Monday, October 18th, 2010

Footnotes of Mad Men: Full of Demands, Empty of Offerings

BLAMMODon's right-about one thing, at least: teenagers are sentimental. The cynicism with which adults rebel comes from the nihilism of doing what you know is bad for you because you're old enough to understand that these things usually go unpunished. The kind of joyless self-indulgence that adults traffic in doesn't exist for teenagers. For the young, it's unfathomable that act of self-indulgence can bring anything but joy. In the twilight of childhood, you're not sure what's like to be an adult but you know what it feels like to not be a child. Every brush with adult behavior-anything from smoking, to sneaking out, to driving, to fucking-is wrapped in a gauzy, loving haze. (It's bittersweet though: as the twilight of childhood dims, there is within the heart of every teenager a dull throb that comes with the mourning of lost innocence.) What's alarming, then, is when grown-ups act like teenagers: denying themselves nothing, cherishing their transgressions like merit badges, constantly chasing the beginning of something, unable to parse the sensations of joys from despair.

• At the close of season two, we see Don greeting the Pacific Ocean with his arms outstretched. Wading in Southern California's baptismal waters, it seemed as though Don had found himself. But unlike prior visits, where Don has slinked out of the life he'd constructed on Madison Avenue, this time Don carried visible markings of his inability to conduct his life back home. There's Don on a California poolside patio, one of the most informal settings in the world… wearing a hat and a tweed jacket. By 1965, this outfit was severely old-fashioned and out-of-date. But it's not really a fashion faux-pas. It's Don's crisis: he's so hermetically ensconced in his own emotional life and its decadent dramas that he seems to have lost that once-sure grip on the world around him.

• Oh, Betty! We leave her sprawled out on Sally's stripped bed after getting (at last) reprimanded by her husband for acting out ("There are no fresh starts!"). One of the problems posed by the increased spending power of middle class families in the post war era is that they could now access the services once reserved for the aristocracy-namely, servants! Is Carla a nanny or a cleaning lady? A babysitter? Betty once said she didn't allow Carla to take the kids to the playground but does allow her to take young Sally to her shrink's office. Before the economic boom, nannies and maids were worlds apart. The sole responsibilities of nannies was the care of the children-like Marry Poppins! Some were formally trained to be maternal surrogates, while maids kept the house in order. The two were separate and there was a whole Victorian caste system and social mores about dress, expectations and wages to keep the whole thing in place.

In Maud Shaw's memoir about serving about serving as a nanny to Caroline and John Kennedy Jr., White House Nanny, she wrote, "The seven and a half years I was with her, [Jackie Kennedy] never as much asked me to pick up a pin for her. Even in the White House, she never once asked me to do anything that was not strictly within my province."

While Betty is from money and had a close relationship with her own nanny, she hasn't in her married life had the means to have a full-time live-in staff member. What you see transpire between Betty and Carla, with full-time, non-live-in domestic workers occupying the space between homemakers and housekeepers,creates the terrible and volatile dynamic that plays itself out in millions of homes today.

• In this season's penultimate episode, Don sat across from Midge and asked her, in earnest, why she didn't ‘just quit' heroin. Her response later inspired Don to write his full-page-Times-ad tobacco letter. But we know something that Don may not have the wherewithal to recognize. He's an addict too. When Don doesn't have booze, and even sometimes when he does, he medicates with women.

In 1965, Life magazine did multi-page photo spread on two New York heroin junkies named John and Karen. Accompanying the shoot was James Mills' famous account of life in Needle Park (it would later become The Panic in Needle Park, staring Al Pacino).

Mills wrote:

Almost all addicts are childishly immature; full of demands, empty of offerings. When they want something, they it want it yesterday, and they want it effortlessly. Nothing is their fault-the addiction, their degradation, their desperation…. Psychiatrists who have studied them over long periods know that most of them are extremely narcissistic, that their intense preoccupation with heroin is a surface manifestation of a more profound emotional preoccupation with themselves.

In his village apartment, Don's fiancée sleeps in the crook of his arm. Outside, New York City is beginning to slip into one of its darkest periods. But not to worry. There's a lovely haunted house in Ossining that just went on the market.

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

34 Comments / Post A Comment

jrb (#3,020)

So when he drives this one crazy with his antics, can we talk about what a bad mother she is? #TeamBetty

saythatscool (#101)

I think Betty is a cipher who is now about to become one of the smallest roles. You're taking the side of a ham sandwich.

Plus in all honest, January Jones may be the worst actress on that show and that includes the extras standing in the background.

jrb (#3,020)

Maybe I'm less Team Betty and more Anti-Betty Backlash.

saythatscool (#101)

Fair enough. Plus we'll all feel sorry for her when Baby Gene dies, so perhaps you're the smart one.

mrschem (#1,757)

oh, that was nasty, stc. but funny.

MikeBarthel (#1,884)

I'm sure someone else has mentioned this, but Don's move from pushing tobacco to pushing anti-smoking messages also echoes PR granddaddy Edward Bernays, who went from popularizing female smoking to working with anti-smoking groups in the 60s. Of course, he did so for moral reasons, whereas Don seems to be doing so opportunistically.

saythatscool (#101)

Also, loving the fact that Meghan's friend was on Hogan's Heroes and ergo a backstop for Bob Crane's penis.

Bob didn't like skinny girls like Meghan anyway so her friend was probably right about the actress thing.

scroll_lock (#4,122)

I love a Bob Crane shtupping reference. I always assume he kept Hogan's hat on while doing so.

Smitros (#5,315)

We know NOTHing.

dietcock (#1,496)

Like the Megan as smack observation. You are too damned astute.

Personally think Don could have solved all his weighty moral dilemmas by pulling a human 'pede with Megan and Faye (shit, why not throw in the Jewess Goddess Menken, while he's at it?).

LondonLee (#922)

You didn't have to be a genius to see what was going to happen once that ring appeared, it was a little disappointing to see the show do such blatant foreshadowing.

But I think I fell in love with Meghan too during their little CA sojourn so I completely understood how Don felt.

The episode needed more of that Peggy and Joan banter though.

jrb (#3,020)

As a wise man once said, "If the whole world moved to their favorite vacation spots, then the whole world would live in Hawaii and Italy and Cleveland."

deepomega (#1,720)

All these things are true. But Megan is at least a pretty major departure from the Bettys and the Fayes.

sunnyciegos (#551)

Is she? Megan's a pretty face unjaded by history, just like Betty was. (I mean, it seems motherhood brings out Betty's sociopathic tendencies; she was probably a lovely and charming model.)

Remember, Betty ultimately rejected Don in what he told Anna was his greatest fear – that she would leave him upon discovering his real identity. Now with Megan he has another girl who loves him as "Don Draper." He's getting Betty back, the old version of her, in a way.

Agree w/sunny in that Megan seems much like Betty would have been when they first met. I thought Faye was the bigger departure. We'll see.

cherrispryte (#444)

sunny – I disagree with you pretty much completely. Megan's only known hybrid-Don/Dick – moderately successful at work, but teetering on the edge of breakdown. She's accepted him as that person, whoever he is.
Megan's also remarkably good with the children and, so far, really unflappable – a major departure from Betty and Faye.

Between how well she handled the milkshake situation and the office fling situation, I have high hopes for Megan. She seems to be far more of a grownup than Betty's ever been, despite the age difference.

And there's no evidence whatsoever that Betty was ever lovely and charming. She was most likely a prissy bitch of a model as well.

Yes, I have Betty issues.

Personality-wise they are very different, but I think they'll serve the same function for Don. Its just that the new model isn't broken like the old one. Also, it seems that Megan was gunning for this position since she started working for Don? I can't really blame her though. I feel for Betty because she reminds me of my own mother in some ways. She's trapped in her own childhood. She became her hyper-critical, controlling mother and she doesn't even see it. It actually freaks me out a bit.

Also, I read megan as trying very hard, not really charming, which is why I had to fast-foward through the don+megan parts.

I agree, she's young Betty 2.0: pretty, compliant, willing to subsume her life into Don's. It's what he thinks a wife/mother should be, just as he thinks a husband/father should be the emotionally distant provider. It works until he gets bored and start sleeping with women that have personalities and lives of their own.

Is Don going to wait until the honeymoon before he starts asking Megan to slap him around in bed?

sunnyciegos (#551)

I've got Betty issues, too, but even I can't deny she was at times quite charming, especially when she was a bit more of a naif in the first season. She's got such a winning smile, and when she's on, that same demure, eager-to-please demeanor as Megan. You can see it in her scenes with Jimmy Barrett, or her initial scenes with Henry.

It's easy to hate on her now. She's horrible, and the victim of the worst character writing on the show. Wonder if Megan will befall the same fate.

janine (#248)

She can't quite be a Betty 2.0, because she's from another generation than the other women. I think she was most likely in for just the booty and probably had other lovers since the thing in the office. She's also a bit more modern about carrers, having congratulated Peggy on her birthday. Generally, I'm pro Megan, because even if the marriage only lasts 3 years, it's probably going to make Sally's adolescence easier.

I wonder how Betty can be a victim of bad writing. She's a fictional character. Is it like the real betty wouldn't have done any of these things? This person was always part of Betty, but it looks a lot less sympathetic when her husband's Henry Francis instead of Don Draper.

Speaking of Peggy, was anyone else a bit annoyed by her? She did great work and Don was very very happy and positive and she still snipes that somehow everyone's not making it a big enough deal. We tend to like Peggy's ambition because it was so forward looking, but sometimes it's so self centered. Like her lame "I'm sure they could have fought their way in like I did" take on civil rights.

I should clarify – she's Betty 2.0 to Don in how he consciously or unconsciously picks wives. He really doesn't know her at all. Your point about the generational differences could make a huge difference in how the marriage plays out. It would be nice to see her get her hands on a copy of The Feminine Mystique and wreak havoc of Don's ideas about marriage. Or realize she'd rather be with that nice lesbian friend of Peggy's.

@janine: Def with you on the Peggy thing. I think we're supposed to think that though. I think it is pretty typical of people who had to work hard to get where they are to assume that no one works as hard as they do. BUT it was still pretty weird that Don told her that Megan reminded him of Peggy.

sunnyciegos (#551)

@brilliantmistake: It's fascinating how much Don Draper really wants to live in the perfect 50s fantasyland he created in his best ads. Cynical and craven he may be, but he still wants the dream.

MatthewGallaway (#1,239)

I think the idea of Don as an addict has many levels (and not just in terms of fucking women): it will be interesting to see if/how he withdraws or is forced to withdraw (and whether he convincingly suffers). So far I don't see him really "getting beneath the surface" so to speak, which is why he fled Dr. Kelley (I think that's her name?), the one person who understood what needs to happen. (Maybe?)

Patrick Lehman (#3,496)

I couldn't believe Don would do something so impulsive. He's witnessed how angry and vindictive Faye can be when she jettisoned her prior lover. He's told her all his secrets. How many people does he think he can spill this to before he winds up in jail?
Armchair shrink remark:Don seems in full flight from an examined life. The endless messy relationships, the drinking, and the ADD-friendly creative director role (which requires endless honing of ideas) are part of the turmoil and noise he creates to drown out his responsibility for his own life choices.

mrschem (#1,757)

wow. Natasha, your second line just hit me between the eyes. After I woke up with a raging hangover, forgot to move the car and got a ticket for my wretchedness. Really, at my age, I should know better. Also, Im gonna miss our monday mornings together.

sunnyciegos (#551)

Hear hear! Thanks Natasha. Hope to hear more from you between now and the birth of Joan's Roger-child.

MattP (#475)

Re: the Roger-child, think it'll come out with a full head of silver hair? Or barring that, a glass of vodka in his hand?

David (#192)

Wait, you say "In the twilight of childhood, you're not sure what's like to be an adult but you know what it feels like to not be a child. Every brush with adult behavior-anything from smoking, to sneaking out, to driving, to fucking-is wrapped in a gauzy, loving haze." So does that mean that adults who experience exciting things "in a gauzy, loving haze" are somehow not really being (fully) adult-like? Where's my Psychiatrists' Manual?

This post is both savory and juicy!

(Here is your brining joke.)

Smoking_Robot (#7,632)

Why's is alarming when adult indulge themselves? Who says we're not allowed in the first place? I think we'd all rather be having fun when we can than sitting in our dispair.

saythatscool (#101)

I sat on dis pair once and couldn't indulge myself for a week.

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