Mad World on Kritik: Mad Men Season 5.11
"You Really Got Me Now"
Guest Writer: Todd McGowan

Monday, May 28, 2012

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

“You Really Got Me Now”

Written by Todd McGowan
(University of Vermont)

The term “the other woman” is almost necessarily pejorative. But this episode of Mad Men takes as its project a redefinition of its titular expression. The other woman is not the mistress or even the car that the man cannot have (as the Jaguar ad campaign suggests) but the woman who cannot be bought, the woman who resists the very logic of exchange, whom no man can have. This is Peggy at the end of the episode. The fundamental idea of the episode is that it is only by adopting this position of the other woman in the way that Peggy does that one can challenge the universalized prostitution that capitalism demands of its subjects, especially women.

The episode “The Other Woman” explores the link between prostitution and capitalism from beginning to end. We prostitute ourselves or employ others as prostitutes, the show suggests, out of social or economic exigency, and capitalism incessantly produces this exigency. Though prostitution obviously predates capitalism, the relationship between the two is very close. It was Marx who first saw capitalism as a “general prostitution of the laborer” for its insistence that this economic system forces workers not simply to sell what they produce but themselves and their time. In fact, this parallel with prostitution distinguishes capitalism from a barter economy in which one can trade products rather than one’s labor.

Because “The Other Woman” makes the universalization of capitalism fully explicit, it is perhaps the most feminist episode of the series thus far. We see several moments where capitalism involves the transformation of women into sexual commodities. Even when Megan seems to strike out on her own as an actor to follow her dream, she finds herself forced to show her body to three men while trying to get a part in a play and also has to endure Don’s refusal to accept that the demands of her fledgling career might disrupt the life together that he imagines. For her part, Peggy cannot work on the firm’s most important prospective account because Jaguar does not want a “girl” on the project, and the men at the agency capitulate completely to this implicit demand.

Most significantly, however, the episode’s central event concerns Pete’s communication of a request made by Herb Rennet (a member of the Jaguar selection committee who will decide if the firm wins the contract with the automaker) for a night of sex with Joan. Pete begins by telling Joan about the possibility and then subsequently informs the partners, and each time he recounts it, he portrays a willingness to go along with the scheme that the other party (whether Joan or the partners) did not evince. When Herb initially proposes the idea, Pete, in contrast to Ken Cosgrove (who clings to an ethic not wholly determined by capital), accepts it as a possibility because he believes that success is attainable. He believes, in other words, in the promise of capitalism-as-prostitution, which is why he is willing to prostitute Joan for the sake of an account.

The great strength of capitalism as a system stems from its capacity for the always-disappointed promise of inclusion. Inclusion seems to be embodied in the very next commodity, the commodity that one doesn’t yet have but sees from afar. The newest commodity appeals most strongly because it appears to hold the key to an always-elusive sense of inclusion. This is the foundation of the Jaguar advertising campaign that Don pitches to the company’s selection board. Buying a Jaguar, the campaign claims, enables the male consumer to have the unattainable object. As the unattainable object, the Jaguar is standing in for a woman that a man views as just out of reach. The Jaguar will serve as the mistress/thing of beauty that the man desires but can never own, and Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce will play the role of the pimp facilitating this relationship.

Even though the episode establishes a clear parallel between Don’s advertising campaign and Joan’s night of sex with Herb Rennet by crosscutting between the two activities, Don is himself not wholly reducible to the role of pimp. “The Other Woman” confirms the viewer’s long-developed sense that Don, despite his often horrible behavior, has an ethical core that surpasses that of the other characters. His only equivalent is Peggy, his protégé not as an advertiser but as an ethical being. What unites the two is their shared resistance to the allure of inclusion, their willingness to abandon everything that would provide them a secure and established identity. They are free to act ethically because they are not trying to find a way to belong, and they understand themselves as having nothing to lose. For them, no potential gain represents the possibility of genuine inclusion as it does for others. Of course, capitalism often capitalizes on their sense of exclusion: they are skilled advertisers because they see the lures of inclusion from a genuinely external perspective, without falling prey to its grips. Thus, they are not simply good capitalist subjects in the fashion that, say, Pete Campbell is. They are ambitious in wanting to work the system but also understand the impossibility of obtaining the object that would provide complete inclusion. This renders them appealing characters and gives them both an ethical aura.

This is evident in Don’s act during the partners’ meeting early in the episode. When Pete relates the request for a night with Joan made by Herb Rennet, Don rejects the possibility categorically and walks out of the meeting. The other partners, despite their statements concerning ethical qualms, all remain in the meeting and consider the prostitution of their friend and colleague as thinkable. (Lane, perhaps, assuages his guilt while also attending to his own bottom line by encouraging Joan to insist on a 5% partnership in lieu of a one-time outlay. Although the idea appeals to her and enables her to insist on voice in decision-making, the root of it is Lane’s own dire financial situation which has driven him to extending the firm’s credit and forging a check.) Later, Don’s exceptional status further stands out. When he learns that Pete and the others have presented an offer to Joan, he exclaims, “I don’t work like this” and tries to dissuade Joan from going through with the nefarious rendezvous — but tries too late.

If we think of the term “the other woman” in the usual sense, Joan qualifies. She is not Herb Rennet’s wife and yet she sleeps with him. (In the last episode, “Christmas Waltz,” Joan even played at being Don’s wife for a Jaguar test drive.) But in agreeing to sleep with Rennet, Joan does what most of us would do in a similar situation. Her rapist husband has just filed for divorce after abandoning her for the sake of his own version of male inclusion and with uncertain means for supporting herself and her child, the decision to prostitute herself just once for so large a gain makes good economic sense.

Not only that, but the show illustrates that Joan doesn’t really have a choice in this situation. All of the forces at the agency and within the social structure depicted by the show push Joan toward the act of prostituting herself. Don, the one figure who presents the opportunity for resistance, is ineffectual and arrives too late. He comes to Joan to express his absolute opposition to the transformation of the ad agency into a sexual procurement agency. The depiction of his visit to Joan reveals his lack of efficacy and Joan’s absence of true options. When we first see him arrive and speak to Joan, it seems as if she has not yet gone to see Herb, but later the show repeats Don’s visit to make it clear that it occurs after the act. Even Don cannot prevent the debasement that the firm perpetuates and it is a debasement that the show reveals to be universal within the capitalist world.

If most of us don’t have sex with prospective clients in order to provide for our children, we nonetheless make a constant series of little accommodations in order to keep our jobs and create the illusion of a secure future. Joan’s act simply reveals the truth of these little accommodations. But “The Other Woman” shows that Joan’s act is not the true act of the other woman. Instead, the other woman reveals herself at the episode’s conclusion in a traumatic manner.

Often on Mad Men we witness Don commit a seemingly self-destructive act that liberates him from his symbolic attachments. Most famously, perhaps, in Season 4’s “Blowing Smoke” he writes an advertisement attacking cigarettes after already losing Lucky Strike, a brand of cigarettes, as the firm’s most important client. Peggy is also capable of such acts. Her most dramatic moment occurs at the end of “The Other Woman,” as she tells Don that she is leaving the firm. She refuses any counteroffer, no matter how much money it might involve and tells Don that she is only doing what he himself would do. She makes clear that the capacity for this type of absolute break is something that they both share as an ethical position.

This episode finally forces the trauma of the ethic exemplified by both Don and Peggy on the show’s spectators. Previously, we have simply watched Don or Peggy abandon their attachments within the diegetic world of the series. That is to say, the breaks have occurred within the content of the show and not in the form. But with this episode, for the first time a certain kind of formal break takes place: Peggy, the only person with whom Don has a genuine connection, leaves him and the firm. Though she may continue on the show in some capacity, she will no longer function as a foundation for Don. While we might have cheered Betty’s decision to leave Don, we cannot experience Peggy’s departure as anything but a traumatic cut (in large part because the audience, like Don, relies on her as an ethical center at the agency). And yet, this is the cost of the ethical position she represents.

One might object that Peggy is not so much making an absolute break as advancing her career. But this would be to misread the nature of her act. The episode ends not with Peggy newly installed at the new agency but with her departure from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Though Peggy leaves for another ad agency and a larger salary, she specifically leaves Don and the office. This becomes evident when she rejects the very possibility of a counteroffer. Peggy’s career move serves as an alibi for her departure. Though Peggy has no knowledge about Joan’s involvement in the Jaguar deal, it is no coincidence that these two story lines happen in the same episode. We have no idea what Peggy’s reaction to the partners’ request or to Joan’s acceptance of the deal might be, but we do know that the partners’ pimping out of Joan further solidifies the agency’s descent into an unrestrained capitalism-as-prostitution with no space for an act outside of its insistence on unbridled corruption.

The great idea of feminism — and what renders it potentially antithetical to the logic of capitalism — is that women cannot be possessed, that they cannot serve as commodities despite the efforts of capital. This is precisely the position that Peggy occupies at the end of the episode as she waits for the elevator. She smiles with the satisfaction of a break from the secure world of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. She smiles out of her refusal to have a price. As she smiles, the audio track blares out The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” a song suggesting a reversal of everything we have just seen throughout the episode. That is to say, capitalism, in large part through the efforts of the advertising agency, promises the man that he can have the woman qua impossible object - here figured as the Jaguar - but at the end of the episode, the woman remains outside the man’s reach. In fact, she really has him and keeps him up at night, the song claims, and she does so because she accepts her position of exclusion and refuses the logic of exchange that provides a path to inclusion.

The burden of this position falls on us as spectators. If we enjoy Peggy’s smile, we enjoy the possibility of our own exclusion and our own escape from the system of universalized prostitution in which we are mired.


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Phil Solomon said...

How can you possibly come up with this sophisticated a socio/economic/narrative analysis, this elegantly written, just hours after airtime...?

I stand amazed.

Miriam said...

Wonderful post. You captured many of the feelings of disgust, confusion, depression, and alienation that I felt while watching this episode play out. And really, those are the feelings that Marx was trying to convey in his work as well to shed light on the human condition under capitalism. Many thanks to you for writing this.

Anonymous said...

great analysis. i enjoyed reading your thoughts

Unit for Criticism said...

Dear Anonymous, Welcome to Kritik and please feel free to join the conversation now and in the future. That said, please choose a moniker for yourself (initials, a made up name or even a number will do). That way we avoid confusion between multiple anonymous commentators.

AKS said...

Great interpretation. I would emphasize (as I did on the NYT Mad Men Watch comment board) that I don't believe that Joan had a true "choice" in terms of her actions. The word "choice" is thrown around in our cultural far too often as a way to mask inequities. The fact is, Joan was misled, by Pete and Lane, to believe that all of the firm's partners--the men who control her financial destiny--"supported" her sleeping with the Jaguar salesman in exchange for money. If she had said no, she could have been fired or demoted. Second, she is a soon to be divorced woman with a child. The risk of financial peril also makes the idea of her "choice" moot. The last glimpse we get of Joan is of her trapped in the hell of the firm with people who have shown that they do not respect her as a human being (except Don, belatedly). I was reminded, in fact, of Sartre's "No Exit." Peggy makes the decision to finally stand up for herself (she is standing while Don is sitting, at the end) and leave. Notice the use of glass during the episode--once when Peggy is looking in at the lobster lunch to which she has not been invited (despite her seniority over Ginsberg) and the second time when she leaves the office,separated by a glass wall from the other "revelers."

Incidentally, Megan being asked to "turn around" seemed to me to be the reason for her tears at the end of the episode. She too would have to compromise her morals, as Joan did, to be a success in the field of acting.

Jez B. said...

Nice post. AK you are right about the reason for Megan's tears IMHO.

california66 said...

Wonderful post-- thank you so much for it. I found this link on NYTimes blog and wow---now I have to read some of the past episodes posts!
What you say about feminism & capitalism is right on. In '66 I worked part-time in a car dealership answering phones while in college (studying philosophy-ha) & you've put into words so much that is often hard to express, so eloquently. This episode was a jolt to me for the car people references, all true in my experience, and the lack of real options Joan had--she'd been a manager at SCDP for so long but had no formal education or sense of skills like Peggy. She would have been a little older than us young hippie/budding feminist/antiwar/civil rights etc & a single mother. Pete worked his skill set to get her ok, capitalism at work at its best. Thank you again for marvelous post.

MP said...

Todd, thanks so much for excellent analysis which I found SO illuminating. I think your connection of prostitution and capitalism/advertising is exactly right.

A few afterthoughts (not sure if these are really differences from your view but I wonder if you'll agree)

Absolutely, Don and Peggy are both ethical subjects and yes, she is the Other Woman (great insight). But (and maybe you will actually agree with this) I think they are both more damaged (in general and in this episode specifically) than you wished to (or had time to) acknowledge.

I agree that Don has always stood apart despite a whole lotta bad boy stuff with a kind of ennobling ethics of the self (he makes his own code and, by and large, stands by it even if that code tends to have more to do with his public behavior than his domestic life). This entire season has in some ways been all about breaking down the imaginary line between work and home life. And that has in various ways meant watching Don become a better husband than he ever was while watching Pete becomes a worse one. But ever since Don's initial acceptance of Megan's wish to return to acting he's been chafing with resentment, often taking it out on Peggy because he fears losing M and thinks P won't leave him (that if she tried he could buy her). Anyway, the loss of Peggy is a real loss for him: as his Anna substitute she is the female presence that somehow grounds him through a male-female bond that has nothing to do with sex. (Though neither Anna nor Peggy could be said to be Don's "mother" in any way, they do take the emotional place of the relationship with his dead mother--who was after all a prostitute). Increasingly Joan has come to occupy another version of the Anna/Peggy role: a woman whom he wants to be caring toward rather than seduce. This means that this episode finds Don failing himself at several levels: although he doesn't lose Megan he continues to bully her about her separation from a co-working arrangement that he had become almost childishly invested in (she alludes to his "yelling" at her on the subject); he loses Peggy because he's too implicated in male privilege and too angry at Megan to see how he's been alienating her; finally, as you note he fails to save Joan in time.

Re Peggy, yes she feels good because she's done what Don would do and Don is her professional ideal. But we've seen a few instances where that doesn't pan out. And I somehow think that working for Ted C. (of all people) is ominous. That it's him versus some unknown ad guy--a self-styled arch-rival of Don's--means that his apparent appreciation of Peggy could be way of trying to get at Don. (This would place Peggy in exactly the kind of triangular "between men" position that usually has to do with female sexuality but in this instance is about female talent.) It means for me that this was not a clean ethical break for Peggy; that it took some self-delusion for her to believe that it was. (And self-delusion of course is something that her role model Don is very good at.)

MP said...

A couple of random thoughts: Roger has really sunk to the bottom in S5 hasn't he? And Lane and Bert too. This is darkest I've seen for the latter and the weakest for the former.

On female power: it was so well done but it has to be said that all of these women (except Peggy) are too invested in their "power" to turn on a man. The friend crawling on the table in girl/jaguar-mode was hilarious, but a more subtle version was Megan needing to feel "confident" in advance of her audition shows how much she kind of already knew what it's all about even though it made her cry in the end (I agree with AKS and Jez B.) There are many good reasons for a woman to enjoy seducing her own husband; warming up for a job interview is not one of them ;)

Whether the show is also overinvested in the cliche of female sexual power--I rather think not. I think it recognizes that it's the kind of thing that ends up getting Joan married to a rapist and now in bed with Herb.

I hope she gets her money's worth out of that transaction and glad that she gets a real seat at the table out of it (ironically courtesy of Lane's ongoing scam).

cindy said...

I very much enjoyed this episode and this post. The battle of the sexes is a part of life and is portrayed eloquently in MM as it makes its appearance as a phenomenon in the sixties.
I refer specifically to the ending of your post, Todd, as you point out that Peggy has accepted her position of exclusion. The men seem to have all the power in this capitalistic world but it is this woman who has strength.
As a psychoanalyst, my perception of the show focusses my insights in a particular direction.I share now my understanding of the anatomical/psychological underpinnings of what I see in MM as inclusion/exclusion or perhaps in other words, power vs strength.
While the granting of the penis to the man makes him externally powerful ( the thruster) the woman's anatomy makes her internally strong ( the bearer). I believe that although men seem to have had the greater share of power by virtue of their anatomy (the penis) and biology (physical strength) these have also rendered them more fragile. Perhaps the possession of the penis invites their fear of inadequacy (whose is bigger), fear of castration (an appendage can be envied and then taken away) and performance anxiety (they can't fake it), They also have to deal with the tricky transition from spending the beginning of their life inside a woman, followed by infancy and childhood being suckled and nurtured by a woman, only to have to separate from their first object of identification in order to join the foreign world of men. One can only hope they get a welcoming dad and a mom who can help them with the transition.
When I measure the behavior of the male and female characters in MM against this backdrop I can understand the men's struggles to climb the capitalistic ladder as well as their need to keep women in their place as sex objects, trophies and child bearers. Although it is true that the women must stand up to the challenge of unfair treatment, they do not have the larger burden of having to constantly prove and protect their womanhood, in the way a man must prove and protect his manhood. That is why, Todd, I wholeheartedly agree with your observation that Peggy's strength is in accepting a position of exclusion from man's struggle for adequacy through supremacy. In her smile I understand that she is feeling empowered as a woman who does not have to be prove she's a man. She's excluded.

Cathleen said...

Really enjoyed your analysis, thank you. Just a couple of points in support of your theme of prostitution. Remember that in a very early season episode (before he & Trudy were married), Pete tried to pimp her to her former boyfriend, now a magazine editor, whom Pete wanted to publish his short story. She declined, but the story was published, albeit in "Boy's Life" Magazine, a real embarrassment to Pete.

Also, it seems highly significant that Don's mother had been a prostitute, thus his sensitivity and protective stance toward Joan.

Thanks, again, and good luck with the book!

Todd McGowan said...

Thanks for the many insightful comments. I agree with Lauren that both Don and Peggy are much more damaged than I suggested in the post. But my sense is that their failures are intimately linked to what I see as their ethical status. It is precisely Don's capacity for abandoning everything in a way that we find reprehensible that renders him capable of walking out of the meeting where the possibility of prostituting Joan is discussed. And Peggy will probably end up in a much worse situation, I agree wholeheartedly. But I find her capacity for accepting exclusion and her ability to inhabit the position of the break as fundamentally ethical. The result isn't important, I would argue, because the ethical gesture involves a turn away from teleological concerns. I think it's very important that the episode ends with her leaving rather than with her arriving at the new job.

About the nature of Joan's act, I recognize of course that it's overdetermined in many ways (through Pete's lies to her and to the partners, etc.), but I still think that she does decide. I'm far from condemning her, but I think it does have the dignity of a choice.

I think the point about female power to manipulate men is an excellent one. I think that the show does a pretty good job of showing how this sort of power almost always backfires. I would say that it backfires because it relies on submitting to the prevailing rules of the game.

Cathleen said...

Todd & others: I wonder if my take on the hand-kissing scene bears any credence for you. Certainly, it as a reversal of the traditional kissing by supplicants of popes' and godfathers' hands. Obviously, Peggy is no godfather; however, Don (THE don of advertising?) is losing his power at work to younger men (Ginsberg) and women (Peggy), (not to mention at home, to his upstart young wife, Megan), and simply to the new times that are a-changin'.

Jez B. said...

Cathleen, that sounds interesting and persuasive to me. Cheers.

Caroline said...

Great post and conversation here! I'm curious about your take on Peggy, Todd. It seems to me that she's got her price, just as Joan has hers: in Peggy's case, we actually have the number--$18,000. Both Peggy and Joan are bought, as it were, but neither is owned.

Mike said...

Interesting thoughts. Though I'd argue Joan did have a choice in the matter. She very well could have given notice as Peggy did; she is capable of such inner strength. She could have gotten another job. (She had done it before, remember.)

My impression was that her prostitution was not so much the result of capitalism but the decisions she had made in the past--of her own free will. Her financial situation is due to her decision to marry that man (a handsome doctor!), and then to become dissatisfied with that wonderful life (as advertised), resulting in her sleeping with that other man and conceiving her son. Even within this land of shiny, tempting objects, we do have a choice not to go after them.

Anyway, I saw it coming down to two paths in life, for men and women: play it ethically and professionally (Peggy) or... not (Joan). In whatever socioeconomic system, we are our choices.

Helena said...

The female power to manipulate men can be strongest when sex is withheld: the power to say no, to be unattainable, to be free to come and go - as Ginsberg realises Megan does which leads to the Jaguar tag line on ownership of something, not someone, beautiful. Last week, Lakshmi seduced Harry and immediately, he says, loses her power over him by having ''given it away". We can only hope that the things Joan gains compensate for her losses.

Hester said...

This was such a beautiful and cogent analysis. Thank you so very much for it. You solidify and validate my love for the show, if not for capitalism. Caroline, in the comments, makes a great point too.
Here are my 2 cents:
What about the false dichotomy that the term "other woman" continues to perpetuate -- i.e., Virgin (ethical Peggy) or Whore (prostituted Joan)? It seems to me that the term does perpetual disservice to the feminist cause. When Peggy is having lunch with her friend Freddie, she responds to his question of whether she is the complaining kind or the ambitious kind with the following response: "Why can't I be both?" Indeed. And, of course, why can't she be ALL kinds? Personally, I think, on any given day, I can be about 5 kinds of women -- sans multiple personalities disorder. Thanks again for the analysis.

MP said...

Hester: Welcome to kritik! (Also welcome Cathleen and others). I agree: show does a v. good job of breaking down the virgin/whore myth. (Though I always liked the idealization of Anna as So Cal angel, complete w/ loopy bohemian persona, I like that Peggy is a fully sexual woman--down to the occasional act of public sex at the movies!--who has much more going for her as a character than the part she plays in grounding Don's narrative. She has a narrative of her own just as he does.)

Todd: "The result [of Peggy's ethical break] isn't important, I would argue, because the ethical gesture involves a turn away from teleological concerns. I think it's very important that the episode ends with her leaving rather than with her arriving at the new job."

Oh, I agree on the importance of where the episode ends but wonder if that momentary victory will not (also) turn out to be irony, now waiting in the wings, to swoop down for the retrospective take. If I'm understanding you right I think a small difference between us concerns your definition of the ethical subject as one who turns away from teleological concerns: which you further define in terms of inclusion/exclusion. I think you're right that Don and Peggy are good at advertising and also compellingly ethical because they make a virtue out of their alienated condition (exclusion). But results do nevertheless matter (I would say) not least because this is a serial form. In Season 2 Don threw Sal to the wolves because he refused to have sex with Lee Garner Jr. (i.e. to prostitute himself). Don was of course more than willing to have sex with Bobbie B for the sake of nailing an account; but then Don's self-inventing ethics (at that time) allowed for sexuality promiscuity on multiple grounds: for pleasure, for love, for instrumental gain or some combination. If this made Don a prostitute, so much the better the D. of that moment would have said, since "whore" was a status he was ready to write off a slavish bourgeois morality.

The D. of this season is different. Is it because he has changed (become a better man?) b/c of the suffering of losing his family? Is it b/c he's older and therefore more invested in Megan's youth and beauty than he ever was in B's perfections? Is it b/c Megan is a stronger kind of woman who he recognizes as an equal even while he wants to master her (or thinks he does)? Is it because he's become more sentimental about women (Joan must be protected, if possible, in a way that Sal did not need to be?). I think these are questions that the episode/season poses.

MP said...

Caroline: implicit in your great comment is a related distinction Don and Peggy make. As players within a system that they also (strive to) ethically transcend, Don and Peggy do not see (or perhaps do not like to see) their "price" as anything like a condition of being owned. They may be willing to sell their labor, but there is something they believe they hold on to which (they think) cannot be alienated. Is this their illusion of transcendence or do they actually pull it off? (That's a question the show will never definitely answer or it will lose a beautiful tension that makes narrative worthwhile). Certainly we all seem to agree that there is damaging of that inalienable thing. At least in this episode, selling your body to Herb for a seat at the table entails a degradation that naming your price to Ted C. does not. (The nuance is that J. might have acted differently had Don's dissent been known to her, or, perhaps if Roger had been different.) I guess we will see what the damage is at the end of the day.

Mike: I don't think Todd meant that Joan had NO choice at all. That's not the way capitalism works: in fact, in order to win consent it provides as many choices as it possibly can. This is where advertising fits in: by making the choice between Shampoo X and Shampoo Y feel more important than in reality we know it is. But our economic choices are always deeply constrained; no matter how brave we are. Of course, Joan could look for another job (like the low-paid dept. store clerk she became when she ran into Pete). But it would be hard for her to replicate what she has as SCDP, and for someone who earns around $12k per year and is facing an uncertain financial future as a divorced mother, the amount of money she was being offered was huge (close to half a million dollars today IIRC).

Todd said...

In response to some of the great comments: 1.) I think that there is a fundamental difference between Joan and Peggy in this episode because even though Peggy does accept more money to leave, no amount of money will make her stay. This is key as I see it. 2.) Of course, I think that ethical gestures are often appropriated after the fact (especially by capitalism), but I see the ethical gesture itself as something that rejects teleology just as it rejects any pathological motivations, which is why it is associated with exclusion. Here, I follow Kant as he defines the ethical, I think, in a way that aligns it with exclusion rather than inclusion (unlike more recent ethical thinkers like Habermas and Singer). 3.) I like the idea of Don kissing Peggy's hand as a Godfather allusion. I also think that this is a moment of profound loss for him, not so much of power but of someone else who shares his exclusion. When Peggy says to him, "You don't know when it's good" as he refuses to go into the celebration, I think she's also talking about herself. But this is the great virtue of both: neither believes in the good, i.e., the possibility of any genuine inclusion.

JulieT said...

A quick cinema connection: Godard's Two or Three Things I Know About Her came out in France this year as well.

Ralph B said...

I would like to add one observation to this clever analysis of the episode.

While it's true as you say that "Don, despite his often horrible behavior, has an ethical core that surpasses that of the other characters," he is remarkably hypocritical or otherwise lacking any self awareness.

His indignation at the possibility of encouraging Joan's acquiesence to Herb Rennet's proposal which Don expresses on the basis that (and I'm not quoting) she's married, the mother of a young child, and her husband is off fighting in a war might seem inauthentic coming from Don.

We are all aware the Don in the past has never felt constrained by his marital status, his own infant children and as a soldier in a war, didn't he go AWOL?

Mike said...

Lauren: Yes, of course there was a great amount of money at stake for Joan, and possibly the future of the agency itself. We'll probably never know for sure how much sway her actions had on Jaguar's decision. But now that she is a partner and a much richer woman, was it really worth it? Will she be truly happier? Isn't she just repeating an earlier mistake? Isn't this another rich doctor illusion? At last, a stable life you call truly own.

I have no idea where Matt Weiner is going with this, but I have a feeling it won't end well for Joan. Instead of "The Other Woman" the episode could have been called "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Our Favorite Redhead or How Joan Harris Gained a 5% Share But Lost a Part of Her Soul." But that's a bit too wordy, I admit.

By the way, I'm enjoying this site. Keep up the great work.

Mike said...

A correction to my comment: "At last, a stable life you CAN truly own."

Sorry about that.

MP said...

Mike, I agree. The sympathetic characters on Mad Men perform semi-heroic acts under compromised and compromising circumstances. They always pay a price and that is why the show works and is worth thinking/writing about. Welcome to Kritik and thanks for kind words.

Interesting about the Godard, Julie!

Hester said...

Dear Todd,

Besides Veblen, do you have any recommendations for readings on "inclusion," particularly the hankering for inclusion into the capitalist system as you so wonderfully spell it all out here in this post? Thanks!

Mike said...

Lauren, I agree. It's episodes like this that make Mad Men the best show on television.

And thank you for the kind welcome.

By the way, on the subject of inclusion: isn't it more a basic human need than a driving part in this most dominant economic system? Yes, capitalism does thoroughly exploit this need, but so do all the other "isms" that count more than one person as a member, be they economic, political, athletic, or online fans of a certain television show on AMC.

Maybe I'm thinking too broadly, but when I see the very human needs of these characters, I don't think of Karl Marx; I think of Carl Jung.

Anonymous said...

I am intrigued by the madonna/whore imagery in Mad Men. At 44:30 in "Far Away Places" - Don is on his knees as a supplicant to Megan, who, earlier in the scene, notes that she had refused being propositioned at the Port Authority hours before. Similarly, Don kisses Peggy's hand in a "The Other Woman" in the pose of a believer kissing the Madonna's robe. Peggy has just refused his offer to deny her true self for "a number" , i.e, she has refused to prostitute herself.

This is not about sex: Peggy is fully sexual, as is Megan, but true to themselves. Sex for lust or love, not for financial gain. I can imagine that Don will loose respect for Joan, as I fear he will for Megan if he discovers how low she is willing to go to succeed in acting.

Don is slowly realizing that women: Anna, Peggy and Megan, are not his to own or manipulate, but may well be his salvation.

Thank you to the NYT for this fascinating link! Excellent long form television can be every bit as brilliant and complex as great novels, and, with fine art direction, more beautiful! Well worth a "close read"

Todd said...

Hester: Though he does not specifically talk about capitalism, the theorist who, to my mind, most fully thinks through the role of exclusion is Giorgio Agamben, especially in a book like "Homo Sacer," which attempts to constitute an ethic around the exception, which constitutes the social order through its exclusion.

Mike: I like what you say about capitalism exploiting something more fundamental is relation to inclusion. This seems definitely right to me. But I don't think it is an (instinctual) need for inclusion so much as--to use Jacques Lacan's term--a social demand. But the fundamental problem with this demand (which I think capitalism obscures) is that it cannot be fulfilled. There is no inside where one can really belong, which I think "Mad Men" reveals brilliantly. All of the "insiders" on the show are just pretending to belong, and they constitute the inside only through this act of pretending. This would be my problem with any ethic focused on universal inclusion or universal recognition.

Julie: I was going to open the piece with a reference to Godard's film "Two or Three Things," so thanks so much for referencing it. To my mind, it's the great cinematic exploration of the relationship between capitalism and prostitution.

Hester said...

Thanks for that, Todd.
In that case, Agamben sounds a lot like Jacques Ranciere, particularly Ranciere's concept of the part that has no part.

Unknown said...


MP said...

Anonymous, welcome to Kritik. Please choose some kind of name or initials for yourself so that we don't have multiple "Anonymi" in the same conversation.

See what you think of our post on "Faraway Places" which is here:

I'd say that sexually and in other respects Don is quite worshipful as well as masterful (occupying both poles of the master/slave whichever one he happens to be positioned in at the moment). There have been lots of intimation of his kinky side going both ways: tying up Bobbie B. in S2, hiring a call girl to slap him around in S4, and now with Megan clearly having some kind of roleplay going on which involves her being/acting angry (I think it was in the last episode: "No, this isn't about that," she says when she is _really_ angry and he wants to turn it into a sexual roleplay as he did in the season premiere.

I agree with Mike that Joan will be changed by capitulating to this rotten bargain but I think it may be very subtle (we've already seen the look on her face). After all, Mad Men is not a melodrama which is a good thing (otherwise it's starts to seem like a well-written nighttime soap). Having used sex for gain himself, I don't think Don will be the one to wag his finger at Joan; that seems more like something Roger would do. Don isn't hypocritical in that way and he doesn't feel ownership over Joan.

Fwiw it's worth I think Don split Madonna/Whore with Betty (whom he called his children's "angel") more than he ever has with Megan. At least for now I think it more likely that Megan will want out of their marriage than that he will: Don can't help but be possessive and feel that as the one paying the bills he deserves control over his wife. That is still the structure of marriage in the 60s (and in some marriages today).

You're perceptive to be reminded of Don on his knees hugging Megan when you saw him kissing Peggy's hand. To me, Don's gesture was chivalric: Peggy has called him her mentor and protege and he suggested in return that he is her liege (perhaps even that as he said long ago that he'll spend his life trying to her back again). But you're entirely right: the bond with her is not about sex.

Hester: actually Ranciere thinks that Agamben absolutizes the exception by turning it into a perpetual evil which he likens to George Bush! See his Dissensus.

Mike, Todd has already given you a great answer I think.

Freud4 said...

@cindy, nice Freudian analysis. I call what you are describing penis pity.

Hester said...

@ Lauren: Haha! Thanks for that. I think Ranciere might be totally right about Agamben. Such a Debbie-Downer that Agamben, right?! Yeesh! Ranciere definitely sees redemptive possibilities in the exception. I do too.

@ Cindy: What a deliciously convincing argument! We might add Joan's exquisite feminine beauty to your analysis of the exteriority of the penis as well. Her fear of losing that very visible/physical thing she has cultivated, for so long, to elicit admiration from men. That, too, shall fade.

Ack! I'm beginning to free associate.
Never a good thing with me.

Thanks for this post and all of the interesting comments.

MP said...

Not to worry in the least, Hester. The Unit for Criticism was invented to encourage public free association ;)

Todd said...

Lauren is absolutely right that Ranciere is critical of Agamben for his turning of it into a perpetual evil, but I think this is a misreading (motivated by Ranciere's dismissal of Arendt, who so clearly informs Agamben, and perhaps by the narcissism of small differences). If exception is the source of evil for Agamben because of its association with sovereignty, it is also the only ethical site in modernity, especially after Auschwitz.

Helena said...

Fascinating discussion. Matthew Weiner has said that a major theme this season is ‘every man for himself’, as Roger pointed out in the elevator recently. There is a sense of aloneness about all the characters that Peggy emphasizes in her harsh comment to Ken mocking his concern after Don throws money in her face, ‘What, we’re all suddenly interested in each other’s lives?’

Shoot the Critic said...

Interesting post, although seeing it from a purely economical perspective might limit a more complete understanding of the episode. The writers aren't marxist, after all; they're trying to tell an emotional, character-based story as well. For example, Peggy's decision to leave the office is a lot less "feminist" and has more to do, I think, with her personal relationship to Don. Mad Men has always filtered private, emotional drama through office politics and economic/social conditions. She's not refusing to be a commodity - she does accept a money offer from the other company. What she refuses is to be undermined and taken for granted, to be always in the shadows, to be the girl who "wants to help out." If given the chance, I think she would also do what Joan did; but she doesn't have sex to sell. Instead, she has her smarts and her ability creative abilities as an ad writer. Remember that there is nothing more capitalist than fetishizing objects - exactly what Don and Peggy do. The "At last" of the Jaguar is a myth, just as every Mad Men character discovers that what they've been fighting to obtain is all along not what it seems. - Shoot the Critic,

bmartins said...

This is a great blog and incredibly insightful thought. I would like to comment specifically on Todd's take on Peggy "She makes clear that the capacity for this type of absolute break is something that they both share as an ethical position."
I would like to offer parallel insight here. I actually think Peggy, while seemingly brave and independent was played just as badly as Joan. Given ultimatums in the disguise of an option. First when Chaugh and Peggy meet, he counters with $19K and states that this deal is only good if this is the last meeting she takes". She is propositioned. Whereas Joan "sets her own price", Peggy is unable to and it seems to mimc Joan and Peggy's relationship throughout Mad Men's seasons. And when she makes the statement to Don, "you would do the same", it is pretty much verbatim what Freddie said to her. She simply repeated it and although she attempted to say it to Don in a stoic manner, if you watch Moss's acting *OMG the acting was SO good in this episode!) you see her face twitch with a sense of uncomfortableness. These weren't her words or her thoughts; they were "pimped" to her by Freddie. Another comment I have doesn't have to do with the girls, but the quiet, yet powerful mini plot involving Ginsburg.
One observation I have is on Ginsburg and his contemplations regarding Megan. He has always shown a fascination of sorts towards her: when she quits, his squabbling about $15 she still owes him and during this episode when, in his own world, mutters "she comes and goes as she pleases" which becomes the inspiration for the Jaguar campaign. I believe his fascination with Megan stems, in part, from the fact that Ginsburg as it is implied, was a concentration camp survivor. He was unable to go and come as he pleases even in the present day, with anti-semitism a reality. And it seems as though they are about the same age. It is a juxtaposition of man/woman and two immigrants and how their lives and history are so vastly different. I know this episode was about the woman, but as always, MW and MM always give us so much to talk about.

Helena said...

One of the things we don't know is whether Peggy's $19,000 is a fair wage. How would we see her deal with CGC if we find she is paid significantly less than a man in the same job (as I suspect she is)?

MP said...

Helena, IIRC the difference between mid60s and today's dollars is approximately 1/8. So Peggy (who has also asked that she made Copy Chief) has gotten herself a figure in the mid six figures or thereabout: not bad for a woman under 30 with a degree from a secretarial school. There is a self-made quality to her rise that parallels the trajectory of her favorite role model: DD.

That said, I also agree with bmartins (welcome to Kritik, bmartins!) that Peggy's getting into bed (figuratively) with arch-rival Ted C. will prove compromising for her. If this is not at all the same as getting into bed with Herb R. it still has it costs. Although this creates a kind of footnote to Todd's elegant and perceptive formulation for this episode, looked at from a longer perspective we can see that Peggy very often gets into trouble when she tries to inhabit a male subject position; it is simply not as easy as doing what Don (or any other charismatic man) would do because she doesn't embody maleness so that her "male" actions will therefore be judged differently. That Freddy was involved in mentoring his "ballerina" was surely telling as was ending up in the arms of a Cheshire-cat grinning Ted C. (As Don himself says when finds out who "The Other Agency" is: "perfect")

MP said...

Shoot the Critic: welcome to Kritik (and good luck with your blog). You wrote: "Interesting post, although seeing it from a purely economical perspective might limit a more complete understanding of the episode. The writers aren't marxist, after all; they're trying to tell an emotional, character-based story as well."

Just wanted to clarify that the point of citing Marx in cultural analysis like Todd's is not to see culture in a "purely economic perspective." Todd isn't arguing that Mad Men is the superstructure to a capitalistic base (i.e, "vulgar Marxism" as it's sometimes called) or that the show is depicting that kind of relationship between its characters and the historical setting for its story world. Marx's writing on the alienation and division of labor that capitalism compels is entirely about what happens to human social relations. He famously says that instead of fostering relationships between human beings, capitalism cultivates relationships between things. We end up relating to each other as things. Moreover, if Marx were able to read Todd's blog he probably wouldn't have much patience with the idea of an ethical subject trumping these material conditions, even momentarily (though we might have a debate here since Todd may well disagree. But I make the point simply to say that Todd's post uses Marx without being "Marxist" in any orthodox way). For the same reason, you find literature like Dickens's novels which were published around the same time that Marx wrote Capital and seem as Marxist as Das Capital (as George Bernard Shaw once said). Because Dickens saw this vivification of things as clearly as Marx did even though he never read a word of Marx.

Finally, Matthew Weiner was a philosophy major IIRC and I'm willing to bet he read some Marx and possibly even the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (where Todd's quotation derives). But my real point is that what Marx is saying is, was, and for foreseeable future will be "in the air" because no one can deny the factual basis Marx's analysis: most of us do have to alienate our labor in order to get by even if some of us may perhaps enjoy that condition of not being able to live off the value of our land or our ownership of other things. Where Marx may not win you over is in what should/will happen after capitalism: not the question of how capitalism works on which point he should be read and ready open-mindedly by any thinking person.

(I hope this doesn't sound rude or condescending, btw. I don't at all mean it that way but must get back to selling my own labor power more efficiently!)

John M said...

Hello again. Fantastic writeup and some great comments. Too much to respond to really, but I like this question of inclusion. Joan's always been at the centre of things, but has perpetually been subject to the imposition of a persona that renders her real concerns invisible -- Roger calling her 'the finest piece of ass' he'd ever had, Greg raping her, neither Greg nor Harry respecting her abilities or interest regarding the reading of TV scripts. This latest horrible development is the culmination of that tendency.

Slightly surprised to see only a passing reference to Lacan here, since the Jaguar pitch, especially as it came from Ginsberg, seemed to me to be a straight re-run of Lacan's notion of desire as something always unfulfillable (you want, you get, you find you do not really have), with the twist that this fundamental law of nature was finally going to be transcended. (In fact, given that the common assumption is that desire can be fulfilled, the rather weak ad concept seemed to me only really intelligible to readers of Lacan.)

Great thoughts, with which I agree, bmartins, on Peggy. She's not the unattainable other woman here; Chaough definitely buys her.

On the subject of Marxism, have to say, I've kind of suspected Weiner might be a Marxist for quite a while. And I mean that in a good way. As much as Megan's Marxist dad was presented as a problematic, unlikable figure, I think his line about the culture she'd jumped into being bad for her 'soul' was the message this show is always giving out.

Another ATL poster here a couple of weeks back mentioned Shaw's Major Barbara, for which I'm hugely grateful as I'd never read Shaw and am now much enjoying doing so. This episode raises of the spectre of his play, Mrs. Warren's Profession, a defense of prostitution originally derived from de Maupassant's Yvette. As a poster on the Guardian pointed out, there's also a strong echo of Maupassant's short story Boule de Suif.

Autumn Whitefield-Madrano said...

I'm glad to see you address the Kinks song at the end, but I'm not sure what to make of it. Is it there as a reversal?--Peggy has...Don?--it doesn't quite track to me as an inversion, but I'm having trouble finding a way that it does track. I'm certain it does--the show is far too careful with music for it not to--but I'm not sure how. Maybe I'm looking too closely?

I thought the way the song overlapped with the Jaguar tagline was interesting, with the use of "really" and "truly" in each.

zina said...

This is a very interesting post.
OTOH, aesthetically wasn't this episode so very heavy handed? [Like in : Want to show that capitalism is a form of prostitution? Well, let's show somebody literally prostituting themselves.]

It is not an issue in itself. It all depends on the kind of aesthetics at stake. I am not sure the ideology is really the main issue. Irrelevant might be the ideology of capitalism, but also the ideology of realistic psychology (they, of course, are intertwined: see Balzac and Zola)

Last season of MM, on this site, there was a discussion concerning realism, that was recognized by many posters as the aesthetics of the first 3 seasons. The question was: was it still dominating S4?

Right now (in S5), it seems clear to me that realism is only present as a ghost of earlier seasons (the last episode of S5 is called 'The Phantom'). Realism is just the remains of the aesthetics of earlier seasons.

Nowhere is it more obvious than in this episode, especially concerning Joan. Yes it is about capitalism and commodity. It is also much more, in my view, about the aesthetics of pulp fiction, or even pornography. Remember earlier, Don telling the Brit Jaguar guy about one model : it is pornographic. Then the men left for a whorehouse.

All this is back in play this episode : the pornography (as an aesthetics) and the whoring (as the so-called moral issue). The selling of a respectable woman is a staple of pornographic fiction. And here she is not only sold to Herb, but also to the partners in SCDP, not to their bodies, but to their imagination (the Jaguar ad will be, said Don, in Esquire and in Playboy).

The "improved" Don also allows us to consume Joan as a rescue fantasy (but we are soon relieved to learn that he has not saved her, and that from fairytale we are back to pornography).

I wonder how much of this change of aesthetics (from realism to pulp), which happened mid S4 and became accentuated in S5, is to blame for the rather precipitous fall in ratings (MM had each season increased ratings, except for this year; after obtaining their highest ratings ever in the S5 premiere, MM ratings have gone down rather precipitously, and is now at about the lowest of S4).

Changing genres and style mid course might be an issue; it also make analysis more complex. Are we really dealing with the same characters? And what is the meaning of a character in a pulp or in pornographic fiction? Is it the same as in realistic fiction? Is Joan of S5 the Joan of S1? Maybe not, and not only b/c time has passed and she has a child, and she is divorcing (these are realistic reasons). If the Joan of S5 belongs to another aesthetic universe altogether, those are not good reasons. To understand her we have to take into account the Megan who put her bum in the air in the premiere, the Mother Lakshmi who bends over in Harry's office, the Beth who jumps on Pete in her living room, and the Peggy who gives hand jobs to a stranger in a theater. In this context, the whole moral issue (why did she do it? how could she do it?) even if it answered in the capitalistic context, is irrelevant. It is like asking if Godiva on her horse has caught a cold.

John M said...

zina, great post. It very much speaks to my sense that the question of whether Joan really would have done it is sort of irrelevant. In parallel, as I said above, it hardly seems to matter whether the Jaguar pitch was any good, it's really just there as a conduit for Lacanian theory of desire. And a poster called Arundel on the Guardian site pointed out quite some time ago that Don and Megan were repeatedly being posed like figures on the cover of pulp novels.

Some of the sex, particularly in the Harry and Pete storylines, has rather stretched credulity, but I'd question whether this is all about pornography. Peggy's cinema handjob has a precedent in the start of a quality French novel from the 50s -- I can't remember which, but possibly Bonjour Tristesse. Joan's prostituting, likewise, as I said above, is very similar to Maupassant's Boule de Suif. And I don't think many viewers were 'relieved' that Joan went through with it. Again, on the Guardian where most of the talk has been about this, someone suggested the board had turned into a group therapy session where people were trying to come to terms with their grief and shock over the incident. That upset wasn't confined to women. I felt it.

As to whether realism has given way to something else, this is a really interesting one. I only started to be a close reader of MM in S4 and was quickly amazed at the degree of coding. Afterwards I went back and watched the other series wondering if I'd find the same and was pretty sure I didn't, though there are some interesting games at times, e.g. with the ad storyboard that looks like the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination.

My feeling about the symbolism and references now is that, in addition to all the smaller points they make, in aggregate they're making a point that is, broadly speaking, Marxist. Joan's prostitution, as signifier of dirty capitalist exchange processes, is the turd landing finally on the doorstep, becoming significantly harder to ignore, but the muck's been there since dot: Lucky Strike, United Fruit (sponsoring coups in Central America), Nixon (with Nixonian dirty trick perpetrated as college prank by Harry and Pete), Pampers (linked to pollution by Don and Betty's thoughtlessly litterbug picnic), North American Aviation etc. and all Bert Cooper's insinuations of dark dealings at the highest levels, for which he's not sure Don has 'the stomach'. It's not just that most of this is easy to ignore. Mostly, Don and the others are just sleepwalking past it, barely aware of it. In Marx's formulation of ideology, 'they are doing it, but they do not know they're doing it.' The various symbolic elements that surround them makes this point: they are surrounded by meaning, but do not see it.

Helena said...

John M : I'm interested to know how you see the episodes about Ken's science fiction, followed by more realistic, writing fit into this; and Paul's Star Trek script?

John M said...

Hi Helena. I'm getting a bit mixed up about where I wrote what where, but I think I said here last week that both Ken and Megan seemed to be the components of an argument that roughly boils down to Picasso's maxim, 'Art is a lie that helps us see the truth more clearly.'

I'm not sure Ken wasn't still writing SF at the end of his episode when he seemed to be writing a story based on Pete. The earlier story he described, The Punishment of X4, was already a commentary on real life, in fact on precisely the dehumanisation of the worker to which Roger later tried to subject him.

In the current episode, Peggy ditches the pact with the words, 'Save it for your fiction,' possibly the most wounding thing about her sudden volte face in that it dismisses this process of engagement, which is obviously vitally important to him, as something totally disengaged and unreal.

Megan's equivalents are the bit about 'keep your eyes open and think of something that makes you sad' and her uncertain glancing around the plush apartment after her actress friend chews her out (echoing her father) about her unearned wealth. Both artistic practices are being shown as creating a distantiating space for questioning and critique of the environments in which these people find themselves.

I hadn't thought about how Kinsey's Star Trek effort might relate to Ken's work, but it seems a pale shadow at best.

MP said...

zina, John, Helena and others: Such an interesting conversation; I regret I can't take more active part. Zina, I hope future posts enable some further discussion of realism which, as you note, has been a topic of discussion here in the past. Caroline L & I will be co-writing the final post for this series; though what we'll say will be largely determined by the last two episodes, both of us focus our research on the realist, serial genres so the topic will doubtless come up.

Speaking briefly for myself: as someone who loves realist fiction, I find more to admire in Season 5 than I did in last year's formally eclectic season which (despite some strong high points and a lot of important plotline--taking Don from divorcee to married man) seemed to me to be less in command of form and aesthetics. This season seems to know exactly what it wants to do: that does not mean that it recreates the tight almost Flaubertian storyline of a tragically split male figure, surrounded by powerful female figures. MM has become more of a multiplot fiction and I suspect that's why it's less popular (at the height of its popularity this was very much Don's story, even if people enjoyed satellite figures like Joan and Peggy as well. I'm willing to bet that if you polled people the ones who liked Joan and Peggy still watch the show attentively whereas the ones who were in it mainly for Don are the most disaffected). But does its mass appeal actually matter to us chatterers? After all "Three and a Half Men" gets more viewers than any cable show and I, having never seen a single episode, feel pretty confident that I'm not missing out.

I didn't find Peggy's movie encounter to be esp. unrealistic. It was the kind of thing that would have benefited from more back story but I did not find it out of character for someone who began her trajectory in a gynecologist's office keen for an affair with a male exec and who in S2 didn't know how to be a female executive (viz. "Maidenform").

I liked this episode though it did (as I said many comments ago) leave me thinking about the show's relation to female sexual "power." If there was pulp in the episode it was via the premise, I think, rather than Joan's reaction to it. In other words, can we really believe that a Jaguar salesman would have made such an "indecent proposal"? (Then again, can I really believe that Mitt Romney may be my next president and that Newt Gingrich was a serious contender for a while?) Once you accept a premise that asks you to suspend disbelief in the interest of what unfolds I think that J's reaction is psychologically realistic. She might have said no had D. lived up to his symbolic role as a "white knight" (Chevalier Blanc)--but he was too busy taking out his Megan frustrations on Peggy. So J assumed he agreed with all the rest and saw a way to get a place at the (male) table of power. That feels compelling to me.

I also didn't find the connection of capitalism/prostitution too heavy handed. After all, this is advertising we're talking about; not capitalism pure and simple. We are not seeing a story of workers on the Jaguar assembly line or those competing to outdo them in Flint, Michigan or Tokyo. We are focusing on the aspect of capitalism's institutional fabric that is the most illusory, the most about seduction, the most about planned obsolescence, the most about producing exchange value in a narrative with nothing but itself.

John: if Weiner is, as you say, a Marxist I guess he won't be the first to be seen that way while doing very well for himself in the marketplace!

John M said...

Lauren, for someone with little time, that was a nice big satisfying post.

re your final point, hell no and why shouldn't he -- even if he is, as they say, losing market share? Surely success in the marketplace is the objective of every good détournement? ;)

To be clear, I only meant a Marxist in the sense you outlined in your response to Shoot the Critic.

Agree with your analysis on the psychological truth of Joan's capitulation/capitalisation.

And this:

'We are focusing on the aspect of capitalism's institutional fabric that is the most illusory, the most about seduction, the most about planned obsolescence, the most about producing exchange value in a narrative with nothing but itself.'

Dead on.

MP said...

Thanks, John for quick reply. I'm a v. fast typist (tho a really poor proofreader!)

Yes, knew what you meant about MW and Marxism; just being cheeky. I don't begrudge MW et al. wealth made from talent. I do find it interesting and sometimes "yuk" how commercial factors play out on successful shows (not only MM, to be sure, though HBO's different business model seems to work more like movies than AMCs commercial format--where every second of show time could be devoted to another ad).

I'm sure everyone who ever got rich on a something creative they originally loved for its own sake has felt the sting of the prostitution metaphor from time to time...while doubtless managing the sentiment just fine while balancing the check book ;)
Truly back to work now. Enjoy your evening!

John M said...

Further to the Marxist theme, is it any accident that both Don's apartment and the SCDP lobby go for the constructivist/Godardian primary colour scheme? Surely not!

And I'll reiterate my theory that Weiner's determination to show that 'actions have consequences' (an aim articulated by the socialist JB Priestley) is actually uncommercial in that it's causing the gradual erosion and dismemberment of the surefooted Don so many viewers loved (because 'Every woman adores a fascist...' and not just women).

Jez B. said...

Just came back to say, great comments everyone.

zina said...

John and Lauren, thanks for your comments. This is so interesting. I just want to a couple of my points, in large part to show my gratitude for your helping me think these things through.

About the viewership: I did not mean to say that a show that has fewer viewers is less important. Of course not. My point is more about the loss of viewers. I have never seen One And a Half Men either (and I intend to keep it that way), but I suspect that its success is due to the fact that it reliably gives the viewers what they expect. I think that MW prides himself in not repeating himself. I am just wondering if that has made him switch aesthetics, at least to an extent.

Also: realism is clearly not the only valid aesthetics. My own tastes would actually lead me to earlier forms and styles. Actually, in a wider sense, I would think that MM had since the beginning a mixed aesthetics.

And lastly on pornography: someone defined it as fairy-tales for adults. We have all seen the use of fairy-tales this season. I would contend that the Joan story is , parallel to, and more than, a realistic indictment of capitalism, also a fairy-tale for adults - that is entwined with the more traditional fairy-tale, when old-fashioned Don enacts the rescue fantasy.

John M said...

Hi Zina. I have seen Two and a Half Men. Normally I might caution people to be a bit more open-minded, but yeah, no, here, really, you're not missing a thing.

You're right about the fairy tale references. And as I said here at the time, building on observations by others, I thought a lot of the episode in which the execs went whoring was playing with pornographic tropes.

I'm feeling there's probably a lot more to be said about the relationship between these things and realism and the relationship between the first three seasons and S4. Possibly the more mythic elements have increased as we've moved further out of the ultra-conventional 50s and into the wonderland of the 60s. But I'm not sure and don't quite feel I have the headspace to investigate further just yet.

MP said...

Just popping into say you're welcome and "thanks" in return. And, yes, indeed realism not the only valid aesthetic by any stretch. There has much discussion of gothic motifs this season, for example.

More in a few days I'm sure!

Anonymous said...

This is late, but . . .

Lauren, re. "this is advertising we're talking about; not capitalism pure and simple. We are not seeing a story of . . . the Jaguar assembly line"--on the other hand, the contrast between creative and sales/accounting is arguably analogous to the relationship between manufacturing/engineering and the numbers guys (including HR and administrative staff, probably). One of the things I think is fascinating about Don Draper is the question which side of the line he should be on. The same could be asked of many other characters: Roger used to be creative director, and Peggy used to be a secretary (working for Joan, on the "business" side). It's true that we're missing, in this picture, the "making" things part of capitalism (unless clients are counted). We only have money and ideas. But in my opinion the dilemmas of the ideas people, when the money people are dominant, are similar to the dilemmas of the "making things" people.

MP said...

Thanks for these very interesting thoughts Bianca and welcome to Kritik. I hope you'll join the discussion of the new episode. I did not realize that Roger used to be a creative director: thought he was always accounts. Are you sure?

Anonymous said...

Hi Lauren, thanks. I think I commented last year once, too.

Wasn't Roger more directly involved with Creative at the beginning, moving farther away until he became Head of Accounts? Or was he just more involved with the business generally at the beginning? Now I'm not sure, and I don't have the DVD so can't check directly very easily. The web synopses say that Don accepted the partnership "immediately," but I seem to remember one time when he was offered more responsibility and may have accepted it but did reject something else which he thought more "formal" than he liked. Maybe Roger was just the partner who was most hands-on with Creative (he'd brought Don on, after all), since when Don wasn't a partner he needed some supervision.

juliangreenfield said...

Roger is certainly one of the most creative directors. I truly enjoyed this episode. Thanks for the post.

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T. AKA Ricky Raw said...

Not only that, but the show illustrates that Joan doesn’t really have a choice in this situation. All of the forces at the agency and within the social structure depicted by the show push Joan toward the act of prostituting herself.

I agree with everything except this part. I think she always had a choice, and if she didn't want to do it she totally wouldn't have. I think she did it because of increased temptation more than increased coercive pressure.

I had my own takes on this episode, many of which agree with yours:

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