Sweater Manifesto

A blog about American zeitgeist and other things.

Month: May, 2012

Rent a Joan, Own a Jaguar: A Costly Lesson on This Week’s Mad Men

Editor’s note: Every week, our resident free-market apologist, Harlan R. Teller, offers his unique perspective on the most recent episode of Mad Men.

Last week, Don Draper told his assembled staff that every agency on Madison Avenue is defined by their car account; he might have added that they’re also defined by how they go about getting it. And there’s the rub, as SCDP may have won its car, but lost its corporate soul in claiming Jaguar in this week’s breathtaking exercise in moral turpitude, “The Other Woman.”

Turns out that the going rate for owning something “beautiful” like the Jaguar business is a night in the sack with stalwart Joan Holloway Harris, who has slowly but surely moved to the heart of center stage in MM over the past several episodes.     The head of the Jaguar dealers association decides to act like a modern-day sultan, ordering up the shapely body of the estimable Joanie as the price of his support.   And Pete Campbell, the Sammy Glick of the show, skates over the moral thin ice of the demand and prostitutes himself, his firm, and his director of agency operations by taking the demand seriously.

While the metaphor for the episode is a bit obvious—the creatives are pitching Jaguar as the “the other woman” that is the one beautiful thing a man can own, while Joan is the beautiful other woman who can be bought with the prospect of a five percent stake in the firm—the execution of the concept showed why there has never been anything quite like Mad Men in this history of television.

In a way, just about everyone gets what they want in this episode, which is a significant departure for a show that for most of the year has featured unhappy, unsettled characters enduring their discontent while the world around them is poised between two cultures and about to detonate. This week, SCDP gets its car, Joanie gets her partnership, Don gets to find his internal mensch, Ginsberg gets to establish himself firmly as the creative on the rise, and Peggy gets to jump to another agency for more money and perhaps more respect. Home may still be a volatile place, but work has become a lot more rewarding. About the only person who strikes out is Megan, showing once again that as an actress, she’s a really good copywriter.

For those who think that there is an air of inevitability about Don and Joan, you were rewarded by one of the truly poignant moments in Mad Men lore—Joan’s touching, lingering caress across Don’s inflamed cheek when she realizes that the man, cad that he is, is the one person in her life who actually cares about her honor.  Just when you think Christina Hendricks as Joan can’t get any better, there comes along this pivotal scene, which she plays with an enigmatic grace that hints at so much but gives away so little. Watching her this year might not be quite as rewarding as owning a Jaguar, but we’ll take what we can get, and she’s as good as any actress working in television today.

In a deft sleight of hand, we realize later that this scene, in which Don tries to dissuade Joan from bedding the car association guy, actually takes place after the deed is done. The replay of the scene—which follows a Godfather-like intercutting between the pitch the next day and Joan’s encounter with the Sultan of Jaguar the night before—becomes even richer, and actually changes the meaning of the look on Joan’s face from enigmatic to ruefully sad.

And, in between, while we’re reminded of Don Draper’s charisma and magnetism as a pitchman, the pitch is rigged and the win is tainted. And, on top of his disappointment in knowing that he couldn’t pull this off himself, he then faces a much more profound rejection: Peggy’s resignation from SCDP. This has been brewing for a long time, and his careless disregard for Peggy’s feelings and aspirations brought the situation to a head. The scene between these two is both unutterably sad and entirely inevitable. But, again, in even a scene that feels so familiar, something happens that takes it to another level—that lingering kiss on Peggy’s hand, telescoping six years of affection, complicity and respect into one final, personal gesture. Again, a scene that finds two MM stalwarts, Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss, doing some of their best work of the year. Hamm, in particular, demonstrates the seven stages of grief in a span of about two minutes, ending in sad acceptance as Peggy walks out the door and possibly out of his life.

It has been discussed elsewhere, but it is noteworthy that Don seems to have greater chemistry with co-workers Joan and Peggy than he has with his two wives, and in fact, the most chemistry he and Megan have ever displayed was after she helped him save the Heinz business. Work is a literal turn-on for Don, and his out of date notions about youth culture aside, he enjoys having strong, capable women around him, and respects what they bring to the table. So, given the primacy of work in Don’s hierarchy of needs, it may not be surprising that two groundbreaking female professionals like Peggy and Joan would have such a profound connection with him.   With Peggy, it’s teacher to mentor; with Joan, it’s not quite as well defined, and the ambiguity of his relationship with her leaves us persistently tantalized by the prospect of a Don-Joan coupling.

And, who among you thought for a brief moment that when the elevator doors swung open, that Peggy, with her whole career and future ahead of her, would go hurtling headlong into the abyss of the elevator shaft—the one that Don narrowly avoided awhile back? No, Peggy gets to live another day and compete against her mentor, in league with his hated enemy. The plot is indeed thickening.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

The Trouble with Diversity on Television

Racial enlightenment has become an ambiguous political instrument—or perhaps more precisely, something that is not good or bad in itself, just one or the other depending on how it is used. Remember when, for a week or two back in the fall of ’11, as Herman Cain took his turn as Republican pre-primary frontrunner, Fox News commentators accused the backlash against him (from the Left, presumably) as being racist? You can call this progress or cynical bullshit, but it’s an example of how identity politics don’t really toe party lines. And before Tiger Woods was uncovered as an adulterous sex fiend, he was the poster boy for the egalitarian nature of golf. Success in the sport, that “I am Tiger Woods” Nike advertising campaign seemed to suggest, was won on an equal opportunity basis—the PGA was no longer the bastion of WASP exclusion and its attendant upper-crustness. The problem with this train of thought is that racial diversity does not necessarily entail socioeconomic diversity: Woods was as bourgeois as any of the well-fed, Tanqueray-drinking white guys on the PGA tour were. Seeing through the Nike ads’ sleight of hand, in other words, is a matter of remembering, according to Walter Benn Michaels, author of The Trouble with Diversity, that “a society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.”

In April The New York Times printed an article by Jon Caramanica about television’s lack of racial diversity. The article raised some important points, among them the glut of TV shows content reducing their representation of minority characters to minstrelsy (e.g. 2 Broke Girls) or excluding them altogether (e.g. How I Met Your Mother). While acknowledging the diversity to be found in shows like Happy Endings and Modern Family, Caramanica writes, “It’s troubling that there are almost no minority romantic heroes in network prime time.” Emily Nussbaum, writing in this week’s New Yorker, on the other hand, points to a promising trend: the “startling, largely unheralded boom of South Asian characters” on network television. It’s worth celebrating what variety there is in the racial composition of TV today—and nothing wrong with calling for more of it. But there’s something that Caramanica and Nussbaum don’t account for: the underrepresentation of anyone—regardless of race—living below middle class comfort on scripted television. Admittedly, reality TV shows like Hoarders and Teen Mom have embraced class diversity, although their exhibition of lower class people serves a crude catharsis more than anything else.

Caramanica and Nussbaum both seem to regard The Wire as the gold standard for racial diversity in television: “And of course there was The Wire,” Caramanica waxes nostalgic. They’re not wrong. But The Wire also covered an astounding range of socioeconomic stations, which no other show has come even close to attempting—at least not since Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Perhaps, in time, a contingent of the movement against HBO’s Girls, whose predominantly white cast launched this dialogue concerning televised diversity, will reveal itself to be motivated less by racial politics than by a nation’s weariness for the psychic self-indulgence of upper-class griping.

Submitted by the editor.

Home Is Where the Flying Spaghetti Is: Some Musings on “Christmas Waltz”

Editor’s note: Every week, our resident free-market apologist, Harlan R. Teller, offers his unique perspective on the most recent episode of Mad Men.

This year’s season of Mad Men has had more than its share of moments of hallucinatory strangeness: the fat Betty, the excursion to HoJo’s featuring a squirrelly motel manager who would have been comfortable living in Twin Peaks, the return of Glen, grown into television’s most surreal teenager, and, of course, the actual LSD trip that ended the marriage of Roger and Jane Sterling. But this week’s helping of “strange” might actually have featured the strangest moment of them all.

No, I’m not talking about Paul Kinsey’s latest pose, as a Hare Krishna looking to entice Harry into the sect in order to get him to feed a Kinsey-penned Star Trek episode to ST show runner Gene Roddenberry. The chameleon-like Kinsey, who adopts personae the way Imelda Marcos used to try on shoes, is liable to do anything that will a) shore up his terminally sagging self-esteem or b) help him bed down his latest object of affection, is the one MM character who we would most believe would end up in a bald head and robes, banging a tambourine and chanting.    That it was good to see him back, if only to be sent on his way to La La Land by his loyal and decent friend Harry Crane, is a tribute to actor Michael Gladis for making this most annoying (and underwritten) character perpetually interesting.

And, I’m not referring to Lane Pryce’s descent into white collar crime, doing a David Begelman number and forging Don’s signature on a check that will ostensibly keep him from being thrown into a British prison for tax evasion—perhaps sending him to Ryker’s Island instead. (Actually, what’s most strange about that one is that a hot-shot senior partner of an Madison Avenue advertising agency would need to resort to larceny to pay a $8,000 tax penalty—even in 1966 dollars).

No, the strangest moment of all is what did not happen between Don Draper and the formidable Joan Holloway Harris at a midtown bar in the early hours of the night, both drunk as skunks and clearly semi-smitten with each other. Yes, they seemed to think quite a bit about it.  And for the first time, we find out that Don Draper, that consummate swordsman, the man whose libido knew no bounds, was actually intimidated by the shapely redhead when he came to work at Sterling Cooper lo those many years (and sexual conquests) ago.

But while there was flirtation, they avoided hitting on each other, and the strangeness of the encounter, as well as what did not happen between them, represented a poignant moment for the episode. Not to mention that immediately afterward, we see Don in a role he’s never been in before: playing wingman to Joan, encouraging her to sidle up to a dark stranger across the bar, to take advantage of her newfound emancipation after being served with divorce papers by her gung-ho army doctor husband Greg.

Then, of course, Don leaves the bar—and Joanie—in the hands of destiny (or the guy across the bar, which is more likely), and to compensate for his unconsummated go-around with Joanie, takes his Jaguar (on loan from a very nervous salesman) for a careening whirl around Manhattan, where in real life it’s hard to figure how he would avoid slamming into a cab, a pedestrian, or both, given the snail-like pace of midtown traffic and the fact he’s three sheets to the wind.

One of the great pleasures of the show that only happens on occasion are the scenes between Don and Joan; the chemistry between the two is palpable, and they clearly like and respect each other, perhaps too much to give into a momentary impulse to swoop across a saloon dance floor and ultimately into Joanie’s cramped and baby-filled apartment. Besides, Joanie’s mom, the ultimate buzzkill, would probably be hanging around, waiting for Joan to come home from work.

As with many of the episodes this year, the work at the office is secondary to the individual dramas of the characters, driven to extremes by a variety of stimuli—boredom, frustration, fear of incarceration, lack of love and esteem, and wounded pride. It’s fitting that the advertising lodestar for this episode is the Jaguar: an automobile that’s all about extravagance, pride, ostentation, going beyond the speed limit, and seen as a magic carpet ride that would transport SCDP to the big leagues of the advertising firmament. If only they could win it, up against a cattle call of big name Madison Avenue firms also looking for their own car account.

What Jaguar does—coupled with Megan’s frustrated toss of her pasta dish against the wall of their stylish crib (lucky it was olive oil, rather than red sauce)—is revive Don’s animal spirits, reminding him of where he came from and how advertising helped him construct his made-up life. Last episode, Don began to breathe back to life the embers of his creative spark. In this episode, his competitive drive kicks into gear, as that joyride in the Jaguar and the lecture from Megan reminds him of who he is. Megan may have rejected advertising, which still stings Don, but he can’t do the same. Going to extremes for Don, in the context of “Christmas Waltz,” is a vain, perhaps quixotic, quest to upend the advertising establishment, win Jaguar, get (or stay) rich, keep the trophy wife.

So, while there are Christmas bonuses for the hired help, there are going to be long hours on the Jaguar pitch. And, have you ever seen a group of employees so psyched about working weekends over the holidays? I guess free booze for all—and mood-enhancing drugs for the creative’s—is a big enough lure. Not to mention avoiding home, which is becoming an increasingly inhospitable place for these characters.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

Green-Eyed Monster Runs Amok in Mad Men Episode Nine

Editor’s note: Every week, our resident free-market apologist, Harlan R. Teller, offers his unique perspective on the most recent episode of Mad Men

Episode Nine of Mad Men is called “Dark Shadows,” a reference to the campy, almost amateurish Gothic soap opera that had a brief but celebrated run on ABC-TV from 1966 to 1971. (Incidentally, Tim Burton’s homage to the show opened last Friday). I used to call it “Dark Flubbows,” given the near-epidemic blowing of lines by its actors, most notably the Shakespearean-trained star of the soap, Jonathan Frid, who played the tormented vampire Barnabas Collins. The people like me who, lo those many years ago, tuned in to see Frid and his cohort lose track of their dialogue must have appreciated Megan’s take on the show, which was none too positive.

While Dark Shadows was about vampires, werewolves, and other demons going bump in the night, a very different monster romped among the Mad Men characters in Episode Nine—that green-eyed monster called jealousy.

Let’s see. Betty is jealous of Megan—she’s young, she’s beautiful, she lives in a stylish flat (as compared to the mausoleum that Betty and Henry live in), and she’s adored by first husband Don in a way that Betty never was. And, as Betty saw when she surreptitiously watched Megan getting dressed when coming up to the flat to pick up her kids, she’s thin.  So, of course, Betty has to figure out how to undermine Megan’s relationship with Betty’s oldest child, the precocious Sally, using Don’s past to do the trick.

Back at the office, Don is desperate to get his creative fastball back, and he shows signs of doing that, but the consensus is that his concept for a new drink, while good, isn’t up to level of wunderkind Michael Ginsberg’s idea. So, in a startling display of insecurity and churlishness, he leaves the Ginsberg work in the cab and sells his own idea to the client, achieving the double play of confirming that he’s still relevant and putting the petulant creative in his place. Ginsberg, by the way, is no less jealous of Don, because Don is powerful and he’s powerless—a proletarian being taken advantage of by the owner who is profiting from the fruits of his creative output.

Roger takes Jane out to dinner with a prospective client, just for appearances, watches her get hit on by a younger man, and decides she’s not so undesirable after all, seducing her in the hallway of her new apartment and virtually ruining the apartment for her as a result.

Peggy is jealous that Ginsberg is lately getting all the attention that used to fall on her. Her idea for the new drink campaign falls flat, and Roger turns to Ginsberg rather than her to help with the new wine campaign he’s trying to sell in. Roger gives Peggy a lesson about the dog-eat-dog world of capitalism, which may actually say more about Roger’s personal code of conduct than it does about capitalism.

Megan is jealous of her friend who is auditioning for a part on Dark Shadows, and her friend in turn is jealous of Megan for living a great life and being able to slum as an actress. That Megan’s opinion of the soap opera is on the money doesn’t negate the central point—she may end up failing as an actress in the same spectacular way that she was succeeding as a copywriter.

Finally, even the saddest guy in the show these days, the frustrated, resentful Pete Campbell, has sparked the jealousy of not one, but two name partners at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Both Roger and Bert, desperate to demonstrate they are still relevant, play keep away from Pete with a new client lead, choosing to work the prospect behind Pete’s back rather than bring it up at the partners’ meeting.

This is one of those periodic “transitional” episodes for the show, where plot lines are set up or pushed along but not brought to a head. Peggy is clearly headed for some kind of battle of wills with Ginsberg; Ginsberg will continue to be a fly buzzing around Don’s head, who Don will have the occasional urge to swat; Pete will continue to strut around as cock of the agency walk to compensate for the devastating emptiness at the core of his life.

And Sally is heading for something, but where she’s going is not entirely clear yet (besides Woodstock, some serious dope smoking, perhaps chaining herself to a tree to protest the war or nuclear energy, or a combination of all of the above). In fact, the most interesting subplot of the episode involved the continuing “education of Sally Draper,” as she learned a disturbing bit about her father’s personal history (he was married to Anna—a fact that Megan tries to keep from her but Betty uses to demonstrate Megan’s untrustworthiness), while demonstrating a burgeoning ability to triangulate between mom and stepmom. Sally’s psychological manipulation of her mother—making it clear that Betty’s stratagem didn’t work, but acting like she had no idea what her mother was trying to do—is part of the protective armor that children of divorced parents don to cope with their lives. It promises an increasing complexity and richness to the domestic Draper/Francis scenes in the future.

Writer’s Note: While Betty struggles to take off the pounds, the biggest loser of the episode may be second husband Henry, not just because he’s reduced to nocturnally chowing down one of the worst looking steaks ever, but also because of his choice of bosses. John V. Lindsay, a photogenic Kennedy wannabe liberal Republican who at the time had traded on his good looks and vague political beliefs to become the mayor of New York City, was in the process of igniting one of the most spectacular flame-outs in American political history, and evidently Henry had taken a ringside seat to watch it happen. Henry forlornly opines that he may have “bet on the wrong horse,” jumping from Rockefeller to Lindsay, but both horses turned out to be presidential also-rans.   Betty tries to console Henry while he’s gagging down his piece of shoe leather with some babble that she evidently learned at one of her Weight Watchers meetings. One begins to think that Henry’s choice of second wives may not be much better than his choice in political candidates.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

Kerouac’s Schizoid Letters and Postcards

If realizing that a novel’s publication abides the technical rigmarole of any other industrial process shatters the comforting myth of artistic genius, it also fosters the equally comforting belief (delusion) that “I could write the next On the Road if I just had the right editor.” The correspondence  between Jack Kerouac and his editor Malcolm Cowley leading up to the 1957 publication of On the Road, showcases the important and unappreciated nature of editorship. It also makes, to be perfectly honest, for a more compelling read than On the Road itself. The postcards pictured here, as well as many of the letters that were sent before and after their posting, can be found at the Newberry Library in Chicago, which this year will celebrate its 125th anniversary with an exhibition featuring, among other things, some of this correspondence.

In halcyon moments early in 1956, Jack Kerouac must have felt that getting On the Road published was just a matter of changing the names of a few characters and giving them absurd sinecures (e.g., managing a bowling alley empire in the western United States) in order to avoid possible charges of libel from the people upon whom they were based. But after six years of trying to publish his great rambling ode to the Beat Generation, Kerouac was largely unsure of himself and desperate for reassurance; and Malcolm Cowley, lecturing at Stanford in addition to keeping up with his editing responsibilities with Viking Press, couldn’t give Kerouac the requisite TLC.

Two letters, from February 10 and March 16, 1956, respectively, attest to a volatility, made up of two opposing forces, within Kerouac: an indiscriminate nervous energy and a single-minded fixation on seeing On the Road go to print. From his February letter to Cowley, Kerouac writes, “I wrote a short novel last summer…a complete book of 244 poems…I’d like to bring you the whole foot-high mass of my new works, to prove to you you’re not wastin (sic) your time on no sluggard (sic).” And from his March letter, “The Rock n Roll craze is on, On the Road is the HIPSTER NOVEL (sic), the time is ripe…the GoGoGo (sic) situation is really ripe right now in USA.”

Cowley’s reply, of March 21, assumes the tone of a professor addressing one of his students, a register to which Cowley might have unconsciously defaulted, given the time he was spending in writing workshops in Palo Alto: “[Allen Ginsberg] is very wrong when he keeps encouraging you to do nothing but automatic writing. Automatic writing is fine for a start, but it has to be revised and put into shape or people will quite properly refuse to read it—and what you need now is to be read, not to be exhibited as a sort of natural phenomenon like Old Faithful geyser that sends up a jet of steam and mud every hour on the hour.” Cowley encouraged Kerouac to abandon the impossible ideal of spontaneity, but the romance of the road extended to its literate rendering and refused to take any exit ramp: in Kerouac’s New York Times obituary of 1969, Joseph Lelyveld wrote, “His method was to write as spontaneously as possible by threading a hefty roll of tele-type paper into his typewriter and setting down his story on one continuous sheet. What resulted he would later transcribe for forwarding to his publisher, but never revise, in principle he regarded revision as a form of lying.”

Kerouac would get around to mocking his editor’s line about Old Faithful, sending him a postcard (pictured above) with a picture of Yellowstone National Park on it on July 3. But as defiant and threatening as he could be (in this postcard he promises Cowley he will withdraw his manuscript if not sent a contract by October 1), Kerouac always betrayed a thinly veiled diffidence, a plea for entry into the literary world people like Cowley stewarded. The “BOO!” postcard, for example, sent April 18, is Kerouac at the limit of expression. It is the textual equivalent of a red-faced gasp in submission to the loneliness of awaiting reply through the United States post. And yet the three red letters are written with such childlike deliberation, the exclamation point marooned on the right margin as if it were not expressing anger or frustration, but the simple desire to belong.

So You Really Want a Career in Advertising? Some Thoughts on Mad Men’s “Lady Lazarus” Episode

Editor’s note: every week, our resident free-market apologist, Harlan R. Teller, offers his unique perspective on the most recent episode of Mad Men. Here’s to the first of many installments of Mad Men Musings.

Maybe a fast-paced career in advertising isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. That’s the primary theme running through this week’s curiously titled “Lady Lazarus” episode of AMC’s Mad Men.

Megan, Don Draper’s vampish French-Canadian trophy wife, turns her back on a potentially bright future at the firm for the more uncertain life of a struggling, unemployed actress—the struggle made a bit less strenuous from living on Don’s largesse in their stylishly modern Manhattan flat. Pete Campbell scores some new skis from a client trying to curry favor with him, rather than the other way around, but seems more interested (creepily obsessed, in fact) with his philandering train companion’s sad and underserviced yet winsome wife, who in the wake of a quickie romp with Pete on her perfectly coiffed living room rug, gives him the cold shoulder and sends him back to his own depressing suburban life and the stalwart Trudy (unfortunately, offstage this week, as I do enjoy the perky intelligence of Alison Brie in the role of Pete’s spouse).

Peggy, fueled by booze and reefer to no doubt inspire wild, nocturnal flights of copywriting fancy in service to products like Heinz baked beans, seemed genuinely depressed by Megan’s decision to fly out from under her wing, and Elizabeth Moss’ nuanced reaction to the news makes one think that she’ll soon be questioning her own commitment to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (SCDP). (Peggy has come a long way, from covering for “Mr. Draper’s” drunken vehicular mishap with the hyper-sexed Bobbie Barrett in Season Two, to telling Don to “shut up” in the “Lazarus” episode after her dismal approximation of Megan in some staged repartee with Don about the joys of that new dessert sensation, Cool Whip). A newly single Roger Sterling hands over those skis to Pete, telling him he wants to transfer as much client work as possible from himself to Pete; this, ostensibly to free himself up for additional clandestine sexual adventures of the sort witnessed by poor Sally Draper in last week’s episode.

And Don nearly and prematurely ends his own meteoric advertising career by coming close to doing a header down an elevator shaft—potentially fulfilling the promise of the falling Draper-like figure in the show’s haunting opening credits. Don’s reaction to looking into the abyss that is the elevator shaft is perfectly appropriate to the show’s zeitgeist—rather than call building management to fix the elevator, he repairs to his own office and pours himself a scotch. One keeps thinking of the next poor unfortunate who doesn’t have Don’s reflexes or penchant for looking down, stepping forward and hurtling into the void.

A one-way ride down an elevator shaft may describe the trajectory of Pete’s personal life, as his success as junior partner at SCDP seems to be tracking with his increasingly erratic behavior at home—most evident in his truly creepy flirtation with a high school student in driving class three episodes ago, and now his virtual stalking of the bored stay-at-home wife played with a sense of depressing coquettishness by Gilmore Girls alum Alexis Bledel. Pete even goes so far as to pretend that he’s interested in buying insurance from the straying husband, just to get close to the wife, which calls to mind the famous scene in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run, when Allen’s character is condemned to solitary confinement with an insurance salesmen who is trying to sell the poor nebbish on whole life as they walk in lockstep down a flight of stairs leading into an underground cell. Clearly, spending quality time with an insurance agent has a dubious Hollywood pedigree (think Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity), which Mad Men draws on to underscore Pete’s desperation.

It is to the continuing credit of Vincent Kartheiser that this gifted young actor is able to create a sense of pathos around his interpretation of Pete, who in lesser hands could become simply a two-dimensional foil. His enigmatic expression when the wandering wife, looking at him bemusedly through the passenger window of her car and tracing a heart for Pete to see (in expression of what we don’t exactly know) leaves us wondering how Pete feels about this mute token of her possible desire—and how he may react.

Questioning your life is part and parcel of the Mad Men canon. Questioning your selection of advertising as a career is quite another matter, and Megan’s rejection of a role that she’s so clearly well suited for seems to tip the subtle equilibrium that these characters maintain about their commitment to the dark arts of commercial persuasion. Don in fact is so incredulous of Megan giving up the business that he thinks at first that Peggy is behind it, assuming that she hasn’t been a supportive enough mentor to Megan, which prompts Peggy’s sassy retort over Cool Whip tastings. But there are more complex issues afoot. When Don waxes rhapsodic about the adrenaline rush of winning new business or selling an idea in trying to convince his raven-haired, toothsome lady to stay the course, Megan is hearing her frustrated and manipulative Marxist professor father’s admonition about following her dreams, still ringing in her ears from last week’s episode. Whether this turns into a battle of wills between the older and (relatively) younger man remains to be seen, but Megan’s declaration of emancipation from Don’s professional orbit promises to bring some conflict into their marriage. This, despite Don’s at-first-half-hearted and later firmer commitment to letting Megan essentially be Megan.

What the show has done brilliantly all year is to demonstrate the struggle for cultural supremacy that was going on in 1966, between the old guard of the ‘50s, represented largely by Roger and Don, and the counterculture that was being fueled by Vietnam and the civil rights movement and poised to break out and tear apart American society later in the decade. Symbolic of that uneasy co-existence in this particular episode is show runner (and episode script writer) Matthew Weiner’s use of the Beatles’ Revolver album to close and punctuate the episode—Revolver being a transitional moment in itself between the more carefree rock-and-roll of early Beatles and the introspective, drug-addled preoccupations of Sergeant Pepper. Weiner has Megan, who is Don’s tour guide to the nascent counterculture (as Midge was earlier to Don’s sporadic dalliance with the beatnik generation), give Don the album to play on his “hi fi,” while she goes off to imitate a tree at a method acting class. Her selection of a John Lennon song on the album, called “Tomorrow Never Knows,” is very telling, as it is allegedly inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead (referenced two episodes ago by Jane Sterling’s psychoanalyst in an LSD-laced reverie) and infused with Eastern mysticism and psychedelia, and can be interpreted as a surrogate for Megan’s urging Don to open up his mind to cosmic possibilities—certainly possibilities beyond advertising. Perhaps a “trip” of sorts is in Don’s future. Roger has already had his, which has contributed to his currently happy, unencumbered life.

I’m not sure Don’s ready to take the bait just yet. After struggling through about a minute and a half of this jarring stew of sound, bred from a fusion of rock-and-roll, mysticism, and sitar music, he pulls the arm off the record and picks it up, looking at it as if it were some kind of inscrutable artifact. Don may have been moved to whistle the tune to “I Want to Hold your Hand” on the way home from his revelatory California experience with his future second wife, but Revolver at this point is perhaps a bridge too far.

Of course, in this era of class warfare and the “Buffett Rule,” I might have picked another Revolver song that is very much on my own mind post-April 15: a George Harrison composition that leads off the album called, “Taxman,” the Beatles’ artful lament about being persecuted members of the “1 percent.”

Writer’s note:  Pete spends an inordinate amount of time schlepping that set of skis around, which makes me wonder whether we’re seeing something for the first time in Mad Men that was an obsession of high school and college English classes back in my day—the Christ figure. At some point, the skis become less of a perk from a client and more of a burden that Pete drags about, first across the floor, and then into his car, and at one point they threaten to disfigure the object of his desire. The episode title’s allusion to Lazarus, who Jesus raised from the dead, lends a bit more credence to this biblical hypothesizing. (But who would be Lady Lazarus? Maybe Pete’s suburban honey, meant to raise him from a figurative deadness inside?) From Jim Conkin in Red Badge of Courage to Cool Hand Luke’s ripped-up photo at the end of that classic Paul Newman flick, fictional characters have carried the burdens of the world, ostensibly on our behalf and with tragic consequences for themselves. Perhaps Pete is evolving from a Sammy Glick type on the make to the type of pensive, obsessive sort that could make a cosmic leap into some kind of self-sacrifice. One of his obsessions that he expressed during the episode is the idea of earth as viewed from space being so inconsequential and insignificant. Maybe Pete is finding religion. Or maybe he’s just plain tired of being Pete, bored with his life and looking for something to give his life meaning. Maybe he should just ask Don to borrow his Revolver album. I’m sure Don would be happy to oblige.

Submitted by Harlan R. Teller

Do Social Media Not Mediate Enough?

It is common for media critics and digital reactionaries to charge social media platforms like Facebook with preempting interpersonal encounters that would otherwise take place in the analog world. Stephen Marche, writing for The Atlantic recently, raises the paradoxical possibility “that social networking might be spreading the very isolation it seemed designed to conquer.” In response, one might point to the digital provocation of interpersonal encounters that might not have otherwise taken place in the analog world: e.g., the very real, messy, fleshy couplings shepherded along by OkCupid, Match.com, Grinder, Facebook, etc. This point/counterpoint, however, would be moot (or at least incomplete) if it failed to account for the opposite of the original argument’s lament: that social media, far from mediating human interactions to an up-until-now-inconceivable extent, don’t mediate them enough.

This has something to do with an ancillary—but related—development, the rise of mobile technology, which has made of posting to Facebook another extemporaneous transmission of the body. (“Word vomit” is digitized as much as it is spoken). But impulsive social exchange is inscribed within Facebook as well. The site cajoles its users to “like” or comment on “stories” (or post their own) that go stale almost immediately after appearing on the “news feed.” And Facebook’s integration of other sites like Yahoo and Spotify allows Facebook to broadcast updates about the articles users are reading (via Yahoo) and the songs they’re listening to (via Spotify) as they are reading and listening. What Nicholas Carr has said about the Internet, that it “subsum[es] most of our other technologies” (“becoming our map and our clock…our calculator and our telephone, and our radio and TV”) can be said about Facebook: it aggregates all of our online activity, presenting up-to-the minute, desperately drawn portraits of who we are.

There’s an element of honesty involved here, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. Social media can be put to earnest use as a way of organizing political activism, or as a less invasive means of scheduling late-night hookups. But Facebook, for example, primarily encourages self-definition in order to allow its advertisers to more effectively calibrate their marketing strategies. In this sense, it is less a company driving radical innovation than one responding to the dictates of this moment of late capitalism.

Transparency is demanded of political bodies and multinational corporations, and also of individuals. We shouldn’t forget that lying, every once in a while, is an option, and a crucial form of protest: according to the legal scholar Tracy McNulty, “Lying is a use of language whose function is to limit the intrusion of the Other,” the symbolic order predicated on the ceaseless circulation of commodities and of people as commodified sets of digital data.