12.03.2010

Everyone knows the many aspects of life in the sixties have evolved to fit today’s culture. However, one of the biggest changes is evident when looking at relationships. After examining season one of Mad Men more closely, I realized that almost ever married male character has cheated on his wife. The classic example is Don Draper. Don has multiple affairs, repeatedly disrespecting his wife, Betty. There is also Pete Campbell, who gets married right at the beginning of the show but then sleeps with secretary, Peggy Olsen, multiple times, eventually leading to an unwanted pregnancy. Finally, there is Roger Sterling, cheating on his wife with executive secretary, Joan Harris.

In today’s culture, this type of cheating and lying is unacceptable in relationships. It is called a ‘scandal’ at that. A relationship is ended almost immediately when the knowledge of an affair comes about. In today’s world, yes, people are definitely more open to their sexuality. However, people are less prone to be accepting of cheating. Yes, cheating does still take place and is very common at that. Although, it is the character of the person who was cheated on that has really evolved.

In Mad Men, characters like Betty Draper who clearly know that their husband is not being faithful choose to just ignore it instead of acting against it. People today realize they don’t have to stand for that type of behavior. Betty may have just ignored it to protect her reputation or keep her family together. However, whatever the case, she made herself seem naïve and almost pathetic in the eyes of everyone else. In addition, characters like Peggy Olsen and Joan Harris represent women who know they are seen as the “women on the side” to these men.

However, they easily accept these roles and play along. Hopefully today, we can see a difference in this. Women today, for the most part, are not satisfied with this type of role. Women today also have more rights to opinion and therefore speak up for themselves more often than in the sixties, which may be the main reason there has been any type of evolution at all.

12.02.2010

Into the Counter Culture

In the fourth season episode of Mad Men, “The Rejected,” Peggy’s new friend Joyce takes her on a journey into the belly of the emerging 1960s counterculture. They go to a party for a screening of an artist’s experimental film. Underground cinema was a major part of the counterculture movement, and as Juan Suarez notes in his book Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars, these screenings, often in “run-down art or clearance houses,” served as “rallying points” for unconventional artists and bohemians (67-69). As Peggy enters a New York warehouse, filled with strange partiers, including a man with a bear head, and as she smokes pot while watching an experimental film, one can take note that the series has come a long way from the conservative 1959 suburbia of season one.

Not until the late 1950s did America, and much of the world for that matter, stray in the slightest from the supreme Hollywood film industry. In the 1950s, writers of the Cahiers du Cinema, a French film magazine, started the French New Wave. Its pioneers included Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. Their films, such as Breathless (1960) and The 400 Blows (1959), rejected the clean sterile approach Hollywood had been taking, and instead went for a rough aesthetic with continuity errors and abrupt cuts. As writers and filmmakers, they promoted auteur theory, which raised directors to the prestige of artists making works of art. This groundbreaking form of filmmaking made its way to America around the same tame. John Cassavetes, widely regarded as the father of independent cinema, employed similar techniques. His early films, including Shadows (1959), were some of the first independent American films.



But Mad Men depicts the even further dropout from mainstream Hollywood, underground cinema. The movement formed to counter the commercial and professional values of Hollywood, and unlike Godard and Cassavetes, the filmmakers refused to follow any of the norms of mainstream film (Suarez 53). This can be seen in the film projected at the party. Stock footage of rocket launches are accompanied by slides saying, “THE HOLY EUCHARIST,” and it’s set to a track by The Animals. There is no narrative, no actors, and the film doesn’t aim to make complete sense. The use of rock and roll music is also very typical of underground cinema. An example is Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), a film featuring gay bikers and Nazis set completely to a soundtrack of songs from artists like Bobby Vinton and Elvis Presley.

The shows creators aimed to highlight this emerging movement with “The Rejected.” Although the depiction of 1960s counterculture may be clichéd, it remains accurate to the movement. With these brief first steps into the counterculture, viewers can take note of what to expect from Mad Men as the series delves deeper into the 1960s in the upcoming fifth season.

Source Cited: Suarez, Juan. Bike Boys, Drag Queens, and Superstars: Avant-Garde, Mass Culture, and Gay Identities in 1960s Underground Cinema. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1996. Print.

Image: http://www.boston.com/news/globe/living/articles/2007/11/18/still_breathless_after_all_these_years/

11.30.2010

Put That In Your Pipe and Smoke It



John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in the summer of 1960 used Jackie Kennedy Onassis, his wife, as a key figure. Beautiful and well-spoken, she was known to the nation already as a fashion icon. In an effort to reach out to the Spanish-speaking voters, she filmed a commercial for Kennedy entirely in Spanish, as shown above. In it she says:

“Dear Friends, the wife of senator John Kennedy, candidate for the US Presidency, is talking to you. In these very dangerous times, when the World peace is threatened by Communism, it is necessary to have in the White House a leader able to guide our destinies with a firm hand. My husband has always cared for the interests of all the portion of our society who need the protection of the monetary government. For the future of our children and to reach a world where true peace shall exist Vote for the Democratic party on the 8th of November. Long live Kennedy!”

Since Sterling Cooper is running the advertising campaign for Nixon during this election, Harry Crane is charged with keeping tabs on the television ads for the opposing candidate. As soon as this reaches the Sterling Cooper boardroom, in Episode 9 of Season 1 (“Shoot”), they begin discussing damage control. Ken complains “I don’t understand it,” and Paul Kinsey’s retort is, aptly, “Because it’s in Spanish.” This quick boys’ club exchange passes quickly because morale is rather low, especially when Don points out that Nixon’s eight-point lead in the polls “isn’t much.”

Mad Men shows the election from the perspective of the Sterling Cooper advertising agency so as to make viewers think about just how influential television was in the election, for the first time ever. Today, we expect to see campaign advertisements on almost every commercial break in the last few weeks leading up to a presidential election. In 1960, advertising agencies were paving the way for the first ever televised presidential election, with the debate as the main event. Some will even argue that, had the debate not been televised, Nixon would not have come across so poorly in it. Had television not been a factor in the election at all, Nixon might have served his presidential term long before the Watergate scandal. Imagine that next time you see a political ad on television.

Links consulted: "Jackie Kennedy Speaks Spanish"

11.14.2010

The Time Without Cell Phones

In Episode 3, “Marriage of Figaro," of Mad Men Season 1, Don drove to pick up his daughter Sally’s birthday cake but did not come back until very late at night. When Don did not show up after one hour after leaving, Betty and the wives fiercely worried and called the bakery. However, they were informed that Don had picked up the cake a long time ago. Since Don was unreachable, the birthday party was almost wasted by the unpredicted absence of the cake.

Imagine what would happen today if Don did not come back on time with the cake. It would not even necessary for Betty to call the bakery. Instead, she would call Don’s cell phone with a single hit on the speed dial key on her cell phone. Even if Don did not pick up the phone, she could leave thousands of voice messages or simply find out Don’s location with some easy-to-use GPS services, for example, the AT&T FamilyMap.

How annoying all these things were going to be if they were available in Mad Men! Don was a man who had frustration in his marriage and needed some private space to think through some issues. Everyone can have personal issues or emergencies, and they usually happen in a bad time. In the case of Don, it was his daughter’s birthday, and the time he was supposed to bring back the cake. For some people, his decision of going to the railroad side to think and drink was irresponsible. Of course, whoever in the position of Betty would not accept Don’s action. However, in the perspective of somebody who needs the private time, the absence of cell phone was the best protection of the privacy and efficient meditation. A thorough meditation might be able to inspire the person to take new approaches to address his or her frustration. In Don’s case, even though there was not really anything indicating the result of his meditation, his uninterrupted private space also allowed him to somehow make up his “wrong doing”-he bought a golden retriever as the birthday gift to Sally. In the show, Don’s returning with the dog did not lead to a verbal conflict between him and Betty. However, if he were called back by cell phone, he would neither be able to finish his meditation, nor avoid a quarrel with Betty, which could be a disaster.

What Don did on her daughter’s birthday party would not be considered right by many people, but his uninterrupted private space might be something that people are jealous of. In the time of cell phone, we do miss the time without it sometimes.

11.03.2010

The Art of Advertising

Throughout the 1950s suburbia was idealized by many Americans. The rising suburban communities were represented in the media as fulfilling the “American Dream.” It represented everything a young couple of postwar America wanted. In the 1950’s the baby boom was beginning to erupt. Suburban towns were manufactured by mass producing homes at a low cost, allowing families in the postwar economic boom to purchase homes. This was the ideal situation for new families, having the safety of a quite neighborhood and out of the city, while still remaining close enough to reap the benefits of having a husband who worked in the city. Children were able to be safe in a neighborhood and able to play with the other young children, while the parents were able to socialize in the open environment that neighborhoods provided.  

The situation of Don Draper is the ideal fit for this mold of suburbia. Draper has two young children, a wife, and a successful job in the city. He is the type of person that advertisements would use for these communities - an upperclass, young, white family with several children. Although the suburban neighborhood was essentially created for Draper, he never seemed to fit in. 

As seen throughout the series, Don often avoids home. He spends many evenings in the city with clients or other women, ignoring the life he is leaving behind in the suburbs. When Don is home, he never seems to be comfortable and is looking for an escape. Perhaps the city provides the hustle and bustle that allows Don to forget the past and his identity. Is it the close community feeling of a neighborhood frightening to Don where he is able to slow down and actually think?  

Has Don fallen for his own advertising trick and moved his family to the suburbs seeking an idealized life - “Advertising is based on one thing, happiness”?

Links referenced: Kenney, Kim. "Suburbanization in the 1950s: Glamorizing Suburbia in Popular Culture."

Episode Quoted: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Mad Men. By Matthew Weiner. Dir. Alan Taylor. AMC. 19 Jul. 2007. Television   

10.30.2010

The Death of Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man

In the latter part of the fourth season of AMC’s Mad Men, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce experiences the loss of their most important and loyal client, Lucky Strike cigarettes. Losing this massive account caused the firm to scramble looking for ways to drum up enough business to stay afloat, so Don Draper boldly took out a full-page ad in The New York Times declaring that SCDP would no longer accept tobacco accounts and that the company would no longer create advertisements for potentially harmful products. Although this unanticipated and risky move by Draper was frowned upon unanimously by his associates, it seems, in retrospect, that getting out of the tobacco game was a very well-timed gambit on his part.

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, tobacco companies were frequent sponsors of television programs and sporting events whose advertisements were ubiquitous in daily American life. Slogans like “I’d walk a mile for a Camel”, “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!” (itself created by oft-referenced SCDP rival firm BBDO), and “Winstons taste good like a cigarette should” captivated a nation where smoking was commonplace and widely accepted. However, as scientific evidence revealed that smoking caused cancer and numerous other health problems, lawmakers received increased pressure to lessen the presence of tobacco in media. This pressure culminated in the passage of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1970 by the US Congress, which banned all television and radio advertisements for cigarettes, relegating them to existing only in such media as magazines, newspapers, and billboards. Since then, even more strict restrictions have been placed on cigarette advertisements. Under the recent Family Smoking and Tobacco Control Act, tobacco companies are banned from sponsoring sports or music events or place their logos on articles of clothing. Eventually, this law is going to require that tobacco advertisements consist of only black text on a white background except for in certain “Adult-oriented” publications. It’s hard to imagine even Don Draper being able to do something with that.

Sources: "Tobacco Advertising" and "New FDA Rules Take the Fun Out of Cigarette Advertising"

10.27.2010

Sterling Cooper Shrugs

Atlas Shrugged is a novel written by Ayn Rand, first published in 1957. The novel takes place in the future United States, where the population refuses to be exploited by the government. The protagonist of the book is a woman named Dagny Taggart. She sees the government trying to take more and more control over its people, which leads to the society collapsing. Meanwhile, a productive member of society by the name of John Galt is leading a “strike” against the government because it tries to take away from individual people’s accomplishments. The book, in over a thousand pages, tries to demonstrate that society cannot exist if its people are slaves to the government and if there is a lack of profit motive in people’s minds.

This novel is very pro-Capitalism. A major theme in the book is the idea of objectivism. Objectivism is the idea of "rational self-interest," which means looking out for you above everyone else. “Rational self-interest” is an idea that stemmed from Capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system where things are produced privately and meant for private profit. People who believe in Capitalism believe that it is the best economic system because it allows for an individual to work hard and earn their profit on their own, without any help from the government. In Capitalism, profit motive is what triggers people to work hard. Capitalists believe that the government should keep out of economic affairs.

Bert Cooper, one of the heads of Sterling Cooper, is a big fan of Atlas Shrugged and suggests to a number of his employees to buy a copy. In the wake of the Cold War, this was a very popular book because it promoted Capitalism, which is what the United States believes is the best economic system. The book suggests that the government as shown in the book, a government that control its people, is a form of Communism. Communism versus Capitalism was the main idea of the Cold War and whoever ‘won’ the War would have the best type of government.

Links referenced: “Atlas Shrugged.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 15 Oct 2010. Web. 17 Oct
2010.

10.25.2010

Don Schupack

The process of creating advertising campaigns is transformed from pencil pushing to an art form in the television series Mad Men. To me, the recurring “light bulb” idea moments stood out as the more memorable of the first season. There are many scenes that fall under these criteria but Don’s idea pitch scene in “The Wheel” and the ad campaign created for Menken’s stand out more than the others. Acting as a looking glass into a previously unexplained world, these scenes also led me to ponder how modern ad agencies conduct their ad campaigns. I’ve decided to explore modern advertising techniques by examining the campaign for a product anyone reading this is sure to have consumed: Mad Men.

The ad campaign for Mad Men is incredibly iconic with its enticing and bold use of colors and art styles as well as its strategic and captivating use of music and other media. The first season of Mad Men employed the techniques of the always interesting, and downward spiraling, Amy Winehouse with the use of her song “You Know I’m No Good” for the show’s commercial spots. This move was incredibly intelligent of the advertisers marketing Mad Men to the public. Amy Winehouse’s music is a combination of modern pop and 60’s jazz, a clear reference to the show’s combination of modern and retro: issues of the 60’s mixed with racy modern plot-lines.

One similarity between the Menken’s ad campaign and Mad Men’s is the use of new age technique and thought in the marketing of a product. Much like Sterling Cooper’s addition of modern European fashion and innovative displays and customer service at Menken’s, the advertisers behind Mad Men build buzz for the series through promotion via blogs, Twitter and Facebook. The advertisers have even created a mini game online called "Mad Men Yourself" where fans can create their own Mad Men-ified copies of themselves. Mad Men is also in a joint campaign with Banana Republic with “Mad Men characters and images alongside Banana Republic looks” to promote the show and act as a “testament to the broad influence the series has had on the world of fashion design” ("AMC and Banana Republic Extend 'Mad Men' Marketing Promotion for a Second Year").

Linda Schupack, the mastermind behind the marketing of Mad Men, created the ad campaign in this way to not just earn viewership but “to entertain people." Don Draper is incredibly privy to this concept as scene in his monologue in “The Wheel” and various other rants in the series on the general public. The public, according to Don, wants to be entertained by their advertising not told what to do by it. How appropriate that advertising for Mad Men emulates the virtues of Don Draper?

(The articles cited in this post (check them out) also have plenty of other Mad Men advertising shenanigans performed by Schupack and her team, including shrink wrapping a train in Grand Central Station and handing out Sterling Cooper business cards.)

Links referenced:
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2009/07/27/090727ta_talk_schulman
http://www.mediaite.com/online/interview-amc-goes-meta-marketing-mad-men

10.19.2010

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind the Curtain

The amount of attention focused on all things Mad Men is extraordinary. All of a sudden these “nobody” actors appeared on a little watched network to be the stars of a period drama that was vastly different from the popular shows on television, and we just can not get enough. Their faces cover magazines; they receive awards and nominations; and they inspired a recurrence of 1960s fashion. But with all this hype about Mad Men, I can not help but wonder about the man behind it all.

As I was skimming through the September issue of Rolling Stone plastered with the faces of some of the Mad Men characters I have come to know, I was surprised to find that the article within was actually focused on the creator of the show Matthew Weiner rather than the famous stars we tune into each week. Interestingly though, the separate characters we see on screen comprise the full person of Matthew Weiner: “In his head, the characters on the show are all reflections of himself. Not just Don Draper - every single part” (Konigsberg 46). Mad Men serves as a form of therapy that enables him to release everything he feels as well as talk about his family, parents, fantasies, enemies, and fears (Konigsberg 46).

So who is Matthew Weiner? Well, he wishes he had the sexual confidence of Joan, refers to himself as a mini-Pete Campbell during his high school years, and painfully admits that he was once a jealous and cruel person (Konigsberg 46). Also, he is no Don Draper, at least personality-wise. Where Don would handle any situation with ease, Weiner finds himself uncomfortable in such situations, evidenced by his obvious fidgeting (Konigsberg 43). However, both Draper and Weiner are constantly dealing with the question of who they are, a question that all of us have asked a some point or another. In a sense, Matthew Weiner is Mad Men.

So, while you get to know Don, Peggy, Joan, Pete, Betty, and the other characters, realize too that you are ultimately getting to know Matthew Weiner. It turns out that we are paying more attention to the man behind the curtain than we thought.

Links referenced: Konigsberg, Eric. “A Fine Madness.” Rolling Stone 16 Sept. 2010: 43-49. Print.

10.17.2010



AMC's Mad Men is based around many different issues; relationships, historical events and tensions in the 1960s, and mystery about characters among others. However, regardless of what is going on in the always intriguing and scandalous lives of its employees, Sterling Cooper is an ad agency. In many scenes we see Don, Peggy, and other characters working on copy and giving presentations on advertising strategies for various clients. What always strikes me while watching the show is the fact that many of the ads look like they could be in a magazine or on a billboard today. The elegance and modern aesthetics of ads on the show like those made for Bethlehem Steel and Liberty Capitol "Executive Account" often make me wonder how accurate these ads really are to the 1960 setting of a show made today when I think of the cartoonish ads of the 60s with paragraphs and paragraphs of fine print.

However, Lucky Strike, a real life cigarette company and fictional client of Sterling Cooper, is an example of when the creators of Mad Men get it right. The show depicts quite a few real-life situations that come up in Sterling Cooper and Don's ideas for Lucky Strike's advertising, obviously twisted to make them fit the show. For example, in the first episode and subsequently there is controversy on the show surrounding the FDA and claims it allows cigarette companies to make about the health of their cigarettes. In reality, Lucky Strike did put out ads depicting doctors which claimed that their cigarettes were healthier than others. This practice is obviously no longer allowed. Another real-life example from Lucky Strike's advertising is the slogan "It's toasted." On Mad Men, Don comes up with this brilliant idea on the spur of the moment in a meeting. In reality, this slogan had been in place at Lucky Strike since 1917; however, the slogan still remains the same. 

While the same accuracy and attention to detail cannot be this exact for all of the advertisements on the show, it is clear that the writers of Mad Men are paying attention to what really happened in the 1960s. The other clients on the show, such as Ponds, Bethlehem Steel, and Kodak are real companies, giving the writers of the show examples and measures for accuracy of advertising in the 1960s. Although not every ad can have such extensive history behind it, many things on the show are based on real events and people and ring true for the 1960s.

Image credits: From The New York Times Website
Links referenced: "Lucky Strike"

10.12.2010

From the first episode of Mad Men to the current fourth season, Lucky Strike cigarettes have been the primary account for Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (formerly Sterling Cooper). However, the agency and their old friend finally parted ways this past week as part of a series of losses that has led SCDP on the verge of collapse. In a daring attempt to spin this troublesome news, Don Draper decides to write an open letter to the public saying that the agency will no longing take on cigarettes accounts due to their danger to people’s health. Of course, this is Don’s attempt to spin bad news and not a sudden emergence of ethical standards.

Ironically, the real life Lucky Strike brand underwent its own endeavors with the delicate art of spin. During the 1940s, Lucky Strike claimed in their ad campaigns to have “gone to war” alongside Americans. Their signature green packaging was replaced with white, and sales increased by 40 percent. Part of this was the result of a claim by the parent company, American Tobacco, that they had changed the pack because they wanted to save the copper used in the green paint that went onto the packages for the war effort. However, this patriotic act was not altogether true. While the gold trim of the packaging was indeed made with copper-based paint, the substantially larger green portion was made from chromium. The real reason behind the change in colors was studies (perhaps conducted by men not so different from Don and Pete Campbell) that showed that women, a growing demographic of the smoking population, disapproved of the drab, green color.

Pretty sneaky, no? Then again, these are the people who have successfully peddled what have been known colloquially for over a half century as “caner sticks”.

Links referenced: "Lucky Strike." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 5 Oct 2010. Web. 11 Oct 2010.

10.04.2010

Every once in a while, a few media outlets will get together and seize the actor of the moment, proceeding to hinge their hopes of success on this singular person. Luckily for us, that man appears to be Jon Hamm: the man behind the grey flannel suit of Don Draper.

The Town, released on September 17th, coincided perfectly with the hype from the mid-season shenanigans at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Surprisingly, though, Mr. Hamm’s character from The Town shares a few character traits with his small-screen counterpart.

The Town is set in Charlestown, a neighborhood in Boston notorious for bank robberies, and Hamm portrays an FBI agent attempting to catch the “bad guys." About midway through the movie, the astute Mad Men viewer will begin to notice some strange parallels between Agent Frawley and Mr. Draper. Their prickly boardroom demeanor, emotionless pragmatism in regards to their businesses, and (excuse the pun) take no prisoners attitude in regards to their adversaries, the two Hamm dopplegangers are surprisingly similar. 

The only logical conclusion is that Don Draper conducts business like a cop on the edge. That can really only make us like him all the more. 

The movie itself was quite impressive, a generally good crime film. Any fan of Mad Men should see the movie, as director Ben Affleck weaves a gritty, realistic piece, reminiscent of the grit and realism of the recent episodes in the Fourth Season of Mad Men. The ins and outs of Ben Affleck’s second outing as a director aside, the movie itself  becomes quite comical when you say to yourself, “Oh, damn, there goes Don Draper, but with a shotgun”.

9.30.2010

L'Shanah Tovah, Don Draper!

I admit, I did not keep up with the episode schedule so last weekend I spent Sunday afternoon glued to my screen watching Don put Pete in his place, Ken get published, and watching Don feel out of place in Greenwich Village. When I got to the end of the sixth episode, "Babylon," after that women got through her ridiculous poem about making love with Fidel Castro, and the two men took the stage, I had a sudden feeling of déjà vu, or rather déjà ecouté. “We remember, we remember, we remember you Zion,” sounded so familiar and then suddenly I remembered. I had heard it no more than 24 hours ago at the Yom Kippur Shabbat service at Temple Israel.

For all of you goys out there, Yom Kippur is the holiest of holies. It is a day of atonement and repentance observed by fasting from sundown to sundown and going to prayer services. It’s believed that on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, God writes everyone’s fate for the year in the Book of Life and then “seals the deal” on Yom Kippur. During the eight days in between, the Days of Awe, Jews try to repent for any wrong they have done against God or another human being so God will bring them good tidings for the rest of the year. That’s why common Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur greetings are “shanah tovah” (for a good year) or “gmar chatima tova” (may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for Good). These greetings may sound more awkward than saying “Happy New Year!” or “Merry Christmas”, but it’s more appropriate than saying “Happy Yom Kippur!” because after all, it is a day of penance.

During the service I went to, people were encouraged to share their wrong doings with the temple so the temple could forgive them. Many people called out their sins such as not supporting a friend in need or giving up on a social cause. Would Don Draper speak up? (If he did, he’d probably something vague and open ended.)

In addition to fasting, Jews are not allowed to eat, drink (alcohol or nonalcoholic), wear leather shoes, bath or wash, use perfume, or have marital relations in order to cleanse themselves. From the soles of his shoes (most likely leather, possibly Italian leather) to his fingertips (which are almost always holding a drink), Don Draper would not be a good Jew, although without a doubt, he could find a way around no marital relations.

The song "Babylon," based on Psalm 137 ("Psalm 137") when the Jews were exiled from Babylon, (click here to see the original version sung by Don McLean), is a typically sung at Temple. Thought it wasn’t written for Mad Men, it seems to relate to Draper. Zion is a name for Jerusalem and the Biblical Land of Israel, but it also has become a metaphor for any Promised Land or wanted goal. It has even been used in a spiritual meaning, symbolizing the yearning by wanderers for a safe homeland ("Zion"). What a coincidence, since Don could not have seemed more out of place and exiled than he did in the last scene of Babylon when Midge and her obtuse friend dragged Don to a show in the middle of Bohemia in Greenwich Village (see Don looking sad and alone here!). Don Draper is a vagabond, constantly wandering in between the city and the suburbs, going from woman to woman without finding a true confidant or soul mate. Although recently, Don has been confiding bits of his past and his worries to Rachel Menken, could she be his Zion?

Links referenced:

"Psalm 137." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 15 Sept 2010. Web. 26 Sep 2010.
.

"Zion." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 11 Sept 2010. Web. 26 Sep 2010.
.

9.29.2010

And You Might Consider Wearing a Scarf

The wardrobes of "Mad Men" are adored.  They’ve turned the phrase “Mad Men” in to an adjective used to describe any clothing deemed 60s chic.  Countless articles have been written about them.  They’ve even sparked clothing lines at Banana Republic (“Mad About Style”) and a Don Draper suit at Brooks Brothers.  The attention to detail evident in Wiener’s work is one of the many reasons why so many are drawn to his character’s clothes, fans and actors alike.

“The clothing is just amazing.  Her hats alone, you could write a book,” said Alison Brie in an interview with Nylon Magazine.  The interview went on to reveal that she couldn’t take anything from Trudy’s wardrobe because the show often repeats clothes characters have worn.  “I’ve tried to weasel out some gowns, but I haven’t stolen anything [because] if I’ve worn it, it stays in Trudy’s closet.  Which is something I love.’"

Mad Men recently auctioned off select set and wardrobe pieces for charity, including Joan’s dress which sold for $1,324 and Betty’s dress which went for $2,025.  The show’s fashions highlight the day to day dressing we’ve lost.  The public obsession with Mad Men has bled in to trying in some small way to relive it. We can’t go back in time, but at least we can dress like we did.

Links referenced: Lauren Ward, “Mad Men,” Nylon Magazine, August 2010, 202, Mad Men Joan Harris Dress, Ebay, Mad Men Betty Draper Dress, Ebay, David Colman, “Dressing for Success, Again,” New York Times, December 16, 2009.

7.21.2010

Season Four on the Horizon! - July 25th

They say April comes in like a lamb, a lamb carrying a full plate of morsels about the upcoming season four premiere of Mad Men. According to TVGuide.com’s Michael Ausiello, an expert on upcoming television news and spoilers, AMC has titled the first episode of Season Four “Public Relations," and the cameras started rolling on April 12, 2010. Ausiello’s other tidbit was particularly juicy, an announcement that the show plans on bringing three new characters of varied size and importance to the series. Weiner described the newcomers as “… a handsome and creative male; a voluptuous, curvy, and cute brunette who is friendly but professional; and an affable guy who is a bit lacking in personality.”

Of the three, the most intriguing may be the third description provided by Weiner, if only because ‘an affable guy lacking in personality’ seems the most boring on the surface. If we’ve learned anything from serialized television over the years, it’s that a nice, quiet character ALWAYS has a big secret to hide. A handsome and creative male? Could easily be competition for Don, who has never seemed to meet anyone close to his equal in terms of creative prowess in his department. The voluptuous but professional brunette? Perhaps the honeymoon’s over already for Roger and Jane, and he’s ready for even fresher meat. On the other end of the spectrum, perhaps we’re overemphasizing the “voluptuous” when we should be the “professional," and we have here a Peggy 2.0 to further emphasize the feminization of executive spots as the sixties progresses.

Still, many of the burning questions about season four have yet to be answered. Of course, we don’t really want any of season three’s specific cliffhangers spoiled before the premiere, but many are anticipating hearing if there will again be a fast-forward in years between seasons. The biggest question of all might be the one decided not by the writers and directors of our favorite show, but by the executives of AMC: When in the summer can we expect to have our Mad Men back? All we can say is stay tuned for July 25th!

Link referenced: The Ausiello Files

7.20.2010

In an interview, Matthew Weiner acknowledged that Don Draper was partly inspired by the real Draper Daniels, the creative head of Leo Burnett in Chicago, in the 1950's. Recently, Daniels’ wife Myra Janco wrote an article about being married to a "Mad Man" for ChicagoMag.com. So what do Don Draper and Draper Daniels have in common? And what don’t they?

They definitely look alike don’t they?

They also both lead a decadent lifestyle and are pretty damn good at what they do. But sadly, the similarities end there.

According to Myra, Draper was a romantic. The article is full of adorable moments that would make Don cringe. Draper seems to genuinely adore his wife, and he became a one-woman man after he got married. He also quit drinking when his wife told him to.

In an excerpt from the article:

“I was cleaning out his old highboy chest and I found two rolls of nickels in a drawer…I thought
immediately of Vivian Hill [who] would often…say things like, 'I’ll bet you two rolls of nickels that Procter & Gamble is going to move from this agency to that agency'…I rang her up and said, 'Vivian, the strangest thing happened. I opened up the drawer to Dan’s old highboy and I found two rolls of nickels, like the kind I would sometimes win from you.' And she started laughing.

I said, 'Why are you laughing?'

'Didn’t he ever tell you?'

'Tell me what?'

So Vivian told me…The morning after I had met Dan in 1965—the night we talked for five hours, then went out for hamburgers at the Wrigley Building—he had gone to visit Vivian and said that he wanted to buy the company. I knew that part, but I didn’t know the rest of it. He also told her, 'Vivian, just for your information, within two years that woman is going to be Mrs. Daniels.' She bet him two rolls of nickels that he was wrong. The day after we were married, in 1967, she paid off the bet.

Dan kept the nickels.”

It’s interesting to note that Don’s ‘secret drawer’ is full of lies while Draper’s contained a token of his love for his wife.

And Draper worked for the Kennedy administration…go figure.

Links referenced: Chicagomag.com and Styles I Love.

7.15.2010

Don Draper is an island. He has always isolated himself ever since he was a little boy. Like any true escapist, he leaves when he lands in hot water. In episode twelve of season one we find that Pete’s been snooping around to find the perfect angle to receive the promotion he has been looking for. When he reveals that he knows Don’s true identity, Don begins to jump ship.

Don’s flashbacks are always in great clarity. Natural light illuminates the space. This often happens when Don saves another client presentation with his great last minute ideas. It almost makes it seem as if he is divine, unscathed by flaws or failure. The opposite is true when he wants to escape his life and his thoughts are muddled.

The scene between Rachel and Don, when he is trying to convince her to leave with him is a particularly low-lit scene. The dark shadow that almost always dominates Don is ever present. Rachel tends to weave in and out of the rays that burst through the window. When they are seeing eye to eye, they stand in Isolation, but when she is refusing his offer she stands apart.

The light creates the mis-en-scene by physically depicting hostility. This is the end of his second escape. The lights give an air of ambivalence that characterizes Don’s hasty plan.

There is a need for the writers and directors to single out Don. This is not just because his tragic heroism drives the story but also to reveal his complexity.

It is also interesting that there is never more than three-quarters of their bodies shown at all times. Each shot often cuts to them in their own frame. The back and forth is conveyed by a shot reverse shot technique. This type of focus formulates the importance of their words as the space becomes smaller. They have limited space the more they grow apart as if the space mimics the relationship’s movement and lighting changes.

This is not the first time Rachel is put in a similar point of view as she often leads and commands every conversation she has. Her words are what are always important even more so as their relationship fights its previous mold.

It is no surprise however, that in this scene the effervescent relationship begins to fizzle out. She is not an escapist, but like Midge she sees the need for change, as any modern women should. She stands firmly in the bright warm light that Midge often stood in too. There is a shallow focus on the two subjects as Rachel pulls farther away. She realizes that Don is not the man she thought he would be. She is the most knowledgeable about Don’s past, but this does not salvage the relationship.

5.12.2010

Joan and Peggy: The Student Becomes the Master

A subplot during the first season of Mad Men is the fascinating power-play between Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson. The first episode is Peggy’s first day on the job, Joan Holloway instructs her on both professional and personal matters. Joan makes it clear that she is comfortable with the traditional view of women and tells Peggy to start taking birth control and show more skin – a firm believer in exploiting her physical charms. Peggy is nervous and meek throughout the episode, getting the birth control prescription and being overly modest. The show highlights their differences through many techniques, not limited to costumes, camera angles and lighting.

A perfect example of their dynamic occurs in Episode 5 where Peggy is forced to entertain Betty Draper and her children while Don is away from the office. She is almost certain that he is with his mistress and is at a loss on how to deal with the situation. She begins to panic and seeks the help of the all-knowing Joan Holloway. Peggy is flustered and anxious compared to the calm demeanor of Joan. The implications are obvious; Joan is the master, and Peggy is her disciple. Peggy blurts out a panicked few sentences, wrought with insecurities regarding her ability to deal with the situation, while Joan looks on with almost quiet amusement.

The non-verbal elements play a definitive role in this scene. They are standing close together, and the physical contrast is significant. Joan stands nearly a foot taller than Peggy; her posture is upright, confident and relaxed. She is dressed in a stylish, formfitting dress with large earrings that shine in the dull light, topped off with her hair pulled up almost like a crown. On the other hand, Peggy is dressed in a very simple fashion, none of which plays to her advantage. Her blouse is buttoned to the neck, she wears no earrings and her hair is set in a simple ponytail.

The camera position alternates between Joan and Peggy’s shoulders. From Joan’s perspective, she is looking down at Peggy whose eyes nervously flicker back and forth, never making eye contact as she stands against a dull background, blending in to her surroundings. Whereas, Peggy is looking up to Joan, who looks on intently as a light in the background shines just above her fiery red hair. Joan forces Peggy to reveal Don's secret affair; using it as an opportunity to teach Peggy one of the faux paux of a secretary.

This scene epitomizes the influence that Joan had on Peggy’s life initially. As the season progresses, Peggy distinguished herself as being creative and original. She is asked to write ‘copy’ on subsequent products, with great success. Finally, in the last episode of the Season, Don Draper promotes her to the position of a junior copywriter, effectively giving her a position above Joan.

While there is no true animosity, it is an engaging evolution by which Peggy first learns to survive through Joan’s help and then comes to outrank her as she becomes more confident in her abilities.

5.06.2010

It's All About the Look

If you're like us, your fascination with Mad Men is not based only upon characters and story-lines. Sure, we all love the office-sex dynamic, Don's mysterious past, and that what's-going-to-
happen-next feeling every time Sal's homosexuality is insinuated. But, what we really love to see
is what they’re all wearing. The women wear form-fitting (yet classy) dresses with heels and are
always impeccable. Even Betty looks like the perfect wife after a long day of taking care of the
kids or spending a morning riding at the stables. Plenty of choices are offered for the women
who want to style themselves after the 1960’s. However, it has always been my opinion that one
can never have too much access to information (or shopping!) at their fingertips. So, in honor of
the costume designers of Mad Men, my blog post is dedicated to where to find the best 1960’s styled clothing. My favorite pieces have always been available at ModCloth.com and JCrew.
ModCloth sells a variety of retro clothing though their dresses are the most notable. JCrew has
also been offering Jackie cardigans (as in Jackie O) and Minnie pants, which are reminiscent of
Audrey Hepburn. Here, at a fellow Mad Men blog, women can find more that will remind them
of our favorite women on television. For more on women’s fashion, also click here to
check out Elle’s take on Mad Men with Janie Bryant, Mad Men’s costume designer.

Now, let us not forget the men, for what would the 1960s be without the dashing debonair men
that make up Sterling Cooper’s agency. Like their female counterparts, the men always appear
pristine in their tailored suits. And, who doesn’t adore the beloved hats that were once a sign of a
well-groomed, chivalrous man? Unfortunately, ladies, we can only strive to mimic the style of
the 1960s. Men, on the other hand, are finally able to dress like their television heroes. As Dave
Itzkoff advertised in The New York Times, men can finally “be as Dapper as Draper.” The suit,
sold here by Brooks Brothers, is styled after the tailoring of the 1960s as seen on Don Draper and
Roger Sterling. The suit was also designed by Janie Bryant, the show’s creator. The suit debuted
last fall but is still available online. I will warn you, it comes at a hefty price.

Sources Cited: Itzkoff, Dave. “Be as Dapper as Draper in Your Own ‘Mad Men’ Suit.” The New York Times. 14 Oct. 2009. Web. 22 Apr. 2010.

4.23.2010

In Episode 6 of Season 1 of Mad Men, Sterling Cooper is working on the Belle Jolie lipstick account. In one particular scene, the secretaries have been led into a room to try out different shades of lipstick while the men watch from behind a one-way mirror. The transition into the scene is noteworthy, as the account executives say they cannot understand the women (“they don’t speak moron”) and refer to them as chickens. This scene is stunning both visually through the costuming and in the gender roles that are expressed during the scene.

The costuming is truly effective in this scene because it immediately tells the audience about each character. The woman from the research department, Dr. Greta Guttman (Gordana Rashovich), who has a “man’s” job, is wearing a masculine grey suit and grey shirt, the manliest wardrobe for any of the female characters. From previous episodes, the audience knows that this woman is not accepted by the men or by the other women. She, like her costume, is somewhere in between what was expected in the gender roles of a man and a woman in the workplace of the 1960s. Her palate of grey is just as boring as she is to all of the other characters.

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Joan (Christina Hendricks) stands in stark contrast, wearing a vivid red dress that shows off her feminine curves, as well as highlighting her bold character. Red is associated with passion, desire and lust which perfectly fits Joan’s use of her sexuality in the workplace. When wearing red, all heads turn to Joan, her usually eye-catching look taken to extreme. Red also symbolizes power. Joan’s power over the other women is very clearly shown in this scene because they all look to Joan before answering the researcher’s questions, as though they are seeking her approval.

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Peggy (Elizabeth Moss), dressed in a conservative and juvenile outfit, does not participate with the other women in trying on many shades of lipstick. Her brown dress is rather boring compared to the other secretaries’ pastel outfits. Brown traditionally denotes masculine qualities, and its frequent use in her wardrobe foreshadows her future rise to a masculine job. Also the color of the earth, brown implies genuineness and wholesomeness. Peggy is seen as a very naïve girl, still genuine in comparison to the people she works with. The styling of Peggy’s dress is oddly matronly and stiff with a very high neckline, letting the audience know she isn’t using her sexuality to advance in the workplace. Clearly Peggy is set to contrast Joan, both in personality and costume.

The wardrobe for the women of Sterling Cooper, while stunning and era appropriate, helps progress the narrative by telling the audience more about the characters. The color and styling of each costume gives further understanding of the complexities of each character. Each of these women’s roles in the workplace is typified by her costuming.

4.18.2010

It's a Barbie World

With the first season the Mad Men taking place in 1960 and the Barbie brand being introduced in 1959, it was only a matter of time before the two industries merged together. Sold at around $75.00 per doll, Barbie and Ken will soon become one of four characters in Mad Men: Joan Holloway, Roger Sterling, Don Draper, or Betty Draper.

But do the characters of Mad Men fall too close to home to be a typical Barbie doll? Is Betty Draper not a Barbie doll herself? This draws an interesting question; now that we see the damage and disloyalty that truly lies behind the perfect “Barbie doll” characters on Mad Men, does that make the image of Barbie and Ken less perfect?

This is something the creative executives at Barbie marketing took under consideration. As stated by Stuart Elliott in his New York Times article about the subject, “The dolls come with period accessories like hats, overcoats, pearls and padded undergarments, but no cigarettes, ashtrays, martini glasses or cocktail shakers." It turns out, it doesn’t matter whether you are living in 1960 or 2010; when it comes to advertising, image almost always takes precedence over truth.

4.16.2010


The role of a woman was vastly different in the 1960’s than of today. Most women were expected to pursue lives as housewives instead of starting a career. The boredom and isolation of being at home affected women greatly which is represented with Betty Draper in Mad Men. The final episode, “The Wheel,” features a scene where Betty finds Helen’s son, Glenn in the parking lot. As one of the lowest points for Betty in the season, the music is slow and eerie as Betty pulls up and approaches Glenn who is alone in a car. She seeks comfort and ends up crying while talking to the child. This scene demonstrates just how alone and unhappy Betty is with her life when she goes as far as to look for any sympathy and comfort in the innocence of a child.

At this point Betty has little strength left; she constantly keeps up a cheerful appearance but is hurting inside because she realizes she has no one she can talk to. Glenn seems like a suitable companion not only because he once appreciated her beauty in a way Don doesn’t, but also because he’s a child and had not yet been corrupted. Throughout the season we witness Betty’s constant attempts to catch Don’s attention in any way. She is constantly keeping up the ideal image she believes Don would want for his wife whether it be how she keeps company and her demeanor or with her personal appearance. When Betty goes to watch Glenn and he admires her beauty, Betty not only tolerates it but is maybe even a bit flattered because she is getting the attention she never gets. It is common for many housewives, who had little to take pride in other than their appearance, to feel accomplished and justified when they felt they were desired by men. In this case, it slightly more disturbing as the admirer is not a man but a child, further putting Betty’s judgment into question.

As the scene continues, the unusual pair continues to talk and the discomfort from the peculiar conversation is felt and emphasized with a shot and reverse shot pattern. It focuses on the expression of uneasiness on Glenn’s face and the desperation of Betty’s. When Glenn refers to his youth Betty does not care because she doesn’t believe in the wisdom of adults saying, “Adults don’t know anything." Betty is drawing on the innocence of children. Her childhood, having not been tainted like Don's, is a memory of simpler times before the temptation of greed and cruelty reached most. Remembering this, Betty wants one just person, even if he is nine-years-old, to tell her everything will be okay.

At the end of the scene, Betty leaves immediately reverting back to her act of politeness having been somewhat rejected by the one person she tried to open up to when Glenn hints that his mother may be coming back. The quick shift from vulnerability to politeness seems drastic, yet it is only because for once the feelings Betty has are noticeably hidden. Once again Betty is left disappointed and lost, yet this facade is one she puts on on a daily basis. From the way she reverted back to it when leaving, one can see it is one that she will continue to portray. Betty is the portrait of the lonely and uninspired housewife revealing the frustrations many of the women like her felt in the days of Mad Men. Like Betty, it’s unfortunate that most of these women simply wiped their tears and continued on further intensifying their discontent.

4.14.2010

Don Draper's New Car

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In episode 7 of Season 2, Don buys a brand new 1962 Cadillac El Dorado coupe like the one above. To many in our generation, Cadillac’s are though of as big, slow cars for old people, but at the time, Cadillac was a big deal. It is only recently that the company has earned this reputation.

For the majority of the 20th century, Cadillac’s motto was “The Standard of the World." The company was known for being innovative, forward thinking, and the epitome of modern design and luxury. Many of the standard appointment we enjoy on cars, like the V8 engine were first premiered on a Cadillac. They were the car of choice for movie stars (click here to see Marlene Dietrich standing next to hers), politicians, and everyone rich and famous. Driving a Cadillac was one of the ultimate expressions of wealth and power.

Cadillac reached its high point in the late fifties and early sixties. Its cars were the biggest, most comfortable, and advanced vehicles a person could buy in the United States. However, this luxury came at a price. In 1957 a new Cadillac cost as much as a Rolls Royce, over $13,000. $13,000 may seem like a small amount of money, but adjusting for inflation, that same car would cost over $130,000 today. Considering that the average American salary in 1960 was a little over $4000, Cadillac’s were astronomically expensive and far beyond the purchasing power of the vast majority of Americans.

Don’s decision to buy a Cadillac reveals a lot about his income, position in society, and the image he has of himself. It was arguably the epitome of the consumerist consumption culture. This car, and Don's purchase of it, is just another fascinating contradiction in the life our of favorite TV ad man.

Special thanks to Popular Mechanics article “100 Years of Cadillac History” available here.

4.13.2010

A Place Where We Ache to Go Again

One of the most significant scenes in the first season of AMC’s Mad Men is when Don presents the ad campaign for Kodak’s wheel called ‘The Carousel.” Don uses the wheel to show pictures of his family in order to market the machine as something that evokes nostalgia within a consumer. This moment presents Don with a deeply sentimental and emotional reaction as he sees pictures of his kids and him and Betty as a happy couple. This experience gives Don his own nostalgia for happier times and suggests he may feel guilt or remorse for his actions but reminds him what he values in his life- his family.

Don says that nostalgia literally means “The pain from an old wound.” This relates to Don’s current situation as he feels pain when looking at these pictures and seeing how happy his life once was and how now his marriage is failing. Don goes on to explain how nostalgia is more than memory because it is felt in the heart. This proves that these pictures did have meaning to them and were not just the Drapers’ pretending to be happy. In comparison to the family portrait taken earlier in the season, the pictures in the slideshow seem much more genuine and capture true happiness. In The Way We Never Were, author Stephanie Coontz references Christopher Lache when he suggests that many people tend to be overcome “by fantasies even more than by things” (176). These pictures provide more meaning than any other material thing Don owns. The idea of a perfect family seemed like a fantasy to Don, who grew up in a broken family, but these pictures remind him that he did, at one point, have a close, happy family. However over time Don and Betty have drifted apart due to their lack of communication and commitment. This fantasy of a perfect family is not so unrealistic and suggests that Don may be remorseful towards this nostalgia that he longs to go back to.

Throughout Don’s speech the idea of aches and wounds is emphasized to demonstrate Don’s longing for those times of happiness. He states that the wheel “takes us to a place where we ache to go again.” This speech is almost as if a veil is being lifted off Don and the viewer gains insight into his heartache. There is a slight sense of regret in his nostalgia, as it seems as if he is questioning his affairs and the distance he created within his family. Don also brings up how the wheel lets you travel like a child (hence the use of the word carousel) and lets you go home to a place where you know you are loved. The idea of childhood is significant because it is something so innocent and pure, untainted by adulthood. Youth is a time when thoughts and dreams are joyful and simple. Don came from a troubled childhood, and the only time when he was truly happy in life was the early stages of his marriage and when he is with his kids because this when he experienced love. Don aches to feel this love again and has a strong desire to go back as if on a carousel.

The setting of this revelation is important because creator Matthew Weiner said that advertising is “a great way to talk about the image we have of ourselves, versus who we really are” (Witchel). This scene embodies Don’s heartache while presenting his nostalgia in the form of his work to illustrate the man he once was and the man he has become. The wheel ads depict a man who loves his family and is truly happy. While Don still loves his family dearly, he has not made the best decisions when it comes to keeping his marriage stable. This moment allows Don to self-reflect on his actions by giving us insight into his guarded persona. Don deeply cares about his family, his kids above all else, and truly displays nostalgia as he aches and longs to go back to a time full of happiness, something missing from his current life.

References

Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. New York, NY: Basic, 1992. Print.

Witchel, Alex. "'Mad Men' Has Its Moment." The New York Times 22 June 2008. Print.

4.05.2010

A Guide to Getting Girls? What More Could a Guy Get?

According to Saturday Night Live, Don Draper has all the answers to getting women.



"Don Draper’s Guide to Picking Up Women" plays off of his popularity, not on the show Mad Men, but also among viewers. An Askmen.com survey congratulated Don Draper with being the most influential man of 2009. No one can deny Don’s lure, as manipulated and deceitful as it is. Don advises that men be silent when in doubt and to by vague and mysterious. The spoof is emphasizing Don’s quiet but strong demeanor that so many talk about behind closed walls. Overall, SNL exaggerates the number of Don’s affairs to articulate that having 4-5 affairs on your wife isn’t exactly "normal." But despite the atrocious activities Don participates it, we still like him. After listing step 3 as “having a great name," SNL then turns to the climax of their clip, highlighting all of Don’s characteristics, as he lists them off in a confident and suave manner. From looking fantastic in everything, to being “uncannily successful” in your job, to taking absurdly long lunches, to finishing it off with drinking and smoking all the time, Don fits his personality into a minute-long clip. Highly unattainable, extremely desirable, Don’s lifestyle is one not normally lived among today’s working-class Americans. SNL did a fantastic job spoofing Mad Men and Don Draper in general because no one can deny it - women want him and men want to be him.

Links referenced: NBC and Askmen.com

3.30.2010

In Episode Nine of Season One, entitled “Shoot”, we see a tense exchange between Peggy (Elizabeth Moss) as she returns Joan’s (Christina Hendricks) dress that she previously borrowed from her. It seems this confrontation has been building up all season as Peggy and Joan have often disagreed on many things. Peggy and Joan represent two very different types of women, with different goals, and very different ideas about what constitutes success. These differences eventually lead to jealousy and cruelty—an unfortunate side effect of success for women in the workplace.

Throughout the season, Joan attempts to offer Peggy advice on how to attract a potential male suitor, and while her intentions are good, this advice does not particularly work out well for Peggy (case and point: her extremely awkward attempts at flirting with Don in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”). Despite Joan’s attempts, Peggy is more interested in advancing her career at Sterling Cooper than landing a husband, something Joan finds difficult to understand. Joan’s power comes from her sexuality and her power over men, and she believes, like many women did at the time, that finding a husband was the most important thing in a young woman’s life.

As a result of this, she tells Peggy that her recent weight gain will prevent her from “doing well” and finding herself a husband. Peggy retorts with a prideful look on her face, “I’m the first girl to do any writing in this office, since the war.” To which Joan replies somewhat confused “Writing? Is that what this is about? I thought you were only doing that to get close to Paul.” This quote is another example of historical references in Mad Men as Peggy mentions that she is the first female copywriter since the war, referring to the mass employment of women during World War II.

With many of the men overseas, women had to fulfill traditionally male roles in the work place, including the advertising world. Despite the massive gains for women during the war (financial independence, learning new skills, putting their education to work), it was largely seen as a “special situation” that would only last until the war was over and the need for labor diminished. At the end of the war, many women were forced to give up their jobs to make room for returning veterans, and return to their domestic roles. The 1950’s were a large step back for the progress of women—though we begin to see that change in the 1960s, and Peggy Olson is a prime example.

However, from this point Peggy and Joan’s conversation grows increasingly cruel, as they each point out the others shortcomings. Joan essentially tells Peggy that the reason she was able to work on accounts is because the wife of a client was not worried about Peggy’s involvement (insinuating she is not a threat because she is not attractive). Peggy becomes defensive and retorts, “You know, you’re not a stick…I know what men think of you—that you’re looking for a husband, and you’re fun. And not in that order.” Peggy’s expression then softens, and she tells Joan, “I just realized something…you think you’re being helpful” to which Joan replies, “Well I’m trying dear.”

This short exchange between Joan and Peggy may seem only indicative of their relationship with each other, but it represents the pressures and dynamics between women at the time (though things haven’t exactly changed much). Joan’s way of thinking is more traditional in the sense that she feels a woman’s ultimate goal should be to get married and quit her job. Peggy, on the other hand, is more progressive in her views. Peggy truly enjoys working and wants to advance her career at Sterling Cooper and chooses not to focus on finding a husband. The two women continue to put each other down, not being able to understand their differing mindsets. This trend of pressuring and putting each other down is something women have been doing a long time—often at the cost of the mutual advancement. One of the reasons feminist movements did not happen earlier is because women were often isolated, and would oppress and criticize each other (usually out of jealousy). One could interpret Joan’s ‘concern’ as thinly veiled jealousy, as she has been working at Sterling Cooper for a long time but has yet to receive a promotion, or a husband. Despite her jealousy, Joan does try to help Peggy, albeit in a condescending way, and as Peggy realizes this she feels less hurt by Joan’s criticism. Their relationship is a complex one and a result of the restrictive and contradictory environment for women in the early 1960s.

3.29.2010

Don Draper: Sociopath? Or Just a Man?

Every episode, the writers of Mad Men make the audience love a villain. They cheer on as protagonist Don Draper cheats on his wife, mistreats his family and is rude to his subordinates, superiors and friends. He seems to coast through life with no empathy or strong emotions, a sociopath in his own right. However, Askmen.com editor James Bassil argues that Don is the epitome of traditional masculine traits. Don was voted ‘most inspirational man’ in a poll conducted by askmen.com, what does this say about men today? Are they really looking up to a sociopath or is Don really the ‘prefect’ man?

In the first season’s finale, Don is about to pitch his carousel idea to Kodak. Using pictures of his wife and children, he tugs at Kodak and the audience’s heartstrings. He talks of nostalgia, wanting to go back to a happier time, implying that his family once fulfilled him and made him happy. Between the deafening clicks of the slides changing and the candid pictures of Don, Betty and the kids, we flash to Don’s face as he speaks. Underneath his haughty default demeanor is, undeniably, emotion threatening to spill out.

It’s not hard to see how Don can be interpreted as a sociopath; he seems to lack empathy for everybody and only does things to help himself. But is he the epitome of masculinity? Given the obvious emotion Don displays in the Carousel pitch and the scene following it, we cannot call him a sociopath; he obviously feels something for his wife and his children. Sociopath’s lack emotion and fit in by mimicking others. So is Don just a poster boy for masculinity then? An anonymous commenter on the article argues that “Men, at their core, are ambitious, bold, out for their own well being, paternal, and providers.” It’s possible that all of Don’s sociopathic tendencies can be filed under "manliness." Don does not love his wife; rather she fulfills his need to be a provider. Betty needs Don to take care of her and be a father to her children, and Don wants someone to take care of. Yet it can be argued that Betty is not the type of woman that Don would fall in love with. His track record of serious affairs seems to be women who are independent and strong (i.e. Midge and Rachel). These women do not need Don, yet it seems that he is closer to loving them than he is to loving his wife.

“Bold, ambitious and out for his own well-being.” Definitely words that could be used to describe a man who hides his identity and steals a dead man's. A man who sleeps with an employee’s wife in order to control him better. A man who ruins his daughter's birthday party in order to get a few more hours away from the humdrum of suburbia. Don Draper is not a nice man, but he is not a sociopath. Don Draper is just a man. A man who has not been forced to tone down his masculinity in order to fit in to a more sensitive world, a man whose manliness has not been bogged down by society. “A man whose time has come," according to James Bassil, AskMen’s editor-in-chief. Alarmingly, the majority of men look to Don Draper for inspiration; should we assume that all men would be pseudo-sociopathic if it were not for external factors? Let’s hope not.

Links: "Don Draper:Sociopath?" and "Men Choose Television Sociopath as Their Biggest Influence in 2009."

3.25.2010

Mad Men and Horror Movies?

It is arguable that most of Mad Men’s success as a television show can be credited to its attention to detail. The show pays great homage to its roots in the 60s. Many of these roots are obvious, from Betty’s life relating back to the feminist mystique or historical events affecting characters in the show. But, there are also an immense amount of more subtle roots in the show. One huge example is 1960’s horror movies, specifically Alfred Hitchcock movies. In fact, there is a Hitchcock reference in every single episode. Where could this be? Its part of the first thing the viewer sees, the opening sequence.

Asking somebody about the opening credits often creates a very long and interesting discussion. In this interview, Mad Men creator Matt Weiner discusses his original ideas for the opening sequence.

As well as that video, here is a link to the opening sequence to refresh your memory.

Later in the interview Weiner explains how they auditioned people to do the titles. He mentions the name Saul Bass multiple times. Well, the references aren’t exactly references to Alfred Hitchcock himself. They are actually references to Saul Bass, who during his life he was one of Hollywood’s most prominent graphic designer. One of his most famous works was the opening credits for the Alfred Hitchcock movie North by Northwest, in which the opening credits all appear on a skyscraper.

In these titles a building is formed and the titles become part of the building. This is very similar to the Mad Men opening sequence where the office falls apart and we see titles on skyscrapers for the remainder of the sequence. This isn’t the only reference to a Hitchcock film in the opening sequence. Saul Bass also designed the poster for perhaps one of the most famous horror movies of all time, Vertigo. This poster depicts a silhouette falling down in to what seems to be an endless spiral.

In the opening sequence of Mad Men we see the silhouette falling in to an endless abyss of advertisements. It is certainly interesting to see where the opening credits came from. Not many people would think that 60s horror movies would play such a great influence on this show. What else could this show be inspired by? Hopefully, more people will be more conscious of trying to find the shows hidden roots and references.

Link referenced: Imdb.com.
Image from http://posterwire.com/wp-content/images/vertigo.jpg.

3.23.2010

Just a Dance?

Mad Men presents many themes; perhaps the most notable of the episode entitled, “The Hobo
Code,” is the clash of individuals, particularly with regard to the relationship between the men and women of the office. However, as the scene at the bar shows, the dynamics between men and women extend far beyond mere office relations and demonstrate the conflict between Pete and Peggy’s attitudes.

The scene opens with an anonymous hand inserting a quarter into a jukebox. As the record is set, the music begins to play and the camera shifts to girls from the office as they jump and scream. The song, “The Twist” (or “C’mon, Baby, Let’s Do the Twist”), seems to inspire the women to begin dancing, though the men soon join the excitement. As the camera angle widens, the viewer sees Peggy at the focal point, giddy with excitement. In the same shot, conversely, is Pete’s silhouette, gloomy and shadowed. The opening sequence serves as a preview of the light-heartedness of the couples and the harsh reality Pete creates for his relationship with Peggy.

The shot then widens so the viewer’s focus is not on an object of the room but on parts of the
room. The increased focus on individuals (gives) the viewer a more in-depth look at each character’s personality. As the shot of the room is broken down, we see each separate couple, all of whom act slightly differently. The camera first catches Hildy with Harry Crane, with Hildy acquiescing to dance with Harry. Contrasting their innocent flirtations are Joan and Paul Kinsey, who through their facial expressions and sensual body movement seem to be attempting to seduce each other. Their dance is especially fascinating because Joan tends to play the leading woman (in the office and sexually) while Kinsey portrays the alpha- male, even if he is often undermined by other minor characters, like Cosgrove. The camera shifts back to Hildy and Harry who, while appearing to have fun, seem to have a sexual chemistry. Meanwhile Ken
Cosgrove dances promiscuously with a girl in a golden yellow dress. The sequence of couples emphasizes the relationship between men and women in the 1960’s as the battle for dominance in and out of the office begins. It is also a glimpse of the emerging sexual culture as the couples are all somewhat flirtatious, and even Hildy and Harry’s plays at being platonic are later shown to be more than simple flirtations when they wreck his marriage. Interestingly, the light-hearted, dancing couples are juxtaposed with the grim relationship between Peggy and Pete.

The camera then shifts back to Peggy, who though she appears to be having fun, is dancing alone
(or possibly with a couple of the other girls from the office). Doing “the twist," the camera once again distinguishes Peggy from the crowd as she turns to look at Pete (or so the camera shows). Pete, still sitting alone, stares morosely into the dancing crowd. He is completely detached from the merriment around him. Cutting back to a shot of Peggy’s face, she is filled with an air of confidence as she moves closer to Pete. This confidence may have been inspired by the alcohol she had consumed, or possibly, by the success of the Belle Jolie ad, which, if the latter, ironically, is also the downfall of her relationship with Pete. The shot becomes a full-length shot of her body, tempting and inviting. Pete still has not moved, but the camera moves closer as Peggy does, serving to distinguish them from the others. Peggy seems to notice his lack of movement but continues to be assured that he will dance with her as she whispers an invitation to him. Even as Pete answers, he remains stoic, signaling with only a shake of the head and shifting eyes. The lack of movement is made more dramatic by the music, the dancing behind Peggy, and Peggy’s attempt at seduction when she dances over to him. The camera bounces between the two as understanding dawns on Peggy. As she heads back into the crowd, the bodies that she was once isolated from now engulf her. In the same way, Pete’s departure is in the background of the gyrating bodies. To Pete, Peggy appears to be as anonymous as those dancing around her as he makes his departure, though the camera captures her shocked sadness. On the verge of tears, her body continues to move to the dance as she tries to blend back in with those around her.

The scene, although characterized by a seemingly trivial situation, displays deeper emotions and
the emerging culture of the 1960s. The dancing couples are flirtatious and lively, although the scene seems to hint at a subtle power struggle especially within the context of dance. The women may have begun the dance, but the men, traditionally, would be leading the dance, which gives rise to the question of who is actually in control. Pete and Peggy’s relationship, however, is characterized by a pervasive seriousness, which is mainly seen in Pete’s attitude. Unlike many of his male cohorts, Pete seems to be primarily dominated by an internal struggle for power, whether it comes as a result of being a husband, an elite upperclass, or a male, junior executive at a Madison Avenue, advertising agency. Peggy, on the other hand, as shown in her attempt at seduction is completely unaware of his struggle and her role in it. She fails to recognize and take part in the struggle for dominance that even many of the women, like Joan, notice. When Peggy blends back into the crowd, she seems to finally accept the struggle, though a bit late. The
next day, she goes back to her normal business, and she and Pete ignore each other for another day.

3.15.2010

The first season of Mad Men is frequently lauded for its pitch perfect recreation of the early 1960s. Yet many fans of the show find that some of their favorite moments and scenes are actually set in the early 1930s. If the question we are all asking is how to tackle the living mystery that is Don Draper, the answer may lie in studying Dick Whitman. The writers and producers of Mad Men carefully crafted the scenes involving the Whitman parents and young Dick/Don to show how several aspects of Don’s life and character can be traced back to his unfortunate upbringing.


The first flashback scene in this episode shows a wondering hobo approaching the Whitman home, looking for a little work in exchange for a hot meal. As the Whitman "family" stands outside, the hobo says he is reminded of his younger self looking at young Dick. Abigail responds that she isn’t surprised. It becomes clear that Dick was raised in an environment where little was expected of him in terms of a successful future. The woman who raises him barks at him to "stop digging holes," and she means this in more than a literal sense. He is perceived as someone who will do nothing more in life than pointless, cheap labor and although Abigail Whitman tells him to stop, there is no real expectation that his existence will ever be worth more than the air he breathes.


At dinner that night, the hobo mentions he comes from back east, New York. Archie Whitman immediately tells us this is a sign of weakness and laziness, that it’s no wonder this man wound up a bum. Dick was raised in a home where the type of work they did in New York was seen as intellectual pointlessness, nothing compared to steady, independent farm living. His family saw the detractions but failed to see the possible benefits of a life with more possibilities and glamour. We can see why Dick had no choice but to run from this atmosphere if he was to ever embrace a dream of anything more, a dream that came true as Don Draper in New York City, for better or for worse.


The next scene featuring the hobo, played wonderfully by Paul Schulze (Jack’s boss Ryan Chappelle for those who remember the third season of 24), finds young Dick preparing a makeshift bed for the visitor by the light of an oil lamp. The hobo tells about his life before he became a "gentleman of the rails," claiming to have had a normal job and family. He hated the confines of being tied down, and one day just left his obligations for the open road. In this very episode, Don asks Midge to leave for Paris with him on a whim. Life at home and in the office is trying for him at this point, and he once again starts to consider escape a desirable option. The seeds of these thoughts can be traced back to the hobo who gave him hope of escape when he told young Dick that it was clear he is "one of us," one that cannot be tied down.


Immediately before the final Depression-era scene of the episode, we are treated to an emotional scene in which Don begs his young son to ask him anything, saying he will always be honest with his children. There is no way this doesn’t directly relate to the next flashback, in which Archie Whitman denies the hobo the coin he was promised the previous night for the work he did that day. The hobo draws a knife on the Whitman family fence post, to signify to other wanderers that a dishonest man lives there. As the hobo walks away, Dick fleetingly runs after him, before shooting a disturbed look back at his father.


Don’s glamorous lifestyle in the advertising industry suggests to the casual viewer that he is a million miles away from his grim, Depression-era upbringing. The flashback scenes in episode seven of the first season, “The Hobo Code," argue the contrary. We learn about what was expected of the young Dick Whitman, factors that prompt his drive to escape, the difference in how he was perceived by his mother figure and an extremely prescient hobo, and conflicts he has about honesty and integrity. As much as shots in the close of this episode (Don sleeping soundly like a rock, which the hobo said he would never due while holding a job, mortgage and family, and the closing image of the nametag on the office door to remind us who this man has become) suggest that Don is completely removed from his childhood, it is clear that elements of his life as the child Dick Whitman still impact the man Don is today.

3.12.2010

Scandal in the Office

What book could be so scandalous that Joan is discreet about it? In “Marriage of Figaro”, Joan (Christina Hendricks) discretely returns Lady Chatterley’s Lover to another secretary, Marge (Stephanie Courtney). When Marge gives it to Peggy (Elisabeth Moss), Joan advises her that it would attract the wrong type of person if she read it on the train. Written by Englishman D.H. Lawrence in the early 1920s, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the most commonly banned books of the early 20th Century. It is the story of an aristocratic woman in post-WWI England whose husband became injured after their marriage, driving her to elicit affairs with a playwright and the gamekeeper on her estate. The novel’s explicit descriptions of sex and its use of words that were unprintable at the time led to its being banned in the United States.

Book banning was a major issue across America in the early 20th Century. In 1930, US Senator Smoot petitioned the recent repeal of banning foreign published books. The Senator declared “I'd rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books” and “I've not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley's Lover, outside of looking at its opening pages. It is most damnable! It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!” His fire and brimstone speech convinced the Senate to return to the old system of banning foreign published books. In 1959, however, a court case repealed the ban and salacious foreign novels could then be legally enjoyed by Joan, Peggy and Marge. Even though the book was legal, its themes were still extreme taboos in polite society. Fortunately, we can all now enjoy Lady Chatterley’s Lover by simply visiting our local bookstore; just don’t take it on the Metro, as it still attracts the wrong kind of people.





Links Referenced: Bibliomania and "National Affairs: Decency Squabble" from Time.