Roger is for the first time seeing his book as the self aggrandizing and ridiculous folly we've been encouraged to see it as, and by implication is starting to see his life that way. Him dedicating a copy to Jane is just the icing on the cake.

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