Via The Edge of The American West, Adam Curtis has some interesting reflections on Mad Men. Here’s a snippet:

In Mad Men we watch a group of people who live in a prosperous society that offers happiness and order like never before in history and yet are full of anxiety and unease. They feel there is something more, something beyond. And they feel stuck.

I think we are fascinated because we have a lurking feeling that we are living in a very similar time. A time that, despite all the great forces of history whirling around in the world outside, somehow feels stuck. And above all has no real vision of the future.

And as we watch the group of characters from 50 years ago, we get reassurance because we know that they are on the edge of a vast change that will transform their world and lead them out of their stifling technocratic order and back into the giant onrush of history.

The question is whether we might be at a similar point, waiting for something to happen. But we have no idea what it is going to be.

Read the rest here.



Season Finale

November 9, 2009

In consideration of the people who haven’t yet seen this very awesome episode of Mad Men, I’ll warn you that the post below has a bunch of spoilers. Don’t click further if you haven’t seen the episode yet and don’t want to know what happens…

Read the rest of this entry »

Joan’s M.O.

October 27, 2009

This interview with Christina Hendricks in New York magazine is really worth reading. I thought this bit at the end was important:

It’s slightly troubling to me that people seem to regard Joan as a straight-up superhero.
Yeah, I get a lot of this sort of “you go, girl!” attitude. If you pulled her out of the sixties, people wouldn’t feel the exact same way. But I think there’s so much mistreatment of women, and the fact that she’s knocked back is powerful for people: She holds her head up high and works through it, and I think it makes people feel good that she’s not whimpering in a corner.

I think part of the reason people like Joan is because her resistance to being the chaste, submissive housewife seems somewhat equivalent to what she’s up against. In other words, it’s not intuitive to imagine she’d be as resistent to what’s considered okay for a woman to do today even though we don’t really know that. I’ve always thought of Joan as someone who needs a bit more freedom than was okay at the time. Now I’m starting to wonder whether she’s naturally rebellious. There is a difference.


From Ta-Nehisi Coates Mad Men thread today Matt comments:

Although Don has his character flaws, I like that he occasionally shows a more noble side. He didn’t hold the knowledge of Sal’s gay affair against him. He seemed to scoff at Roger’s blackface performance. He didn’t discriminate against Peggy, but let her on the creative team. This might be due his self-centered libertarianism (“so long as it doesn’t affect me”) or he may actually be forward thinking and more ethical than we give him credit for. I tended to think the latter was true so I thought he would stand up for Sal.

The show conforms to certain patterns – Don continually getting any woman he wants, but it also surprises me. That was one instance. I remember another recent surprise – I thought that the grandfather would accuse Carla of stealing his money because she is black.

That would have been cliche so I’m glad it didn’t happen, but I have been hoping for more commentary on race relations, and I liked what I saw in this episode. It was heartbreaking to see Carla in the kitchen listening to (was it the news or MLK? or what?) and having to hear Betty say that the time isn’t now.

As for the confrontation with Sal and the “you people” line – I think he did mean gay people, but it also felt like he meant: you moral people who aren’t willing to compromise yourself for your career or for success or for ME, how dare you!

(additional emphasis mine). While I expect everyone will be talking about the superpowerful “You People” moment in yesterday’s episode (which our very own Jeremy adeptly analyzes) I’ve got to say that that bit between Betty and Carla was pretty damn powerful too. Remember that Nelson Rockefeller was, if you’ll excuse me here, the “Maverick” of the Republican primaries that year. He was very much against the homophobic and segregationist stances of the Republican Party that are still prevalent today under a thin veil were still prevalent in the 60s. We hear some of these Rockefeller supporters at Betty’s fundraiser talking about how segregation is such a bad thing. They mean it I think but they do it in a passive way.  I really don’t want to over emphasize how historically significant moments in this show are but I think that moment, and when Betty says ‘well, maybe it’s not time to end segregation’ deserves attention. One thing we’ve seen a lot of this season is a dramatic disconnect between whites and blacks. Our wealthy white main characters just don’t get blacks or race relations. They think they all think together and act together and that racism will just fade away. They’re against racism but just not enough to do much about it, but threaten the beauty of the community and Betty and the rest are storming city hall and flirting with politicians.


I respect the overall thesis of this Amy Benfer piece, that despite its efforts, Mad Men doesn’t adequately emphasize that the 60s weren’t so great. But I have to disagree with an early point in the piece in which she argues that Sterling Cooper is and continues to be an incredibly racist place, one that is as far back as can possibly be. That’s just not true though. I mean, S.C. isn’t at the forefront of racial progressiveness but as we saw in the episode “The Fog”, staffers are starting to see the monetary value of the African American market and that’s more than can be said for some people during that decade.


Okay, these episodes are getting way too deep for me. What was with Betty’s halucinations and that black guy? And that scene where we see Sally wipe the blood on [off?] her face?

If any of the episode is clear it’s that change is in the air. I think one thing we saw in this episode is that the blatant bigotry and sexism of the past is getting a long coming beating. Not just with Peggy and her raise, but also with race relations.

I’m actually not surprised by Pete’s actions. It’s why I don’t think he’s  a completely horrible guy. He stomped off from the table with Duck and Peggy because she was a woman. He doesn’t know better than to condescend to women. But he’s also not a bigot. I guess I assumed Pete was racist since he was brought up from in a very privileged background with a father who thinks there are certain jobs for “a white man.” When his father said this Pete was clearly uneasy so I guess that was a rather rash assumption.

What’s important to remember though is that Pete isn’t Martin Luther King jr. as Roger joked (with frustration) also. This speaks to racism in general I think. One isn’t completely racist or nonracist, there are degrees to it and in this last episode we saw that Pete is less racist than many. He’s willing to put the social divides aside when there’s profit to be made. The people who represent Admiral are far more racist than Pete and will suffer businesswise because of it. But again, remember, Pete doesn’t totally know that blacks and whites are equal people, he, like others, think that all black people basically know each other and any one can speak for the opinions of the group.

Over time I suspect that Pete will learn that’s wrong. Luckily, he’s at a company that’s on the same correct path. That’s pretty amazing isn’t it? And speaks to the silliness of racism in general. The market doesn’t care who’s black and who’s white. It’s strange though that the businessworld remains an incredibly sexist and racist place today. Having watched this episode I wonder how much more efficient it could be without those same inequalities. The stronger companies obviously do better by focusing on profit and profit alone —instead of keeping the blacks and women out of the conference room. Take stodgy old Sterling Cooper, it looks like it’ll survive a shift to a less racist world. Who saw that coming?



In the comments to an earlier post about the last episode of Mad Men Judy writes:

Just discovered this blog! I read some comments earlier this week for the NYT article that suggest that “Connie” was really Conrad Hilton. If so, this gives us even more layers to unpeel in this already multi-layered show.

Conrad Hilton being the founder of the Hilton Hotels chain. This is entirely possible as (I believe) “Connie” said he was from San Antonio and born into a family of humble means. That’s the same as Conrad Hilton.

If that really was Conrad Hilten then the reason Don gets along with Connie so well probably has to do with where they are both from: humble backgrounds. In contrast, there will always be a divide between Roger and Don because Roger was born into money, he never earned it like Don or Connie (if he’s indeed Conrad Hilton).


At the risk of writing an effusively gushy post about Mad Men I’ve got to say one aspect of the show I really like is when a national event happens around the same time as a local event. The standoff between Don and Betty during the Cuban Missile Crisis is a great example. The panic from the threat of a nuclear holocaust helped push Don to reach out successfully to Betsy.
This popped into my head as I sit in the airport waiting to board my flight from Boston to Chicago after dropping my sister off at Harvard. CNN coverage of Ted Kennedy is playing on one of those t.v.s at the terminal and while my sister is surely not dead my family has lost a child who sleeps in the house and gets up to go to school five days a week. That a the nation lost a senator at the same time somehow makes it harder to shake the sense of loss I feel both from the death of the liberal lion and the new lack of accessibility to my sister.
One might say the Betty/Don standoff was timed overdramatically but national events do remind us of personal ones.


The 1960s Working Girl

August 14, 2009

Amanda Marcotte has a piece up at The American Prospect Online about Mad Men. There’s a lot in there but I thought this bit was especially interesting:

The rebellion of the 1960s was only made possible because of economic changes and other cultural developments that happened in the early — and less romanticized — part of the decade.


The character of Peggy Olson, a secretary at the advertising agency Sterling Cooper who moves into copywriting, doesn’t go to work because she’s an overeducated housewife looking to relieve boredom. She is a working-class Catholic girl from Brooklyn who needs the money and then finds herself addicted to ambition. Peggy’s story, and that of all working-class women who held jobs because they had to, is as essential to the history of women’s liberation as The Feminine Mystique or protests against the Miss America contest.

Too often we hear and are taught about how Betty Friedan revolutionized feminism with The Feminine Mystique but I’ve heard very little about what happened to women who “needs the money” and enters the workforce. As the show plainly shows, a lot of these women went into the work force hoping to bag a man but not all of them and those who didn’t immediately get married were a key factor in changing the masculine dominated culture.