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…

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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.


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?


The Capitalist Wins Again

August 17, 2009

In Michael Burawoy’s classic text Manufacturing Consent, the UC Berkeley sociologist studies the inner-workings of the capitalist labor process.  In his ethnographic research, he discovered that small changes in the organizational structure of a factory could have a profound effect on the culture of the factory workers.  Specifically, he found that factory managers were able to pit workers against each other by instituting a new piecemeal process in which workers were rewarded for individual production.  Instead of uniting against their managers, workers were organizationally structured in opposition to each other.  The ensuing competition diverted conflict away from the managers, thus suppressed labor demands and left the workers relatively powerless.

I think you see where I’m going with this.  Sterling-Cooper’s CFO was able to institute this exact (and, from the capitalist’s point of view, quite ingenious) structural condition on the new dual-heads of accounts.  By splitting up responsibilities between Campbell and Cosgrove, the CFO manufactured competition between the men, pitting them against each other, rather than against Sterling-Cooper’s management.  As a result, both men will be subject to suppressed wages, since their bargaining power is diminished.  And due to animosity (you can just feel it coming from Pete), they probably won’t unite to leverage better salaries.

Because of their structural equivalence (same position, same relationship to subordinates and superiors), they are more concerned with taking each other down than overthrowing management.  You can just imagine what Pete would do if Cosgrove suggested that they should both threaten to quit for a raise: Pete would take the opportunity to throw Cosgrove under the bus.  As much as we harp on Pete’s, uh, less than stellar character traits, it’s important to cite this organizational arrangement as an important component of their resulting competitiveness.  Indeed, this organizational restructuring exploits Pete’s opportunism, to his detriment.  Poor Pete; he’s merely a pawn in the capitalist enterprise.


Out of Town

August 17, 2009

Last night’s episode didn’t exactly get off the new season with a bang; it was mostly just getting the pieces in order so that the writers can ratchet up the tension later. But that being said, there were a few interesting character moments, especially from Don and Pete. And it’ll be interesting to see how their new English overlords handle running the company as things progress.

So as Daniel mentioned, Don’s sexual-conquest-of-the-week was a blonde this time around. Seems to me this shows he’s found some level of comfort, or at least complacency, leading his double (triple!) life. He thinks nothing of adopting the role of Bill, played by Don, played by Dick, conducts his adultery in a businesslike manner, and even invents a pretty good line of bullshit about investigating Jimmy Hoffa. In other words, he’s enjoying the deceit tremendously, at least until he gets back to his family and remembers who it is he’s betraying.

But back to the blonde hair; I think the more or less submissive blonde girl (versus the strong, independent brunette) represents a certain set of lifestyle preferences for Don, and he’s settled, at least temporarily, into that set of preferences. Too bad for him that reminders of his fake persona–such as the opening flashback in which we discover that he’s not just a bastard in the figurative sense–keep creeping back into the edges of his consciousness.

Maybe those reminders are why he goes so easy on Sal. I’m sure a lot of viewers recognized that significant look in Don’s eyes when he told Sal that the tagline for their new ad campaign was going to be, “Limit Your Exposure.” It was also a piece of advice from one impostor to another: keep your personal tastes on the DL, and we won’t have any problems.

Meanwhile, back at home office, we got to see Pete Campbell at his most delightfully insufferable. Did anyone else think it was hilarious how he started brown-nosing his new Brit boss before he even knew why he had been called into a meeting? If that takes first place in the “Pete Campbell Makes an Ass Out of Himself” awards for this week, a good runner-up is his outburst at Ken Cosgrove after he discovers they’re competing for the accounts throne.

The funny thing about Pete is that he’s not really all that more venal than most of the other folks at Sterling Cooper; he’s just a hell of a lot worse at hiding it. Both of the aforementioned incidents drove home that Pete’s naked ambition will, time and time again, end up being more of a hindrance to his career than a help. If there’s one lesson we’ve learned from Don Draper’s business dealings, it’s that a successful businessman goes to war without ever formally declaring it, and Pete just threw the declaration right in Cosgrove’s smug, Atlantic-published face. More than any of the other running subplots introduced in this episode, I’m excited to see where the Campbell-Cosgrove rivalry goes over the course of the season.

Pete Campbell

August 13, 2009

kartheiserYou know I can see how a lot of people dislike Pete Campbell but I’ve never considered him a total antagonist, he’s more just one of the main characters. Actually, I don’t think there are any good guys and bad guys on Mad Men, just people. But back to Campbell. I’m with G.D. here, Campell is indeed “interesting.” He’s ambitious but not totally because of greed. Part of it has to do with Pete gaining independence and respectability by being successful enough to provide for his wife. Throughout the first season he’s constantly torn over taking money from his father-in=law so that he and his wife can live the posh life that they’re used to. “I can’t provide for a child” he professes guiltily one night. It’s that desire that drives Pete to blackmail Don which was a rather strange twist in the story of their relationship.

I’ve always been fascinated by Campbell’s opinion of Don especially when contrasted with his relationship to Duck. Over the last two seasons Campbell has treated Don as sort of a father figure. Pete is regularly looking for Don’s approval going so far as to say how much he wants Don’s approval after Campbell lands the Clearasil account. When Campbell’s father dies he goes to Don first even though Duck is the one to give him some fatherly advice and comfort (which Campbell doesn’t seem to like one bit). I don’t exactly know why Campbell takes to Don and not Duck, maybe because Duck is so clearly not the real deal in Campbell’s eyes and Don is? People choose to adore other people without any real logic sometimes.

My theory is that because Campbell is very much the little boy —he doesn’t always think about what he says or what the consequences might be just like a child. He acts like a spoiled child— and Don is very much the man, disapproving of Campbell but on legitimate grounds, Campbell wants to become him. In a way Campbell views Don as a father figure I think. Campbell wants to be successful like Don and righteous like Don appears to be and skilled like Don. He wants to be able to stand beside Don “on the top” which Campbell says has enough “room” for them both. As far as I can tell he’s never wanted to get rid of Don, just be on an equal ground with him or more crudely be equal to him.