Mad World on Kritik: Mad Men Season 5.4
"Eight Million Stories in the Naked City"
Guest Writer: Dana Polan

Monday, April 9, 2012

posted under , , , , , , , , by Unit for Criticism
[The third in the Unit for Criticism's multi-authored series of posts on Season 5 of AMC's Mad Men, posted prior to the publication of MAD MENMAD WORLD: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s (forthcoming Duke University Press, March 2013), Eds. Lauren M. E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky and Robert A. Rushing]



"Eight Million Stories in the Naked City"
Written by Dana Polan (Cinema Studies, New York University)


For the committed Mad Men viewer, it's easy to have become caught up in the series' production of narrative suspense -- what's going to happen?  Certainly, this has seemed all the more the case with the start of the current season given the extent to which the previous one had ended with a big cliffhanger, Don's plan to marry Megan.  For many viewers, I would bet, the money was on Megan being "history" by the beginning of the new season, relegated to the past and perhaps not even mentioned again so impulsive and even wrong-headed did these marriage plans appear.  Obviously, that's one prediction some of us fortune-tellers (readers of "Tea Leaves," to quote the title of last week's episode?) got wrong.


But, at another level, I must confess, I find it hard to get too invested in the question of what's going to happen to these fictional characters in a commercial apparatus designed indeed to keep us watching through strategies like narrative suspense precisely.  The large-scale serial works to a very large degree by assembling a set group of characters in a set of situations and then working out permutations that generate new narrative possibilities (including the even more unpredictable and generatively rich possibilities that ensue when you throw some new characters into the mix).  Given that the characters in serials have a certain degree of real-life approximation (they're often somewhat like us and confront problems we have or could imagine having), it's tempting to identify with their stories and we can get caught effectively and efficaciously in the suspense, but it's also so game-like:  a set of moves -- expected and not, within the rules and not -- are being set up for us by an entertainment machine.  It can seem random and arbitrary (even if the writers and producers have a master-plan, such as setting us up to not know what happens to Tony Soprano after the cut to black).  It can also seem mechanical (which is not in itself a bad thing; we can take pleasure in watching how the game unfolds and even sets out to snare us).  For instance, if in the 1960s a character is deployed to Vietnam (as happens to Joan's husband Greg in Mad Men), a set of possible narrative moves is put into place -- he can live, he can die, he can get wounded, he can return unscathed, he can (although this is a more unlikely set of options) turn anti-war or find a way to get sent home (but Don Draper already did that from an earlier war so it's probably not going to happen here).  It's easy to be caught up in  the guessing game about which option will be enacted but once the narrative game gets going, there's no possibility that one outcome won't happen. Something has to happen with Greg, and whatever that something is, it is productive of new story telling situations.  That is, unless the situation is simply forgotten by the show and never followed up on, a possibility I'll return to later.  Or unless the series chooses to render the specific narrative line irrelevant and investigate other narrative possibilities (so, for instance, it might be that Greg's walking out the door in the current episode is definitive and signals the end of interest in his story by the series).  When narrative lines start to get exhausted, they can simply be abandoned (with more or less narrative finesse:  if indeed Greg is now out of the picture, the departure of his narrative line has been given some motivation).

In television history, astuteness about how to keep narrative going, when to shift its terms, how to generate suspense and new story-lines have all been the province of soap opera and stand indeed one of its formal accomplishments (despite the genre often seeming to the critical establishment to be beneath contempt).  Need to reinvigorate your narrative?:  have a long-lost brother show up, have a key character get a potentially fatal illness (say, a heart attack or a tumor), have a foreigner who doesn't completely know the local mores move into the locale, have your protagonist turn out to have been someone else in the past, have couples break up and begin anew with other partners, and -- once you've shaken things up in such ways -- just return to the initial set-up and start the narrative again.

Of course, I'm citing narrative conceits from Mad Men as well as from typical soap operas.  Like the soap opera, Mad Men is a narrative generator, a game-machine for evolving new moves for the kept-guessing spectator.  (For example, its way of starting the machine over is to have a team from the first ad agency decide to initiate a new company.  This is a story-line within the world these characters inhabit but it's also, at a meta-level, the series deciding to reboot by simply beginning again.  If only they could have figured out a way to get Sal back into the mix, though!)

The ultimate inconsequentiality of any narrative line in multi-character serial drama is amplified in the case of those dramas set in a fictional world that is itself often about inconsequentiality.  That is, narrative outcome may not matter if it's in a world where the characters don't take it to matter.  Take The Sopranos, for instance:  we care about the titular characters and the regulars who assemble around them, and we see the frequent importance of the fiefdoms they are fighting for.  But this is also a world of endless replacement -- a capo gets whacked (or dies on the toilet, as happened in one episode) and there will always be someone around to be named to take his place.  Somebody dies?:  get over it, and just move on.  The narrative seems to be stuck?:  well, just have some new character released from prison to stir things up.  In like fashion, Mad Men's narrative world is one of continued replacement in the workplace (in this week's installment, "Mystery Date" [Episode 4], Peggy tells Dawn that she, Peggy, was once a secretary too; there's always room to move into a new place in the hierarchy and in the narrative) and in the domestic realm as well (we can now compare Don's life with Megan to his with Betty, and Don has enough former girlfriends around so that you can always bring one back for new narrative conniptions).

And, in an intriguing way, the fictional world of Mad Men is also about inconsequentiality -- of seemingly momentous things not always having the impact they should.  The men of this world of advertising have to know how to deal with crisis, how not to show their panic in front of a client, how not to break a pose of confidence, and so on (to quote a later famous ad slogan, the goal is to not let them "see you sweat," although Don Draper sometimes seems in violation of that stricture).  There are surprises galore in this world, but the guys have to take them in stride.  The series indicated its resilience (and the resilience of its fictional characters) toward game-changing crisis in Season 1 [Episode 12 "Nixon vs. Kennedy"], when, faced with Pete's threat to reveal his alternate identity as Dick Whitman, Don immediately called Pete on his bluff and goaded Pete into announcing his discovery to Bert Cooper only to have Pete learn that Bert didn't care.  By the first episode of the current season, Megan could casually cite the name "Dick Whitman" as if this once momentous plot twist had now been absorbed into the ordinariness of slowly unfolding everydayness.




Think of how many narrative lines have petered out in the first three episodes of this season (which isn't to say they're narratively dead; there might be surprises ahead):  for instance, Betty is ill and then she isn't, Pryce is in a flirtation on the phone with a young woman and then he isn't, Greg is part of Joan's life and then he isn't.  And what about, in this week's episode, the narratively fraught issue of Peggy having to come up with a successful Mohawk Airlines campaign over the course of the weekend?  It never was given its pay-off.  Of course, the biggest instance of narrative inconsequentiality in the episode is Don's dream-murder of a former lover.  When Don starts strangling, we're ready for the series to be shifting its terms in a fully new direction, but we're also as ready for it all to turn out to be a dream.  The "it was a dream" way of flirting with momentous narrative and then disavowing it is again a conceit of soap opera form (for instance, the infamous nighttime soap Dallas where an entire season was revealed to be a dream) and, revealingly, of quality-TV also (The Sopranos, famously, was loaded with such dreams; an episode where Tony, while ill, imagined a flirtation with a beautiful woman from the old country is very similar to Don's having hallucinated his assignation with Andrea). 

The inconsequentiality of narrative -- any story line can peter out, be dropped, be reshaped in relatively random fashion -- has its own consequences for something that's intrigued many viewers of Mad Men especially as it moved toward Season 5:  its fictional world's engagement -- or not -- with the larger real-life narrative history of the times.  I've used the word "flirtation" several times above, and this week's episode might be said to be about -- or even itself be -- a flirtation with history.  If the Don story-line here operates in the realm of fantasy (a sexual encounter and a murder that didn't happen), two other story-lines allude directly to the times:  Joan and Greg's fight and break-up has the war in Vietnam as its backdrop, Peggy and Dawn's bonding over beers has the fraught geography of New York for African American women as its theme (and, more remotely, the race riots in Chicago  and elsewhere that Peg's boyfriend is covering and that she vaguely alludes to).  Here, in a sense, the series flirts with issues of scale and distance:  what might have seemed elsewhere and even far away comes confrontationally into the space of domesticity (the pocketbook, for instance, that Peggy glances at, knowing immediately that Dawn will know this glance means racial suspicion; suddenly, civil rights is right there, in the room).  But in this slow, even meandering narrative universe, it is hard to know if politics can ever come to mean anything more (this after all is a narrative universe in which one ad executive turns off TV coverage of the Kennedy assassination so that the woman he is about to have sex with won't be put off her game).




In this respect, it is consequential perhaps that the 1960s event that got the most attention in this episode (by the characters as well as the episode itself) was Richard Speck's killing of eight nurses in Chicago.  The 1960s were about politics but they were also about psycho killings (the decade begins with the Hitchcock film of that name and then comes to include, most famously, Speck, Charles Whitman, and Charlie Manson, with the last sometimes being forced into being a comment on the politics of the time -- the Age of Aquarius turning to a sympathy for the devil).  The Mad Men episode comments on the media-circus around ghoulish response to such infamously grisly happenings, but it also engages in a visual ghoulishness of its own when Henry's mother creeps Sally out in a sort of campfire-scary-story evening.



In a response to last week's blog by Rob Rushing, Lauren Goodlad presciently wondered, "it would be interesting to see something develop with this gothic Francis narrative....  What might Mad Men's version of the shower scene be?"  This week's episode luxuriates in the Gothic motif and perhaps even gives a version of psycho-murder in Don's "killing" of Andrea.  Here, no doubt, there's a bit of flirtation with politics:  from the foot-ware campaign that would play on Cinderella being menaced by a man in the dark to whom she's also attracted, to Speck's sex murders, to the allusion to Greg's rape of Joan, to Dawn's fears of being out in the city at night, to the strangulation, this episode of Mad Men raises issues of violence against women but ultimately it mixes them with the frisson of scandal, the illusions of fantasy, irony (the one character to denounce the media circus around the Chicago nurses is a guy we haven't yet come to embrace in the series and even perhaps disdain) and, again, narrative inconsequentiality (it's hard to know if we should care about story-lines that may disappear).

But Mad Men does remind us at times that the seeming inconsequential can come back to haunt us (as when, in the first episode of this season, Peg, alone in a hallway, was holding Joan's baby, a poignant but brief allusion to her own child, given up for adoption).  No narrative is without its potential for future exploitation, expansion, and elaboration.  There have been times in the history of television when a flirtation with the political turns into something more (for me, the supreme case was the transition from Season 1 of The Wire to Season 2 where suddenly entirely new dimensions of urban politics -- for instance, blue-collar labor and unionization, globalization and the traffic in women -- came into play in what had been more a street-corner saga).  You never know.  I still very much want to see where Mad Men is going to take us.

23 comments

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23 comments:

fab said...

during the dream sequence murder it occurred to me that since Dick/Don had been in combat during the Korean War, perhaps he suffers from PTSD?

Well i have to go home. but i grew up in Chicago--the city itself, not the burbs-- during the race riots and the Speck Murders. Perhaps i will have more thoughts on them later.

A revoir.

fab
Native Chicagoan.

Robert Rushing said...

I know I've talked about this before, but I think MM has an unusual capacity to let things not happen, as much as it also delivers the sometimes standard repertoire of narrative pleasures (revelations, twists and turns, etc.), what Dana calls inconsequentiality. Giving Don a soap-operatic "secret identity" was a standard narrative maneuver; having it turn out to mean nothing took a certain kind of courage and was entirely unexpected. This made the "it was all a dream" Don strangulation sequence all the more disappointing; it was entirely foreseeable and expected. (Also ironic: last time I wondered why Don never has the hallucinations and dream sequences that Betty has; this time he had one of his own, and it was a doozy!)

Lauren said...

Interesting Rob. I was actually relieved in the premiere to find D & M casually discussing "Dick." It made sense psychologically (Don was relieved by telling Faye would avail himself of that again) and my feeling was that Don/Dick had reached such a beautiful endpoint at the end of Season 3 that working it for another round was anti-climactic.

Dana, I'm intrigued by what you say about The Wire. Among Victorianists, as you know, the The Wire is revered and Mad Men a bit less so (depending on whom you ask of course). The reason is that both resemble 19th-century serial novels albeit different kinds. You've put your finger on something about The Wire that was very consistent: it always put the focus on particular social worlds in front of characters no matter how charismatic. I had been very sorry to lose D'Angelo and a friend of mine actually scolded me for not preparing him for the loss of Stringer. Omar maybe had a little bit of Don's nine lives. No matter how many seasons we get if MM, it is unlikely indeed that Don won't be its center (unless perhaps Jon Hamm loses interest and even then would they continue without him?) And it is only slightly less likely that Don's world will ever cease to be advertising because that milieu and the character are inseparable (I supposed he could become a beatnik like Rosser Reeves??). I have a sneaking suspicion that one day SCDP will open an LA branch but I think that's as far as the changes can go. Now I know I'm inside the game-machine again in offering these speculations and with no lack of self-irony. But I do have a point as well which is that The Wire hued to its social worlds whereas Mad Men, like The Sopranos centered on its leading man (even while both shows generate great additional characters to keep leading man busy and/or provide interesting foils).

zina said...

I agree that the dream sequence lacks the freshness of other parts of the episode (such as the freakish bonding between Pauline and Sally over a mass murder). However, it is also a way for the show to have it cake and eat it too (probably a good thing for a melodrama) : it presents the Don-Megan pairing as a pure repeat of the Don-Betty marriage, but then, it reverses itself and allows for the possibility that it will be different (with a new and improved Don).

It teases the audience with the question that has been on its mind since the beginning of the season : is it a new start or just same old same old? However, I would expect the show to look for new routes to marital disaster, rather than Don's philandering. So the dream sequence is the closest we would get to making marriage 2 the copy of marriage 1 (albeit with a gruesome ending in keeping with the Speck story and the dark side of the fairy tales - which are really about necrophilia, according to Stan).

It also gives one more opportunity to show that the leading man has become very passive this season, while others are evolving (or dancing) around him.

Hi Lauren!

fab said...

well back now. i did have a chance to check out the Speck murders. they were in 1966. I do not recall Chicago having race riots at that time. So am i missing something? i lived just a few miles away from those murders on the southside of chicago. i do not recall anyone quaking in their boots in fear. profound shock and sadness at the brutality of it all. No one was joking about it--unlike in MM.

lilya said...

great post, Dana!

on both the murders and the riots:

http://madmenunbuttoned.com/

re: disappointment about the "it was all a dream" sequence--you know, it's one of my least favorite devices (and like Dana, I always recall the famous Dallas season, whenever I see it used), but usually because it's a way of having the writers give us something and then say just kidding. (or the cake, as zina suggests)

but I actually think that in this case, that wasn't the purpose. the whole episode is about the link between nightmare and fantasy, the Freudian wish fulfillment, the sexual tied so directly to the murderous. Don's fevered imagination, like Betty's wonderful Medgar Evers in the kitchen sequence, is a way of making visible the operations of the unconscious: the unknown knowns, desire as always transgressive, always beyond the pale. (As grandma Poline says, we're old enough to know about these things.)

I like how much the 'dream' woman looked & acted like Bobby Barrett--this was no Midge, no Rachel, no teacher lady--but raw, slightly unpleasant sexuality.

and just when we thought the show had forgotten/repressed one of its moments of true trauma--Joan finally gets rid of the rapey husband by recalling precisely that event. My bets were on him dying in Vietnam, but this is much much better.

lilya said...

lauren, this is for you:

"Mad Men is one of – if not the – most feminist television shows in the history of the medium, but even after all the trials and triumphs of its female characters, no moment was more overtly a feminist moment than Joan kicking out Greg. This wasn’t Betty kicking out Don after a decade of lies and adultery, only to run straight into the protective arms of another man. This was a woman looking at her husband and saying “I can do better without you in my life. Get out.” "

from

http://www.tomandlorenzo.com/2012/04/mad-men-mystery-date.html

fab said...

having lived through the Speck Murders/Rapes myself just a few miles away, you really have to be sick and demented to joke about them. And what does this say about Weiner et al building an entire segment of MM around the sick and demented Speck Murders/Rapes? Can it be said that Weiner et al are sick and demented?

Lauren said...

Zina, yes! so loved the Sally/Pauline thing--the whole Sally plot has a wonderfully surreal feeling of childhood remembered from a long time ago so that it becomes haunted and haunting.

Lilya, thanks will read link when I get chance but entirely agree that the moment for Joan was great. Unlike Don, Joan can do so much more in terms of Bildung so its good to see episodes that follow her so much. The elephant in the room though is Roger: now that she's solo and raising a baby that he fathered (a son he doesn't yet have no less) the circumstances are ripe for him to reemerge as her obvious partner. I'd like to see her say "I can do better without you in my life." But some viewers may think they are truly soulmates. Either way she is indeed an exemplar of feminine independence for _that_ time so I think T-L's point is apt (though I don't know enough about the history of television shows to evaluate anything so sweeping--as someone who didn't watch _any_ television at all for almost 20 years!)

I'm going to stay agnostic on the Don murder dream. Was it predictable that we'd get Don dream/fantasies as opposed to real adulteries? Totally. In fact I had thought S3 might go that way in the scene when Don is pulling on blades of grass while watching Sally's teacher dance around the maypole beside his pregnant wife. Does that make it disappointing? For me the jury is out. Like Lilya I liked the kind of woman the "mystery date" represented--to me she was like Don himself (he says "you're not going to ruin this" and strangles her as though he's strangling the part of himself that wants to "ruin" his marriages).

The biggest challenge this show faces is what to do with Don. (All that coughing he did had me half thinking that he had real lung cancer as a follow up to Betty's non-thyroid cancer and that MM was becoming Breaking Bad!) That these writers can do wonderful things with Joan and Peggy and Sally and even Lane and perhaps the new Jewish guy (the show has been craving a full-blown Jewish character since Rachel) I don't doubt. Don is both the show's biggest asset and, at this point, it's greatest hurdle. Dana, not sure if that counts as "suspense" but it's what I'm thinking.

Jez B. said...

I thought the same thing about lung cancer.

Good post prof. polan. this was the best episode so far.

why would it be sick and demented? The Kennedy assassination was also sick but a show like this is interested in these things from the period. Look at how people read about jonbenet even now.

fab said...

sorry but having lived through the Kennedy Assassination, i dont recall anyone joking about it--except for sick and demented people. But murdering/raping 8 young women? So Weiner decides that would be his meme for a MM edition. He puts the entire staff on it. They research it ad nauseam. they come up with a script. have all the actors memorize their lines. make jokes about it. shoot it. then broadcast it. having lived through the Speck murders/rapes just a few miles away from them, i think Weiner et al are sick and demented to put this meme on. of all the possible scripts Weiner could have come up with, we spend an hour making fun of the Speck murders/rapes of 8 young women.

brb said...

I admire the way they didnt rely on mere psychology as is common to the it was all a dream trope. That reading is there but obvious enough that it doesnt need to be done too heavy handedly by the show. Much more interesting i think than Don choking someone is the way the heeled foot of Andrea dovetailing the Cinderella theme and the poignant mirroring shot of Sally under the bed.

Anonymous said...

Maybe i should spell out by "mere psychology" i mean only addressing the wishes/fears of the character without really touching the wider thematic and philosophical concerns. I tend to picture people waking up in a cold sweat and screaming, or quickly sitting up in bed.

That is we can make the astute psychoanalytic reading that Lilya makes without Don saying "i had the weirdest dream last night, sweetie..." and they can lead me there with subtle echoes and recurring themes. And maybe that's my slightly more generous way of putting "replacing" and "moves" in the game.

brb said...

And im not sure i see exactly where that schema fits in. It seems to be a narrow construal of why we watch tv. Take for instance the scene between Roger and Peggy. What matters to the viewer is not that Peggy bargains Roger up to $400 as a plot point that will unfold other plot points (if that matters at all) but that it shows personal growth, confidence, illuminates something about the changing gender relations of the time, etc. So Suspense seems to me a secondary concern of the show. Or at least is a lesser effect to me as a viewer.

Phil Mershon said...

Nice. See also http://philropost.blogspot.com/2011/12/political-shower-scene.html

Lauren said...

Actually, brb can we have it both ways (more cake, like zina says, but this time for us!)? I like what you're saying about all the things the trope of "only a dream" does besides psychology and I agree that the high heeled leg under bed mirrored exactly what you say it did (Cinderella, Sally under the couch). I also agree that Peggy's scene with Roger shows personal growth but I'd say that it built a number of different plot points which weren't necessarily secondary. For example, it's because she had a whopping $400 in her purse that she betrays her suspicion of Dawn (which Dawn answers by putting her note on the purse). And speaking of legs with high heels, Peggy has hers up on the desk when Roger comes in and asks her what she's doing this weekend and when she answers with some kind of arch remark (a jest to the effect that he might be propositioning her) he flatly says, "Are you drinking?" Like you say she's got too much confidence now to fret about such things, esp. with hard cash to earn; but could Roger's ungenerous riposte be one of the reasons she asks Dawn if Dawn thinks she (Peggy) acts like a man? There has always been a part of Peggy that wishes she was more like Joan or even Bobby Barrett--i.e, that she could use sexuality as part of her toolkit.

I think where I differ a little with Dana is wanting to distinguish between your "plot points" and his "suspense." What all of these comments are showing is how much care goes into building and weaving these plot points which is part of what's so great about multiplot serial fiction. A lot of the pleasure of watching is to notice the many levels at which one's viewing experience is being creatively fashioned.

But at the level less of the art of the show then the publicity for it there is a certain about of playfulness that I don't care for (and I which I think Dana was partly addressing). Honestly, it's hard for me to relate to anyone seriously staking much on the possibility that maybe the whole Megan marriage plot would be gone by this season. Maybe it would for any number of reasons (Jessica Pare got a great movie deal, wanted too much money, or just writers having a go at the audience for the sake of surprise). But chances were she would be there as wife or fiance simply because Don is an easier character to portray when he's in a relationship that he can then triangulate (with work, his children, his past, and his "mystery dates"). It can be annoying to feel oneself the object of manipulation. This is part of why I don't like to read interviews until perhaps the season is over, don't watch the coming attractions for the next episode, try to avoid the "hype." I'm still inside the machine as Dana has defined it because I think about what has happened and what is likely to come of it. But in my mind there's a distinction between interest in how plotlines develop and being in the grips of manufactured suspense. Still, I know I'd be a fool to deny it at the end of the day! :)

Thanks brb for your various posts.

Lauren said...

Oh and welcome to Kritik Phil Mershon, and thanks for the shower scene link

Anonymous said...

I guess what's somewhat disappointing this year is the use of tired plot devices. Flashbacks were used to great effect in previous years on MadMen and reveal the man behind the Iron Mask.

A violent sexy dream sequence just reveals tawdry weakness, which is not a trait we usually like to see in the hero. "In Her Majesty's Secret Service," I did not like when James Bond was looking at a Playboy Magazine. Our Hero doesn't need to look at porno to see pretty girls.. We want him to persue and be persued by them!

Unit for Criticism said...

Dear Anonymous, Thank you for comment and welcome to Kritik. We are very happy for you to join the discussion but ask that you please provide the use of a moniker (initials, a first name, a made up name) that you will use consistently through the series. Otherwise it becomes hard to know which "Anonymous" is speaking and makes the discussion less valuable. Thanks again for your participation.

Anonymous said...

I am new, but just wanted to add another indication of the shift in terms of the racial politics this season, is that African-American men are not operating the elevators anymore. I am so glad that Dawn is working IN the office (even if it wasn't intended). I cringed at the moment when Peggy looked at her purse, even if it was necessary.

Also, I agree with Lauren, that Peggy is struggling with her identity as a woman. Episode 5 (*spoiler alert) has so poignantly revealed the 3 categories of women at this time, in the brothel scene with Pete: the doting wife, the virgin, or the sexual temptress. Peggy doesn't fit into any of these 3 categories. We saw her struggle with this role last season as well, when she asks Don why he never attempted anything sexual with her. - PA

Lauren said...

Welcome to Kritik PA and thanks for comments.

I agree: Peggy's struggles with sexuality have been such an interesting story for the show; from her first awkward attempt to seduce her new boss, to what Alex Doty (in our book) calls the "gay makeover" that she gets in Season 2, to her trying out Joan's line in Season 3, and her learning in Season 4 that, yes, Don does sometimes have affairs with his secretaries and even marries them--when they're not her. I think it rings very true because it isn't to do with how she looks (though she's often much more glamorous in publicity photos than on the show itself). It's to do with how she carries herself: that she does not feel comfortable as the object of that kind of male gaze (the point of the brilliant "Maidenform")

And, yes, it's good to have Dawn in the office and I hope more goes on there. I thought that Carla and Hollis were very strong characters but it would be interesting to get a glimpse at least of Dawn's interiority. It's not so much that we must "follow her home"--to take up the phrase critics of the show's racial politics sometimes use to express their disappoint with Carla. It's just that the audience is hungry. The note on the purse was another one of those powerful grace notes--like Hollis's epigrammatic remarks in the elevator. But it would be good to have an actual storyline develop. who knows.

Did you see the link in the most recent blog to another blogger who says that the premiere was "much" criticized for the use of the real-life Y & R anecdote? I only glanced very briefly at it as yet. Since Kritik keeps me to busy to read much from other sources, I was not aware that the premiere was criticized in that light but it seems to pick up on a familiar refrain that I've never quite agreed with.

PA said...

Thanks for the welcome! I am so glad to have stumbled upon this blog. I was introduced to Mad Men my first week of Grad school.. half of the English department (including the professors) are avid watchers and I thoroughly miss intelligent conversations about the show!

I think your point about Peggy and her discomfort with being the object of the male gaze is very true, but I would point out how it is complicated by that scene in season 4 when she declared she could work naked (and did) with Stan.

Yes, I too only briefly glanced over the other blog. I don't find the Y & R anecdote problematic because I think that it was so key in setting the tone for this season. I think that we will get to see more of the race problem, and Dawn's interiority. I think that the lack of interiority is problematic but is also a reflection of the time. With the Civil Rights movement taking place, the trajectory of the African-American voice is being followed, and more strongly heard. That being said, I think that that scene could be viewed as problematic if there is still no development of the African-American characters by the end of the season. Especially because this show has done such a successful job of portraying the interiority of characters that do not fit into the hetero-normativity of 1960s America (with characters like Sal, as well as the strong feminist perspective).

Lauren said...

Yeah, I'd say "complicated" is exactly the right word. Because it wasn't really erotic as I recall. More like a kind of a showdown of nerve.

I'm glad our blog will provide some of the conversation of former days.

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