Mad World on Kritik: Mad Men Season 4.7
"Pitching"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

posted under , , by Unit for Criticism
[The next in our multi-authored series of posts on the fourth season of Mad Men, posted prior to the publication of MAD WORLD: Sex, Politics, Style and the 1960s by Duke University Press, is by Michael Bérubé, Paterno Family Professor of English at Penn State (and honorary lifetime affiliate of the Unit for Criticism and Interpretive Theory]

"PITCHING"

Written by Michael Bérubé (English, Penn State)

Well, that was an episode. Peggy breaks down and cries. Don breaks down and cries. Anna appears as a spirit with a suitcase. Peggy and Mark break up. Cooper has no balls. Duck drops his drawers, decks Don. And oh yes, Clay beats Liston. As Don says to Peggy, by way of explaining why he slept with Allison despite his “rules” about “work,” “people do things.” Where to start?

I’ll start where Sandy Camargo left us last week, with her post about the metatextuality of Mad Men. The Meta Mad Men were on full display in episode six (“Waldorf Stories”), of course, because of the Emmy/Clio awards and the Breyers ice cream ad. Episode seven, “The Suitcase,” is less extravagantly meta (though Hellmann’s Mayonnaise has picked up where Breyers left off), but perhaps makes the point all the more effectively: it’s all about the pitching, at every level.

The episode starts with the Samsonite team doing its pitch to Don; that failure is followed by Duck’s pitch to Peggy, which sounds enticing for a few seconds until Peggy realizes there’s nothing behind it but a drunk and a business card; Don declines Roger’s invitation to come out and get hammered (again), saying wryly, “that’s an attractive offer”; Peggy’s mother chides her for standing up Mark, “I don’t know how many nice boys you think are lining up for you.” Don and Peggy have it out over who deserves the credit for Glo-Coat. And later, at the diner, Peggy tells Don she’s just not interested in the pitch her world is offering her: "I know what I'm supposed to want," she says, "but it just never feels right, or as important as anything in that office." Fittingly, the episode is punctuated by scenes in which Peggy is about to leave the office—and decides not to. The only time she leaves, the episode actually gets more claustrophobic, as Peggy and Don talk about advertising and life in a series of tight shots in a diner and a bar.

Duck really is a lousy ad man, by the way. The decision to court American Airlines was foolish—and you know very well Don’s never forgotten the Season 2 moment he had to tell Henry Wofford that Sterling Cooper would be dropping Mohawk Airlines. Here, Duck blows his pitch almost immediately, responding to Peggy’s perfectly reasonable question, “so what do you have so far?” by grousing, “I know it’s not a diamond necklace, but I did spend some money on those cards.” At which point Peggy knows more than enough to say (a) she appreciates the gesture and (b) does not take it seriously. Things go downhill from there, and then, at the end of the episode, right off a cliff.

But before we take the plunge, first let’s go back to “Waldorf Stories” for a moment, to the profoundly cringe-inducing pitch to the boys from Quaker Oats. Don’s impromptu taglines should be cited in academic committee meetings whenever people are flailing and just trying to make shit up on the fly (which is often): life ... the reason to get out of bed in the morning! Enjoy the rest of your life ... cereal! Yes, post-Clio Don is smashed, and his immediate reversion to Eager Don (the fur-selling Don we see in the flashbacks with Roger) is embarrassing. But the original “eat life by the bowlful” line, with the little kid and the big bowl and spoon, isn’t bad at all. Granted, it’s not nearly as good as the famous “Mikey Likes It,” and surely Weiner chose it for that reason: everyone and her brother associates Life with that ad, and rightly so. But if you compare the “bowlful” ad to what Life was actually doing back in the day, it’s frickin’ genius:

(Hat tip. Check out the 1967 ad, as well.) So I like the Life pitch. Kids will like the giant bowl of cereal. Moms will see it and get a twinge about how little their kid still is, even though they have to deal with life. Get those two together in a market and I think we’re gonna sell some cereal. Perhaps if Don weren’t so drunk, he could have worked the nostalgia angle the way he did for Kodak, masterfully, instead of burping and stumbling through it. But the idea itself is really pretty good. And the response from Quaker Oats? “It’s a little smart for regular folks.” The rejection recalls the Jantzen response (skin in a bikini ad, oh my!) and Conrad Hilton’s crazy-old-coot response to Don’s global-Hilton campaign (where’s the moon? I wanted the moon!). For anyone who has ever pitched a good idea to anyone, in any business (including academe? oh, absolutely), moments like these are infuriating. How much more infuriating it is that the slogan they like is the tired, predictable one Don stole from Danny. “A home run,” indeed. “That dog will hunt.” The meeting ends as a kind of class reunion of sales clichés, Don thinks he’s saved the day again, and off we go into the lost weekend. My point is not that I identified with Don for a moment, even as I cringed at his rapid-fire, erratic, weak-sauce slogan pitches; my point is that anyone who’s ever had a reasonably good idea shot down by “it’s a little smart for regular folks” should be identifying with Don at that moment. And much of the ambivalence of Mad Men toward its own metatextual success—that is, its own spectacular success at selling itself to us—depends on that dynamic. That’s not to say that everything MM does on this score is a success: notably, Ginia Bellafante wasn’t buying Jon Hamm’s performance in the flashbacks. “Hamm,” she wrote, “wore the same goofy, eager-beaver expression he did when we saw him as a car salesmen in the early ’50s a few seasons ago. He tries too hard to make the early Don seem like an ingratiating rube, so hard, in fact that the effect is to make Don’s eventual transition to a cool, everybody-comes-to-me, know-it-all seem utterly inconceivable.” Which is to say, in meta-speak, that Hamm tries too hard to show Don trying too hard. (I disagree; I think one of the points of the Life pitch is that Don’s subject-supposed-to-know facade can drop in a second. Such is Don’s ... life. But the point is that not everyone likes how Hamm handles Don’s self-presentation. Like that Mikey kid—he hates everything.) OK, now to Samsonite. This time, it’s Don who doesn’t go for the pitch, and though he’s nowhere near the level of cluelessness of the Quaker Oats boys, we see that yet again, Don doesn’t have the pop-culture chops he’s going to need for the second half of the ‘60s. “Endorsements are lazy,” Don says, “and I don’t like Joe Namath.” Sure, endorsements can be a cheap shortcut. But the “football” premise isn’t terrible -- arguably better than American Tourister’s “suitcase in a gorilla cage” campaign (1970, but alluded to here by way of the “elephant on a suitcase” suggestion), and light-years beyond Samsonite’s recent Cosmolite campaign. And who knows? Maybe that Namath kid will make a name for himself after all. But Don blows off the Namath idea, just moments after he’s plunked $100 down on Liston because Clay is a “loudmouth” who proclaims he’s the greatest and therefore can’t be. Don wasn’t so hot on that Kennedy kid, either; he was flat-out flummoxed by Doyle Dane Bernbach’s VW “Lemon” ads; and he doesn’t seem the least bit interested in the Fab Four. (DDB, btw, was also responsible for “Mikey likes it.”) So there’s your setup: the failed pitch is the premise for the entire episode, or, as Peggy puts it when Don tells her she doesn’t have to stay, “I do have to be here because of some stupid idea from Danny, who you had to hire because you stole his other stupid idea because you were drunk.” Moss’s delivery is brilliant (and the line follows another Peggy zinger, “it’s not my fault you don’t have a family or friends or anywhere else to go”). The stupid idea keeping them there? Samsonite is tough. But as Don notes at one point in the evening, every time we get down to working on it, we abandon the toughness idea. Indeed we do: the ideas are too obvious—football, elephants, throwing suitcases off buildings. “I can’t tell the difference anymore between something that’s good and something that’s awful,” Peggy confesses in the diner. “Well, they’re very close,” Don replies, anticipating Spinal Tap’s classic formulation, “there’s a fine line between stupid and clever.” “But the best idea always wins, and you know it when you see it.” Reassuring words—except that it doesn’t, and you don’t. Sometimes “the cure for the common breakfast” wins, because the clients are dolts. Or sometimes the creative director doesn’t like “Lemon.” Or, to take a contemporary example, sometimes the same agency that’s capable of producing the brilliant “aliens stole our moon rover’s tires while we were dancing to ‘Jump Around’” Bridgestone ad is also capable of producing the stupid and sexist “what if Mrs. Potato Head lost her mouth and had to stop yapping in the car” Bridgestone ad. You know, the one that played during the first commercial break in episode seven. Besides, the problem with “Samsonite is tough” (and, perhaps, the reason we keep abandoning it) is that it seems there’s something else lurking in the margins, something we don’t want to acknowledge. Like making that phone call to California. Or Uncle Mack’s line about how a man needs to keep a suitcase packed because he “needs to be ready to go any moment.” “Maybe it’s a metaphor,” Don murmurs. And when spectral Anna appears at the 3 AM of Don’s dark night of the soul, we get the point—yes, it’s a metaphor, all right, but surely we can’t build a pitch around Samsonite: Memento Mori. We learned in “Waldorf Stories” that life is “a scary word to anyone at any age.” Yes, well, just try death. That dog won’t hunt. Besides, who wants toughness, anyway? Duck Phillips is tough—why, he killed seventeen men in Okinawa, and here he is in a drunken rage, prepared to smash Don’s nose up into his brain. (Seventeen kills! Don’s Korean experience, not so impressive.) And what a ridiculous attempt at a punch that was! Good for Don for wanting to KO Duck for saying to Peggy, “I guess when screwing me couldn’t get you anything you had to go back to Draper” and calling her a whore. But not even Sonny Liston would have pretended to go down on a phantom punch as bad as Don’s. No, Don doesn’t do “tough” very well. He winds up on Peggy’s lap, barely able to get out one last slurred sentence, “sorry if I embarrassed you.” “Let’s go someplace darker,” Don said, quitting the diner. Well, they did. On the way to that tableau, the long evening reveals a striking number of Don-and-Peggy intimacies: Peggy speaks of how Mark doesn’t understand her; tells Don that her mother believes he is the father of her child (precisely because he was kind enough to visit her in the hospital); asks slyly about Allison; admits to grieving over her child; and, of course, acknowledges that she had an affair with Duck during a “confusing time.” Don, for his part, reveals that he’s a yokel from a farm, that his father was kicked to death by a horse (Peggy laughs, thinking he’s kidding), that he never knew his mother, and, breaking down, that he’s just lost the only person who knew him. “That’s not true,” Peggy replies, having come to know Don pretty well—except, of course, for the part about the war and Dick Whitman. (Speaking of which, am I crazy to be seeing in Don occasional allusions to Robert Crumb’s “Whiteman”?) But anytime you’re telling your boss that everyone thinks you slept with him to get the job, and that everyone thinks it’s funny, like the possibility is so remote ... well, that’s kind of intimate. As is trading stories of witnessing one’s father’s death. Echoing Don’s office-kitchen conversation with Faye in episode five, the Don-Peggy intimacies begin with a disavowal. Then, it was Don’s “why does everybody have to talk about everything?” followed by his admission that he doesn’t know how to be with (or without) his kids. Now, it’s this exchange:
Don: Stay and visit. Peggy: I’ve got nothing to say. Don: Sure you do. Peggy: No. It’s personal. Don: We have personal conversations. Peggy: No we don’t. And I think you like it that way. I know I do. Don: Suit yourself.
Whereupon Peggy immediately opens up: “We’re supposed to be staring at each other over candlelight, and he invites my mother?” What a lousy offer that is: Mark’s pitch, like Duck’s, sucks. Note that until we get to “he,” it’s not entirely clear who “we” are. But Don’s and Peggy’s will not be, must not be, a romantic intimacy. It’s not merely that Don has rules about work—rules he observes as he does all other rules, irregularly. It’s that the only way Don and Peggy can maintain the right workplace intimacy—holding hands as they gaze on the sketch of Samsonite-as-Ali looming over a defeated Tourister, mutely acknowledging all they have gone through on their way to producing this image—is by finding the right place for the “personal.” “Don’t get personal because you didn’t do your work,” Don snaps when Peggy reminds him that he stole Danny’s line because he was drunk. The personal, I might say, is not a pitch (except on a TV show where it is part of the pitch). And when we stop pitching for a moment, we can admit to ourselves that we still think about the child we gave away, or the children we miss and don’t know how to care for. But everything else is a pitch, which is why Mad Men seems so ambivalent about the success of its pitchers. Don’s degradation this year has been the subject of much discussion, and by now—with Roger sneaking off to a bar in the middle of dinner, complaining that the AA crowd is “self so righteous,” Don retching his guts into the toilet, and Duck trying to defecate in what he thinks is Don’s office—it almost appears as if Weiner and company are working overtime (perhaps staying in the office all night!) to make sure his clients don’t decide they like his product for the wrong reason. Is the show going over the top in its insistence that its leading men are hopeless alcoholics? Mad Men caught on in part because of its impeccable sense of style, because its promise to reveal How We Lived Then (and maybe How We Got Here), and because (as one Lauren Goodlad put it), the leading man is hot. Well, Jon Hamm is indeed hot, and when Draper becomes the sujet supposé savoir, he embodies a form of masculinity that remains extremely attractive to men and women alike. But in season four, we’re getting a different pitch, one that puts Peggy at the center—a center from which we can see why that traditional form of masculinity isn’t worth aspiring to, and why the things Peggy is “supposed to want” will never feel right. Peggy has entered the door of the men’s room this time, and Don leaves his door open to her in the end. Will the pitch work? I’m sold, but then, I was sold on “eat life by the bowlful,” too. As long as one doesn’t regurgitate life by the bowlful as well. One final thing. Why is there a dog in the Parthenon? I don’t know. Why is there a mouse in Don’s office?

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25 comments:

spyder said...

In the The Meta Mad Men textuality world, Unilever products are an interesting bunch. Not quite the partnership with Royal Dutch Shell (though both companies do share some board members), nor aligned as Unilever is with its production of food additives (colors, enzymes, emulsifiers, preservatives and oils~~interestingly all Kosher certified), but rather more interesting because of the products "pitched" during these 13 episodes, Unilever only own five of them in the 60s. All the food companies were purchased after 2000, and most of the cosmetics after 1987. Not that any of this matters, except perhaps as metatextuality (we didn't get the Bridgestone ad out here, but i have seen it enough to know exactly what you are talking about).

The post-fight sentiments were for me the most genuine 60s response of the episode. It was fixed, it was rigged, it was Mafia, it was a travesty, "get up, get up"~~all were very common the next day. It is forgotten that the fight was only seen live in Maine, by 2800 people, and that the film of the fight was later delivered to various theaters and eventually TV. The pitch of the fight was really what the fight was about, and how it happened. Was he Ali or Clay, was he a traitor or a hero, was Liston mobbed up?

For the record, Ali hit Liston four times in the last 20 seconds of the fight, two of which landed on the head. But we only know that now because we have technology to help us analyze the fight. It was the story that mattered then.

How old is Duck Phillips supposed to be?

topometropolis said...

I don't think Duck's age is ever given explicitly, but given that he fought in WW II and has a daughter who was high-school age when we last saw her, I presume he's in his mid-to-late 40s or maybe early fifties.

zina said...

Isn't the mouse Peggy herself? Freddie Rumsen called her Mouse Ears in S1. And the dog is a cockroach, right?

There are lots of animals in MM, and especially in this episode.

So now we know who Dr. Lyle Evans is!

Lauren said...

A few random comments:

1. I don’t think that the show’s going over the top in insisting that its leading men are hopeless alcoholics (though it’s a fair question). At any rate, it feels right to me. And I think that we are meant to take heart at Don’s being able to pull himself together so well with a clean shirt, Peggy’s support, and a helluva lot of Brill cream. The old dog still hunts.

2. The concluding song this week was brilliant, especially this stanza: “Voices leaking from a sad café/Smiling faces try to understand/I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand”

3. I loved Anna’s appearance with the suitcase. (And, yes, I was deeply relieved when Stephanie insisted that there was no need for another trip to California. Phew…)

4. This was a great post Michael. Thanks so much!

5. But in the interests purest accuracy: _I_ never said that _anyone_ was hot; I merely quoted several informants on that topic (if my mother is reading Kritik right now she just might back me up on this). That said, if you search the web you might find me saying something about “visual charisma.”

6. Finally: the mouse is the remnant of Ida Blankenship’s animal nature.

Lauren said...

P.S. I forgot to ask: when did people learn that there are only two syllables in the word "protein"???

Michael Bérubé said...

Hey, Lauren! Last thing first, I think people learned how to pronounce "protein" right around the time they learned that incomplete proteins don't really look like broken eggs distressed by their own brokenness.

6. Ida Blankenship: from hellcat to mouse.

5. Yes, and Jimmy Carter never said "malaise," either. But it is a truth universally acknowledged that Jon Hamm is hot. Besides, there is no "Lauren's idea." Everything that comes in here is the property of Kritik.

4. Thanks! I got lucky, I think -- this episode was an embarrassment of riches.

3 and 2. I think so too.

1. Well, it's an open question as to whether MM is going over the top with the days-of-wine-and-roses stuff. I'm not saying it is, but I am saying that the men surrounding Peggy by midnight on 5/25/65 are like Pathos and Bathos, which might be a nice way of saying Vomit and Shit. My larger point is that Don is so good a salesman -- thanks for to linking the "carousel" pitch, b/c it remains breathtaking -- that it's as if the show has to work extra hard not to sell us on that kind of salesmanship.

I agree, though, that Don's recovery -- he looks so refreshed! -- gives us reason to take heart, as does that open door.

Lauren said...

5. Actually, I think that would be google!

1. Hmmm... Now you're getting serious on me.

I don't think the show ever needed to worry about selling us the Carousel pitch as salesmanship. You don't come away from "The Wheel" thinking--wow Draper really scored a big one with Kodak--(the way you with this season's "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" and its somewhat hollow echo of last season's finale--I think Jeremy had it right on that one.)

You come away thinking that behind every great ad man there's a...sad man.

And then you get left with that image of him sitting alone on the stairs because he's quite literally missed the boat. He has finally come back to the place where he is loved and..it's just too late.

I do think, though, that S4 has seen a deliberate pulling back on the glamor of this character in particular and the lifestyle in general. In a sense we've gone from Nietzsche to Theodore Dreiser. And, yes, there's a hint of moralizing in this relentless deflation.

For every viewer who thrilled to see Don land a blow on Jimmy Barrett--or the nimble way he mixed that drink for a thirsty Conrad Hilton after leaping over the bar--there will now be: "Uncle."

But, having never had any investment in Don as alpha male, to me it all makes sense. (And I also don't think it means we are entirely done peering beyond good and evil.)

Heck, even Ida Blankenship may have her last yowl.

Anonymous said...

But Don’s and Peggy’s will not be, must not be, a romantic intimacy. It’s not merely that Don has rules about work—rules he observes as he does all other rules, irregularly. It’s that the only way Don and Peggy can maintain the right workplace intimacy—holding hands as they gaze on the sketch of Samsonite-as-Ali looming over a defeated Tourister, mutely acknowledging all they have gone through on their way to producing this image—is by finding the right place for the “personal.”

It's also, ahem, because with Anna's unfortunate passing, Don needs a Mommy, and at this point, that would be Peggy (e.g., "that he never knew his mother, and, breaking down, that he’s just lost the only person who knew him.").

So unless Don's gonna go all Oedipal on us (and I don't think he will), he ain't schtuppin' Peggy.

JezB. said...

Isn't Peggy a little young to be his Mommy, Anonymous?

Sandy said...

A rich episode,indeed, particularly in addressing "alpha male" behavior: i.e., drinking, schtupping, and pitching, all of which end in failure, in this episode, and perhaps in the season as a whole. The litany of revelations in this episode, which might be summarized as Cooper has no balls, suggests a universal crisis in masculinity among the older males. The question that I have is: is this what the audience wants to see?

As Michael says, Don's being the one who knows is attractive to men and women. This Don, who throws up in the toilet and rests his head on Peggy's lap, isn't. And Peggy is a mother, by the way; that's her link with Don.

The anti-jock ethos in the episode (Don's not liking Joe Namath, the dumping on both Ali and Liston) is something that academics and TV writers may resonate with, but it also speaks to a mistrust of alpha-masculinity as expressed through the body.

Sandy said...

More thoughts on this post:

I liked Michael's point about the ad pitches that Don develops not living up to the real ones. Why don't they? As Don moves further away from the kind of life that the targets of the ads actually live, he becomes less able to zero in on what might appeal to them. Michael's reminding us of the Carousel pitch, one of Don's high points, is important because, unlike Life cereal and Glo-Coat, it really was his own idea.

Do you think the Peter Principle is at work? Has Don been elevated to a position above his level of competence? Is that why he's cracking up?

Sandy said...

Sorry to be so post-y today, but all the ideas in Michael's post have got me thinking this morning.

I've just read that people in Kansas and in red states in general don't watch MAD MEN. That led me to recast the cringe-making Life cereal pitch as an allegory of what MAD MEN would be if they really pitched it to those people. In other words, Don's meltdown and the mediocre and derivative product he created suggest what would happen to the show if it were on broadcast TV instead of basic cable where 3 million viewers is enough to keep a show going.

JezB. said...

Don is the creative director at SC and is the creative director at the new agency. He may be a partner but his job is pretty much as it was.

bob mcmanus said...

FWIW, someone at the Lipp's place noticed that in the episode there is a direct reference to the particular cigar company that provides the box the mouse lives in at the end of The Green Mile. M & W or sumpin.

Something one would hope is coincidence, misdirection, or playfulness.

Lauren said...

Anonymous, welcome to Kritik (I am one of the moderators here). Please do join us as often as you wish, but please use some kind of name or number so that you can distinguish yourself from others leaving comments.

And many thanks for your interesting comment. For myself, I never thought of Anna as mother-like perhaps because since she is (or was) the real Mrs. Donald Draper I always thought of her as something like Don's (that is the Don that we know) phantom wife: his soul-mate precisely because he never actually married her--much less consummated the marriage.

FWS said...

The vision of Anna seemed awkward to me - MM hadn't struck me as the type of series to indulge in spectral farewells, hallucinatory or otherwise. Although, her holding a Samsonite suitcase was rather funny (intentionally so, I hope). I almost anticipated Don repeating his theft of Danny's tagline, (re)using Pete's Death Drive-inspired pitch to Lucky Strike from the pilot - "You still have to get where you're going." And you still have to bring your baggage - in every sense - with you! Uncle Mack would've approved.

ed said...

Please do join us as often as you wish, but please use some kind of name or number so that you can distinguish yourself from others leaving comments.

No problem. Apologies for any confusion.

I would add that I liked this episode much more than the last two, which I thought were hackish. So much going on, so much character development. Great mood. As great as this episode was, let it not somehow diminish how insanely awesome Duck's attempt to drop a deuce in Don's office was (and getting the wrong office to boot). High, high comedy.

zina said...

I don't see Peggy as a mother figure for Don, but he as a father figure for Peggy. I don't think it is a coincidence that in this episode, where this underlying theme of their bond becomes explicit, she talks for the first time about her father and his death. On his part, when she goes to his office after getting rid of Duck, he taps the sofa to tell her that he wants her to sit there, the same way we have seen him do with his children more than once.

Michael Bérubé said...

To address some of Sandy's points:

The litany of revelations in this episode, which might be summarized as Cooper has no balls, suggests a universal crisis in masculinity among the older males. The question that I have is: is this what the audience wants to see?

Yes, that's kind of what I'm driving at. No question that Whiteman forms of masculinity are in trouble here. The question is whether the pitch will work. Speaking of ptiches:

I liked Michael's point about the ad pitches that Don develops not living up to the real ones. Why don't they?

Well, my point is that Don's ads are considerably better than standard ad-fare at the time. And they have to be, really, because as much as the show is invested in minute time-period-detail mimesis, it actually can't give us the full details about how cheesy, obvious, and downright bad most of the TV advertising of the time was. Really, can you imagine a Mad Men in which the creative director tells the art director to make the incomplete proteins jump up and down? Or insists that the "interviewer" for Life cereal spark the "debate" about whether Life is for kids and adults? Yeesh. Don's "eat life by the bowlful" campaign is (graphically and conceptually) way ahead of that game -- just not as clever and appealing as "Mikey likes it." As for Glo-Coat, Don is right: Peggy's idea was a kernel, and you can't film a kid in a closet. The narrative, the shading, the allusions to High Noon -- now that's a commercial (and a Clio-award-winning one!). And they don't do credits for commercials. Don was brutally harsh with Peggy, unnecessarily so, but (imho) he was right. Which brings me back to Lauren, in the comment to follow.

Michael Bérubé said...

I do think, though, that S4 has seen a deliberate pulling back on the glamor of this character in particular and the lifestyle in general. In a sense we've gone from Nietzsche to Theodore Dreiser. And, yes, there's a hint of moralizing in this relentless deflation.

But the marketing of the show is not based only on Don qua Don. Yes, S1 showed us Don returning to an empty house, too late, a sad man behind the ad man. But the buzz was something else: make your own MM cocktails! redo your apartment in retro streamline early-60s design! which MM are you? pick an avatar! That's the marketing about which MM itself seems ambivalent. Sorry I didn't make that clearer.

For every viewer who thrilled to see Don land a blow on Jimmy Barrett--or the nimble way he mixed that drink for a thirsty Conrad Hilton after leaping over the bar--there will now be: "Uncle."

True dat. But look again at Hamm's delivery: it's not only "I give up, you win," but also, "you would really threaten to kill me? Jesus Christ, Uncle already." But in a small voice, not a defiant one. Which brings me to thing the last:

But, having never had any investment in Don as alpha male, to me it all makes sense. (And I also don't think it means we are entirely done peering beyond good and evil.)

I never had that investment either. My fascination was a bit more complicated: when I first saw Don I thought, "ZOMG, it's the form of masculinity I thought my father embodied 45 years ago (when I was 4) and to which he himself no doubt aspired." Then I wondered (S1): is the show inviting guys like me to inhabit that again, or not? I think it's increasingly clear that the answer is (b), not; but again, the marketing still runs somewhat at cross purposes. I'm very curious to see what happens if and when the show centers on Peggy instead, as the second half of this episode seemed to be suggesting it might.

Lauren said...

Wow, MB, thanks for these stimulating questions which I answer with some trepidation. Here goes (and I will break my answers into two).

But the marketing of the show is not based only on Don qua Don. Yes, S1 showed us Don returning to an empty house, too late, a sad man behind the ad man. But the buzz was something else: make your own MM cocktails! redo your apartment in retro streamline early-60s design! which MM are you? pick an avatar! That's the marketing about which MM itself seems ambivalent. Sorry I didn't make that clearer.

No apology required, of course. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that you were specifically thinking about marketing.

I’ve always felt that the show wants to have it both ways about the marketing (which, of course, the writers can’t entirely control). At a very simple level one could guess that if MW had his druthers the show would be on HBO and there would be less need to exploit all the marketing potential. That said, 1) I’m not sure that the invitation to “play” at Mad Men by mixing a cocktail or making an avatar on Facebook diminishes one’s recognition of the fundamental despair at the heart of Season 1-3's narrative arc. Moreover, 2) I think that even if we could imagine a show that wasn’t marketed at all—no parodic commercials, no Clorox bumpers, no Banana Republic, no AMC interviews with the cast, etc.—that telos built into Don’s unstable identity would have made this collapse predictable nevertheless: psychologically as well as allegorically. That is, the narrative logic of Don’s character from S1- S3 was that of a man whose requires the foundation/facade of a successful marriage and family in order to keep up the pretense of who he is: a) an actual fraud and b) a professional fraud (i.e, an ad man whose job is to grow bullshit for a living). Without Betty to “love” Don Draper the man we know as Don simply can’t hold the pieces together so well any more. He is damned if he does self-invent (pulling off the kinds of professional and sexual coups he pulled off in the past—because of his guilt, loneliness, and uncertainty), and damned if he doesn’t (because no one is very much impressed by a Don who can’t pull it off—which is to say that no one except Anna ever cared much for Dick Whitman).

Lauren said...

Part Deux.

But look again at Hamm's delivery [of “Uncle”]: it's not only "I give up, you win," but also, "you would really threaten to kill me? Jesus Christ, Uncle already." But in a small voice, not a defiant one.

I actually find this really interesting but you are pulling me elsewhere so...

Which brings me to thing the last... I never had that investment [in Don as alpha male] either. My fascination was a bit more complicated: when I first saw Don I thought, "ZOMG, it's the form of masculinity I thought my father embodied 45 years ago (when I was 4) and to which he himself no doubt aspired." Then I wondered (S1): is the show inviting guys like me to inhabit that again, or not? I think it's increasingly clear that the answer is (b), not; but again, the marketing still runs somewhat at cross purposes. I'm very curious to see what happens if and when the show centers on Peggy instead, as the second half of this episode seemed to be suggesting it might.

First, I never doubted that your investment was more complicated (you made clear, for example, that you weren’t saying the show had gone too far in unmasking its hero’s masculine mojo and were simply pondering what it WAS doing).

Second, I had one of those 1960s fathers too (still do) and he even took me to dinner a few times at Jimmy’s La Grange ;)

Third, possibly because I’m a woman, I always felt sure that the show wasn’t inviting guys like you to inhabit what our fathers tried to inhabit; I always thought it knew that guys like you a) couldn’t and b) wouldn’t because you knew from experience (just as younger men perceive from the show itself) that your father never actually did pull off what he was called on to aspire to. (And I say all this without disrespect for anyone's father and with undying regard for the world's anti-Dons.)

But I did think the show was playing a dangerous game with your emotions. Which is why I understood the ambivalence that I think many men feel about the show’s depiction of masculinity (including some contributors to our book) and why I understood why one particular man very near and dear to me simply could not sympathize with Don and several other characters.

I put it in the past tense because I think S4 is actually easier for some viewers to take even if it probably has significantly less mass appeal. (Anyone cathected in what one took to be Uber-Don the Indefatigable Alpha Dog is doubtless feeling real loss for his/her hero—perhaps anguish or disappointment or just boredom.)

Fourth, I see why you think this episode showed the potential for a more Peggy-centric second half and I too would find that interesting and be happy to see it go that way.

But, fwiw, my hunch is that the season will continue to focus a lot on Don (though perhaps Peggy as well) and that there will be some kind of reckoning that allows him to feel as though he can, and even must, fall in love again—in the duplicitous and self-deluding way in which he always falls in love (platonic Anna-love excepted).

Does that make sense?

(And of course I’m almost always wrong!)

Lauren said...

A quick word to Ed. Thank you very much: and welcome to Kritik. I hope you continue to join us now that we can greet you as "Ed."

Urk said...

great, stuff. I'm quite happy to find this. I really like this show and after most episodes find myself searching for commentary on it that's worth reading. Huzzah!

that said, i don't have much to add, except that Liston-ali is probably my favorite period event to get roped in so far. the writing sample that got me into grad school was about Arkansas poet Frank Stanford's treatment of Liston, and since then I've been waiting for someone-someone to notice how completely full of historio-cultural dynamite that fight is.

Hunter said...

re: the loss of alpha-masculinity... I, for one, have been waiting for three seasons to see the collapse of the unquestioned patriarchy. '65 is obviously transitional, but the next few seasons are going to be AWESOME. Still, s1-s3 were true examples of artistic excellence in setting up what is to come. I welcome a refocusing from Don to Don and Peggy. Next Season (or maybe the one after) I can't wait to see what happens with Sally (especially after those devastating scenes last season when she watches, e.g. the burning monk on TV). Around that time, I hope the writers bring her back into the center of the story telling (but not yet).

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