Don'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 [...]
Watching Don Draper emerge from chlorinated baptismal waters, gasping for breath in a cavernous public gym, brings to mind John Cheever's short story "The Swimmer," from 1964. "I've been a little out of sorts, lately," Don confesses to his date. Likewise Cheever's main character, Ned Merrill. Beginning at the public pool, Ned, in an attempt discover Bullet Park's hidden topography, decides to swim through the private and public schools of his Westchester neighborhood, creating an aquatic trail back to his home. Ned starts the expedition with great hope, as he enjoys the sensation of swimming: "He had been swimming and now he was breathing deeply, stertorously as if [...]
"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 [...]
You know what hitting an emotional bottom sounds like? It's the open palm of a hooker's hand making contact with stubbly face in a darkened room on Thanksgiving as she joylessly rides you! That's what it sounds like: slap, slap, slap, welcome to the fall of 1964! This is the moment for which three seasons have prepared us: the cool and muted extended twilight of the Eisenhower patriarchy has at last gone pitch-black.
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 [...]
Monogamy can be such a grind, right? Cheating is tough too, though. There's that terrifying halo of guilt that radiates around you after the act. It serves as both repellent and aphrodisiac, causing one's partner to inch ever-closer to you after a tryst. Then there's a particular upswing from the adrenaline. What a fool you were to put such a thing at risk! After all that comes the slow-boiling and consuming resentment towards your partner, the one who has robbed you of spontaneity and anonymity. You know what helps? A sudden trip and/or a new hairdo.
The Foucauldian adage goes something like: prisons, hospitals, and schools have the same architecture because they are all centers of confinement. (But is there anything more confining than the suburban nuclear family? Not according to John Cheever or Matthew Weiner!) In Mad Men episode 305, "The Fog," we got a field trip to all three institutions! A sexy school teacher, a surly prison guard and a McMurphy-hating maternity nurse all served as uniformed ambassadors. So how much has changed and how much has stayed the same inside these linoleum-plastered hallways?
For drama, in the Greek sense, to resonate with the modern viewer it needs have three elements: Acknowledgement of the universe's benign indifference, recognition of the utter loneliness of human existence and a commitment to something or someone outside oneself even in the face of those two principles.
â€¢ One myth that arose from some proponents of the women's liberation movement is that a terminated pregnancy doesn't change a person. The idea that it does was reasonably considered fodder for the other side-that this view enhanced the notion that not caring for a child conceived in your body is an abandonment of biological and moral responsibilities. In reaction then, a PR move has often been adopted into an unconvincing pro-choice ideology: a woman can go through a pregnancy without some lasting change to her psyche and system. The enlightened woman, the idea was, could go through terminating a pregnancy or putting a child up for adoption without [...]
The main ingredients of American counterculture formation all guest-starred in last night's "Mad Men" episode: abortion, Berkeley, Vietnam and, most ominously: young people. The â€˜youthquake' is not just an explosive population boom, it's when, supposedly, teenagers and college students seized control of culture from adults. At the very least, they seized control of the consumer goods market. Beginning around the 1920s, a common theme in advertising was to offer a return to youth and vitality (and relevance in the towering industrial age) through consumer goods. Oatmeal, face creams, sodas all made mention of youth in their slogans. But that was selling youth to the aging. In the 60s, the [...]
In advance of the new season of Mad Men starting this weekend, today Mad Men Unbuttoned is released! Written by your friend and mine, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, the book launches way out from her cultural exploration project, The Footnotes of Mad Men. Here's a little chapter on some history of advertising in the period of Mad Men, from Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach, the real-world firm that haunts the halls of TV's Sterling Cooper.
In Edward Albee's 1962 play,Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, George, after having served as a punching bag all night for Martha's verbal roundhouses, decides to have out with it. He and his wife had put on a pretty good act for a their guests, the young and obnoxiously naÃƒÂ¯ve Nick and Honey. Right before George divulges his wife's big secret-it is of Dick Whitman proportions-he starts to peel the label off his liquor bottle. He turns to a confused Honey and explains, "We all peel labels, sweetie; and when you get through the skin, all three layers, through the muscle, slosh aside the organs, them which is still [...]
Oh, no! The world is tugging away at Don Draper's individuality one thread at a time! First it started with the sexy maypole teacher pointing out that Don's nihilistic quest for self-indulgence is no different from all the other 'bored' Ossissingite daddies-he's even donning the same shirt as them! Then Roger characterizes Don's personal brand as someone else's (The Ogs). Some barbituated crazed kids think of him as just another spook (the nerve of those wayward hippies!). And Don's own hearth, the place where he puts up his feet and thinks about the majestic Mohawk nation, has been invaded by a home designer who undoubtedly has put the same [...]
Mad Men episode 304, "The Arrangements": It was all about daddies this week. Dads fighting for the glory of empire in Prussia or Korea, wearing the hats of dead men, clinging to their tattered copies of Roman history while they sleep. Betty's dad, the millionaire named Ho-Ho's dad, and, most importantly, Sally Draper's daddy. Let's curl up together in our tutus, cease our sobbing, crack open our 1962 copy of Time magazine, and figure out exactly who each daddy is.
I don't need to tell you what going through puberty feels like, with all its urgency, eroticism, and ugliness. You went through it yourself. If you didn't go through it as a female, I can tell you that the desire to appear adult is consuming. Whenever there's role-playing to be done, the pubescent female will assume the role of Teacher in School, Doctor in the Hospital, Mother in House-and beware the girl who played student, patient, baby. For young girls, the thinking goes, if they exude an air of maturity, they'd be chosen to enter the world of adults. A young girl's desire to play cook is not only [...]
Don Draper didn't know his father, so he examines figures of male authority that he dreads becoming. One is Roger Sterling. Unfortunately, Don's current trajectory points to a Sterling finish. Right now, he's an entitled lush who skips out on his family, cuts corners, sleeps with the secretaries and-worst of all-he settles for mediocre copy. One day you're taking a drunken self-congratulatory lap around a conference room of potential clients, the next day you're in a dusty corner office wistfully dictating your memoir to a bored secretary.
If 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 [...]
Of all the metaphors this season, the strongest seemed to be the horse. That could seem old, pony-furred hat if we were not in the strong hands of the Mad Men writers room. The partner of the wayward man making his claim on the land; the embodiment of stubborn independence; since cigarette ads immemorial, a symbol of virile Americanism. Of course horses are also chattel, and we Americans will gladly take our spirit animals, chop them up and serve 'em to our pups if there is good business to be had, even if we have to lie about it. Also, horses can kill you! (RIP, Papa Whitman.) [...]
At the end of season two, Betty became convinced that Don was cheating on her. (Crazy, right?) She spent much of a day tearing apart the house, looking for clues of infidelity. Shoving her hands inside pants pockets (smoking), pulling out desk drawers (drinking), reading every scrap of paper in the house (sweating), Betty, in a deflated and droopy party dress, found nothing. Generally, TV shows will afford one scene to this sort of lipstick-on-the-collar scenario, but instead we were drawn into the hunt over the course of the entire episode.
"Japan" is the explanation that Bert Cooper offers his British bosses for why they're standing in their socks inside his office. Japan and our role in WWII can also be offered as the explanation for what cinched America's role as the then-new empire. It must be a bit awkward for citizens of the waning imperial power that was England to strip down to their socks together. (Did you notice the armor lurking in the corner of Bert's office? And the buffed knight's suit standing guard in Lane's? Empire-building does come with some marvelous accessories.)