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Mad Men Mad-men-title-card WikipediaPicking up from my 2010 post on Mad Men, it seems apposite to add a bit — yet (?) — more analysis to this outstanding drama series which explores not only advertising but the socio-political elements of the 1960s.

Warning — spoiler alert!

Producer Matthew Weiner has strongly hinted that the next series — the seventh — will be the last.

As series six wound down recently, protagonist Don Draper (pictured in the title card above) was either sacked or given an indefinite leave of absence from the advertising firm where he had become partner.

Don’s truth brings rejection

As viewers discovered in the first series, Don Draper stole a fellow soldier’s identity in the Korean War. The ‘mad man’ (short for ‘Madison Avenue advertising man’) Don Draper is really Dick Whitman from rural Pennsylvania. When Dick Whitman discovered in situ that his comrade Don Draper had been killed in action, he took the man’s dog tag along with a few other possessions and assumed his new persona.

Whitman’s greatest fear is that as soon as someone finds out about his real background, he or she will reject him.

Mad Men Wikipedia 220px-Mad_Men_season_5_cast_photoAnd so it proved true. His first wife Betty discovered parts of his Whitman truth and divorced him. In series six, Draper revealed sordid aspects of his Whitman childhood to Hershey’s chocolate bar executives during an ad pitch. They were astounded to find out that Draper-Whitman grew up in a house of ill repute after his mother died and an aunt — her sister the madam — adopted him.

They were further aghast to find that Draper told them Hershey’s should not advertise. He explained that, as a boy, the only comfort he had in life was from eating a Hershey’s bar alone. To him, it was a totemic product, almost sacred — therefore, it was something which advertising should not defile.

However, this candid revelation proved to be Don-Dick’s undoing. Up until then, his fellow partners had no idea that Don Draper was really someone else, a hayseed. Roger Sterling (pictured second from left above, next to Joan), the well-heeled silver fox and Draper’s closest colleague, was disgusted at finding out about this lowlife with whom he’d associated for nearly a decade. There was also the business matter of losing a potential huge client known across the nation. Don would have to go.

In a way, once again, as Don Draper-Dick Whitman knew, as soon as his truth emerges, people actively reject him. Some viewers have posited that it’s not what you say but the way that you say it.

Living with a lie

From the very first episode, I’d wondered how the new Don Draper was going to be able to hide the real Dick Whitman.

We saw the Korean War scene, then a tense episode on an evening train from New York City to Ossining, where an old Army buddy attempts to make conversation with Dick. Our mad man deftly discouraged conversation and found a seat elsewhere.

In a subsequent series, if I remember rightly, Dick’s dissolute brother Adam tried to extort money from him with regard to his identity. Don-Dick delivered an attaché case of cash to Adam’s hotel room and gave him strict instructions never to cross his or his family’s path again.

The big question intriguing me is how one can continue such a lie for so many years. It must gnaw at the conscience every day. As Don was raised with practically no religious identity, he has nothing on which to fall back.

However, in series six, he heard a preacher giving a sermon on Judas’s pride. The upshot was that no sin is too great that Christ cannot forgive it. The preacher says that Judas, in his pride, chose suicide instead: he thought his sin was too great to forgive, which was wrong.

I wonder whether Don’s Hershey’s revelation demonstrated his decision to come clean about his identity. Although he would become a truly broken and rejected man, at least he could come to some rebirth by embracing the truth and rejecting a great lie.

Storytelling in Mad Men

Matthew Weiner Wikipedia 220px-MattweinerWeiner (pictured at left) and his team of writers have put together a marvellous show. Granted, the later series are less well done in places than in earlier ones, yet each episode attracts eight to ten million viewers, four or five times the Nielsen ratings average.

Weiner, being Jewish, is — by definition — a natural storyteller. My favourite boss was Jewish and had a different — and true — work story to relate to me every day. I learned so much from him.

Weiner says that he has borrowed true stories from his own life and those of his writers for Mad Men.  As improbable as some of them seem, they have happened at some point in America of living memory.

Therefore, we can trust what he and his writers portray for us on screen. I find Mad Men a realistic depiction of life in the United States in the 1960s. Admittedly, not being a Sky subscriber, I have not seen series five or six but have recently read in detail about the latter (links below).

Furthermore, we never have a black-and-white, clear-cut episode. We’re drawn in further each time. The end of one series leads to anticipation of the next. Few people who regularly watch Mad Men find it boring or a show to scratch from their viewing list.

Weiner and crew present us with puzzles, moral dilemmas and questions which transcend the 1960s. Their writing lends itself to comparisons with Shakespeare, opera and Dante’s Inferno. Viewers’ analyses of the programme bear this out in fascinating detail.

The detail Weiner and his team put into clothes, office interiors, homes and more also shows careful attention to the time. It would be difficult to point out where a hairstyle or setting was out of place. (My only tiny complaint is box-style cigarette packs. I do not recall they came out as soon as portrayed in the series. I didn’t really see them regularly until the late 1970s.)

The trauma of the late 1960s

Although Weiner was born halfway through the decade and has not exactly found that period a redeeming time in America’s history, he and his writers weave historical events and advertising in each episode.

When the series started, I recognised the pleasant, secure years full of optimism. New consumer durables and postwar prosperity filled the middle class with hope for the future. It is no surprise that procreation reached record levels — the Baby Boom. When the middle classes have hope, they procreate.

So we see normal-looking American families happily going about their business until JFK’s assassination in 1963. We then see Betty Draper, like millions of other Americans, glued to the television set for wall-to-wall coverage. I remember it quite well, especially the complaints from female Kennedy opponents who were missing their soap operas. In those days, when television covered an event, it was non-stop during the daytime for as long as necessary. In Kennedy’s case, if I remember correctly, the coverage lasted three days on the main networks.

Later on, Weiner shows us the shock of 1968, with MLK Jr’s assassination and the Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago. It’s a pity that they did not fit in the interim event — RFK’s assassination — because it would have shown just how quickly America herself was assaulted.

By 1969, Americana was well and truly over; it had died an ignoble death.

A decade which had begun full of promise and peace — despite the Cold War — ended so horribly.

1960s home life

On the domestic front, Weiner accurately depicts Don and Betty as a married couple and as parents, typical of the 1960s.

Men were strong and silent. Women were also self-contained, the only exceptions being for a bit of gossip at the hairdresser’s or the grocery store; however, even that concerned other people, rarely themselves. There was little ‘talking about things’, which really only came about in the 1970s. No parent ever ‘related’ to their children. That wasn’t even a parenting concept.

Yet, as we see in Mad Men, times were changing. Whereas ‘nice girls’ didn’t do certain things without suffering social sanction, as the decade progressed, fornication and adultery progressed among all sorts of people who wished to ‘experiment’. The Pill, mainstream psychology and a postwar Beat Generation (1950s) questioning of mores increasingly became the norm. And the Frankfurt School was partly responsible for changing the way the middle classes viewed life (see my Marxism/Communism page) as more young people attended university. The media were also changing; ideas from New York and California — featured in magazines and on television — permeated the rest of America. Homespun truths from the first half of the century were eventually displaced by revisionist versions of history, Christianity and statecraft (e.g. the Vietnam War).

The well-read household often made mainstream reading material available and accessible to children. Therefore, it is no surprise that the Draper children — Sally and Bobby — pick up on the zeitgeist. Sally demonstrates an early interest in sexuality, Bobby in race relations.

I’m closer to Bobby’s age than Sally’s, although I’m probably a mix of both. My mother says I was precocious; I certainly was compared to my contemporaries. Some Mad Men viewers are worried that Sally has no friends of her own sex. I don’t find that strange at all. Despite what might be seen as repressive — perhaps cruel — parenting, Don and Betty’s household was one of new ideas and trends, for better or worse. Although I might have given the impression here that everyone was receptive to change in the 1960s, a substantial number of households ignored or downplayed their significance. That extended to the perspectives which their children held.

My paternal grandmother tapped into the zeitgeist but my maternal grandparents did not. My immediate family did in order to better understand it but a number of our neighbours did not. (I think this explains why American conservatives are so divided today. A lot just do not pay attention to what’s happening, never mind analysing it. This, understandably, annoys those who keep track of the news and apply it, along with history, to America’s future.)

As one of my former high school teachers told me several years ago, ‘It was all new then. We had no idea what the consequences would be.’

Change came thick and fast at the end of the 1960s — too much so. In fact, every time I hear the word ‘change’ today, I cringe. What more needs to be done?

I am glad now that BBC4 gave up the rights to Mad Men to Sky. In some sense, it would have made me sad to see a realistic portrayal of those years. I’d rather read about them instead.

Closing thoughts — for now

It surprises me that Jon Hamm has never won an Emmy for his depiction of Don Draper. I hope he wins next year; he is long overdue and well deserving.

Vincent Kartheiser plays Pete Campbell so well that I’m beginning to connect him personally with the character. He, too, deserves an Emmy, but only after Jon Hamm wins one!

Kiernan Shipka, who plays Don’s daughter Sally, is a well grounded actress, despite the fact that she is only 14. See the first link below for an interview.

Don’s telling Peggy — who had just delivered Pete’s illegitimate child (series one) — that ‘this never happened’ was a typical response of the 1960s. Peggy, if I remember rightly, took some time off for ‘female trouble’ or similar in her final trimester and gave her baby up for adoption. Don came to pick her up at the hospital and took her home, at which point he uttered those words. Some viewers found this harsh. I do not. He was trying to preserve her reputation by urging her to keep the pregnancy a secret for her protection. He did not want her to be seen by others as a fallen woman.

It is interesting that Don has never challenged the buxom siren, office manager Joan. I think he sees something in her that reminds him of himself. I would have liked for Weiner and Co. to have explored her background a bit more for us. I suspect she and Don aren’t too far apart in socio-economic origins and life experience.

Finally, many viewers are worried for Sally’s future. (I hope none of them are in the 55-60 age range. If so, they are talking out of their hats, for reasons explained in this paragraph.) I think she probably did just fine. Yes, we used recreational drugs to a greater or lesser extent and fornicated — sins to true Christians but less so in modernist Christianity. That said, most of us graduated from university when a degree was still worth the paper it was printed on. We then went on to marry and raise children whilst being productive members of society. I think that Sally was in the preppy circle, went to an Ivy League or Seven Sisters school and made a good name for herself, probably as a civil rights lawyer and prominent Democrat.

But that’s looking too far ahead.

For now, I wish Matthew Weiner and his team all success for series seven.

For further reading on Mad Men series six (when only the best links will do — don’t miss the comments):

Mad Men‘s Kiernan Shipka …

‘Mad Men’ creator Matthew Weiner on … series 6

‘Mad Men’ creator: Don’t hate Don Draper

Tom & Lorenzo — Mad Men: In Care Of (last episode of series six with more on their ‘television’ page)

Mad Men: Notes from the break room (every episode of series six analysed)

A Psychiatrist Analyzes Mad Men‘s Sally Draper

A Psychiatrist Analyzes Mad Men‘s Don Draper

‘Mad Men’, Oranges And Their Role In Foreshadowing Death

What can one say?  Mad Men, Matthew Weiner’s award-winning show for AMC which painstakingly illustrates life as it was in Madison Avenue, left BBC4 last week.  ‘Mad men’ was how 1960s ad men referred to themselves — working in Madison Avenue and being, well, a bit mad.

Season Five — and all subsequent repeats — will air exclusively on Sky in the UK.  A shame, although, as anyone who has lived through the 1960s knows, the better half of the decade — up to 1965 — has already featured.

Incredibly, I still meet people on both sides of the Atlantic who ask, ‘What’s Mad Men?’ and ‘Who is Don Draper?’  Sometimes they even work in marketing or public relations (PR).  Then, there are other marketing-PR types who have watched a few episodes from the first series and have told me, ‘I don’t get it.’

It’s a mystery to me why people wouldn’t ‘get’ the show.  It’s quite evident, episode to episode, year on year, what it’s about.  The plot is straightforward, although some of Don Draper’s segments have a rather dreamlike quality now and then as he attempts to escape from the reality which he has created for himself.

What the show does — unintentionally — is illustrate two Calvinist tenets: total depravity and common grace.  One could probably make an additional case for God’s sovereignty, but that would be weaker, at least at this point.  And, as we do not intend to have Sky in the mousehole, I shall just have to wonder.

Mad Men is scrupulously faithful to the era in what people do, say and wear.  Authentic advertising — which I recall from my childhood — is used.  You can read more about it at the link.  Should you start watching it now if you’ve never seen it before?  Unlike many drama serials, time moves on and it’s best to watch from the beginning to understand the full import of the characters, their changing world and life at the agency.  Nonetheless, you’ll be able to follow on quite well, particularly after you read the rest of this post.

For those who have — or haven’t — seen the show so far, what follow are a few highlights, with help from YouTube.

Signature tune and title sequence

Even occasional viewers love the signature tune.  The title sequence, reminiscent of Saul Bass’s work in 1950s and 1960s film, marries perfectly with it.  Both carry a deep sense of foreboding.  The steady viewer wonders what will happen to Don Draper, who features in the sequence.  Each series gets us wondering, ‘Will Don dip out of the agency?  Will something happen to him?’  See for yourself (feel free to click ‘watch on YouTube’, as embedding wasn’t allowed on this and a few of the other clips below):

The haunting melody, ‘A Beautiful Mine’ by RJD2, is taken from Enoch Light’s ‘Autumn Leaves’ from Persuasive Percussion 1966 (Command RS 895 SD, 1966).  Definitely worth a listen for the  gorgeous piano:

Who is Don Draper?

Don begins the decade as Creative Director at the Sterling Cooper agency.  But, he has a past and was born Dick Whitman to a poor family.  The first series explains how he came to adopt his new identity at the end of the Korean War.  Series Four takes us back through his transition from salesman in a fur shop to advertising executive.

Incredibly, Don never went to university, which he announces in Series Four.  Yet, he married a girl from one of the Seven Sisters colleges and became a successful, upper-middle class businessman — eventually, he becomes a partner in the agency — with an inherent ability not only to manage people and situations but to be classically understated and well-mannered.  These last two characteristics have given rise to hundreds of column inches over the past few years clamouring for the renaissance of this type of 1960s man.

In this AMC trailer, Don shares his bon mots on our instinctual love of freedom, women and their husbands, the lure of good advertising and more:

In this next clip, Don uses the risky tactic of negative persuasion to win over a lipstick manufacturer. (Don’t try this at work!) Don explains the atavistic attitude of a woman towards her man (‘total ownership’):

This next clip is a must-see.  In it, Don meets with Kodak representatives who want to market their new slide projector ‘wheel’.  Don persuades them — with a pithy but insightful speech — that they should call it the Carousel.  He discusses nostalgia, which he says is like a time machine taking us to the place where we wish to return again and again, going around and around. And, herein lies the appeal of Mad Men. Don illustrates his talk with slides capturing his own family life:

Don’s (ex) wife Betty

Betty is a wooden, cold woman who, strangely for that time period, can’t manage to ever say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’.  After getting her Bachelor’s degree at Bryn Mawr, she becomes a model in Manhattan, which is where she and Don meet.  They have divorced and she has remarried by the time Series Four begins.

Betty has no regard for anyone but herself.

In an early episode, Betty takes exception to her neighbour’s pigeons after he threatens to shoot their dog. ‘My Special Angel’, sung by Bobby Helms in 1957, plays in the background:

You might enjoy seeing the faithful recreation of an early 1960s supermarket in this scene between Mrs Draper and one of her neighbours:

She is an unloving mother, although many of us growing up at the time will remember hearing some of these things:

Don’s colleagues

Despite their many failings, Mad Men‘s Sterling Cooper agency crowd has a certain ethos about it.  Some characters have better deportment than others, nonetheless, the work atmosphere recalls a time when people were treated as individuals instead of cattle.

In this clip the odious Pete Campbell tries to get Don fired.  Bert Cooper — yes, that’s Robert Morse — displays common grace, forgiveness and wisdom.  As parents said back then, ‘No one likes a tattle-tale’:

Here is a television clip of Morse from 1967.  He appeared as the mystery guest in an episode of What’s My Line? hosted by John Daly:

Office manager Joan introduces young secretary Peggy — who quickly becomes a copywriter through her own merits — to life at Sterling Cooper.  Womanly extremes at play here:

Senior partner Roger Sterling explains why men drink — ‘it’s what men do’ — and why his generation does it better than Don’s:

And, finally, Roger and Joan discuss war, forgiveness of one’s enemy and moving forward.  Roger served in the Second World War and Joan’s husband is about to leave for Vietnam:

Needless to say, churchgoing comes up rarely in conversation.  From flashbacks in Don’s life, we know he was raised in a Bible-believing home — given his family’s circumstances, they were probably fundamentalists.  In any case, he rejected Christianity as a boy.  Betty has no beliefs. Their daughter finds this strange; in one episode she asks why the family doesn’t attend church on Sunday.  Betty gives her a brusque answer. The only other mention I recall is that Roger Sterling’s daughter gets married in an Episcopal church;  we find this out when he and his ex-wife are discussing wedding plans.

Would they have been better off going to church?  I don’t know.  I’d like to say yes, but most of the show’s characters, especially in the Creative department, would have remained unregenerate. Bert Cooper would have remained a humanist. I could see only Roger and Don as Christian possibilities, and Roger would have ended up more of a social Episcopalian, going for friendship.  With a bit of work, Don probably would have become Reformed.  He would have made a good Calvinist — intellectual, insightful and reflective.  Not that other denominations aren’t, but please accept my apologies for being biased, having read so much Calvinist literature over the past couple of years.

I’ll miss Mad Men, certainly.  This is part of the reason I put this compilation of clips together, to have something to come back to later.  But my aim was also to get you interested in Season Five, should you be able to see it.

Thanks for watching.

Like some of you, I can now remember five decades, start to finish.  It got me thinking about changing societal attitudes and mores.

This isn’t a particularly religious post, if at all, but decades start and finish in dramatically different places.  When you consider the first decade of the new century, you think of the dotcom boom and 9/11 in 2001 then of recession and appeasing our enemies in 2009.  The Left made further inroads into our society and laws were passed (with more proposed) which encroach on our personal liberties.  The state is ever-intrusive.

That aside, I went back to the 1960s to see what type of films were released.  Film is a good barometer of social change.  This is what I found:

1960 – the top 10 includes:

Psycho

– Spartacus

The Magnificent Seven

Swiss Family Robinson

The Time Machine

House of Usher

Although this was before universal film ratings came into being, only Psycho had what would have been an ‘R’ rating today.  Three of the films listed would have had a ‘G’ rating today.

Now, let’s look at the end of the decade.

1969 – the top 10 includes:

The Wild Bunch

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Easy Rider

Midnight Cowboy

True Grit

A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Of the top 10 listed, three had an ‘R’ rating, two were rated ‘G’, one ‘PG’, and the others had no rating. But, look how the themes had changed. We now had anti-heroes in the movies.  Directors explored more controversial, sexually-oriented themes.  The clear-cut morality had gone, and we had started to slip into relativism.

So, what happened and how did we come to accept these changes?  Ed Driscoll thinks that the late New Yorker film critic, Pauline Kael, had a significant part to play.  In his article, ‘How Bonnie, Clyde and Pauline Gunned Down Middlebrow Culture’, he explains:

Leftwing historian Rick Perlstein recently told Reason that “Bonnie and Clyde was the most important text of the New Left.” It certainly foreshadowed the radical chic that runs through the liberalism of the late 1960s, from the Black Panthers sipping Martinis in Leonard Bernstein’s salon to recurring parodies such Michelle Obama in camo and combat boots clutching an AK-47 on the cover of this week’s New Yorker.

Speaking of the New Yorker, how much did Pauline Kael’s championing of the movie impact the rest of culture?

Driscoll cites an article from The National Post which addressed the subject, focussing on the 1967 film.  It’s funny, but at the time, Bonnie and Clyde just seemed like a gangster movie kids weren’t allowed to see.  Yes, it was interesting and engrossing the first couple of times, but after that, it got a bit samey.  I didn’t watch it the last time it was on a few years ago.  Apparently, I’m not alone.

Most critics found Bonnie and Clyde empty and trashy. The crusty old New York Times guy, Bosley Crowther, then one of the most influential American critics, decided that Bonnie and Clyde failed to meet his narrow, simple-minded, painfully respectable standards. It was too violent, and he thought the love story of its doomed, hare-brained title characters was “sentimental claptrap.”

Kael, whose critical reputation was in its early stages, used Bonnie and Clyde as the opening shot in what turned out to be a war against middlebrow, middle-class, middle-of-the-road taste. Her New Yorker piece began: “How do you make a good movie in this country without being jumped on? Bonnie and Clyde is the most excitingly American American movie since The Manchurian Candidate. The audience is alive to it.”

Mmm-hmm.  Well, my mom was pretty open-minded when it came to new genres of film, and she’d lived during the Depression, so she knew Bonnie and Clyde’s story.  She thought the film version was okay, but not what the reviews made it out to be.  The best part for her was Michael J Pollard’s character, who, unfortunately, doesn’t appear that much in the film.  It’s a launchpad for Faye Dunaway, whom my mom didn’t particularly for, and Warren Beatty didn’t thrill her to bits, either.  But, the Pauline Kael sentiment made the rounds of all the national newspapers.  The critics — from towns and cities — across America largely echoed what she’d said.  Those glowing reviews were what drove my mom to the cinema.

Anyway, back to Kael.  Having seen the original of The Manchurian Candidate twice and having compared that to Bonnie and Clyde makes me wonder what she was doing at the time she wrote that review.  There is no comparison between the two.  The Manchurian Candidate wins every time.

See if this doesn’t sound pomo:

She announced no less than a revolution in taste that she sensed in the air. Movie audiences, she said, were going beyond “good taste,” moving into a period of greater freedom and openness. Was it a violent film?

Well, Bonnie and Clyde needed violence. “Violence is its meaning.”

… She liked the raw energy in the work of adventurous directors such as Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. She trusted her visceral reactions to movies.

Yes! The ‘freedom’, the ‘openness’, ‘the violence’.  ‘Violence is its meaning’.  Give over!  I had a teenage cousin who picked up all these stock phrases and bandied them about at family gatherings.  Ugh!  ‘Oh, well, what would you know?  It takes sophistication and knowledge to appreciate film.  Film.  Not movies.  Anyone can watch those.’

But, I digress.  Our Ms Kael came a cropper.  The new films she lauded became the mainstream.  There were no more Doris Day movies or melodramatic romances or proper westerns.  Done, finito, kaput.  Kael’s mistake was that she (emphases mine):

assumed she was safe to defend the choices of mass audiences because the old standards of taste would always be there. They were, after all, built into the culture. But those standards were swiftly eroding … She and her admirers won the battle but lost the war. Acceptable taste became mass-audience taste, box-office receipts the ultimate measure of a film’s worth, sometimes the only measure. Traditional, well-written movies without violence or special effects were pushed to the margins.

She herself said shortly before her death:

‘When we championed trash culture we had no idea it would become the only culture.’

Yes, Churchmouse, and ..?  Try substituting ‘church’ for ‘culture’ and maybe you’ll see where I’m going with this. The odd bit of modernity for ‘the kids’ or ‘just this once’ soon became the only type of church service or Mass our children know.  And the authority of our denominations has been declining since the 1960s.  We always assumed ‘church’ and the ‘Church’ we knew would be there whenever we wanted, for us and future generations, but is it there today?  No.  And it may be too late in some cases to turn back the clock.  So, let’s try to reclaim what’s ours in orthodoxy and tradition whilst we still have a chance.  Complain about substandard services, point out the watery sermon, take a role that allows you to influence change … for the better.

Let’s not end up like Pauline Kael, who found the rug pulled out from under her entirely by accident.  She lost her culture.  We’re in danger of losing our churches.

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