To wrap up, here are random and disjointed thoughts about other characters and themes:
I have a few quickie points about Midge, Don’s quote unquote bohemian mistress from season one.
What Mad Men constantly evokes for me is all that isn’t being shown—the wildnesses on the edge of 1960s society. The free women, the real artists. Not the false dichotomy between society women and faux-liberated beatnik gamines, but the true radicals, of which there were plenty even before the “second wave” of feminism in the late 1960s. I want to watch a show about that world!
It seems that Midge is supposed to represent that world, but, sadly, I’d put her squarely into the faux-liberated beatnik gamine category.
Her “free-spiritedness” is largely exemplified by the fact that instead of being kept by one man, she sleeps with and accepts presents from many. I can’t decide if the writers truly think she is freewheeling, or if, like practically everyone else, she is living in a cage of her own making, albeit one with yet more invisible bars.
I’m not very impressed by her cheesy declarations of independence and token rejections of the bourgeois system: “You know the rules,” she tells Don. “I don’t make plans, and I don’t make breakfast.” Which doesn’t mean that she isn’t always ready for missionary sex with whatever man comes along.
Still though, I love all the beatnicky scenes, but mostly because they are so cringey and clichéd. Of course they didn’t seem clichéd at the time, but the retrospective treatment of that world is just hilarious, is it not? How great was that hep cat girl’s poem about making love to Fidel Castro with Nikita Kruschev watching, and how spot-on was it when a hipster dude responded with “take off your shirt!” Oh, it was just the most perfect exemplification of the sexual politics of 1960s bohemian culture.
The classic Mad Men mixture!
OK, and finally, our girl, Peggy.
Peter: “It’s so easy for you.”
Peggy: “It’s not easy for anyone.”
It’s pretty obvious, but Peggy is the woman we’re supposed to like, root for, and, if you’re me, see yourself in. She’s the only one you feel will triumph in the end. In six months or a year or so, she will own that office. She bravely gives up the baby she secretly had with Misogynist-in-Chief Peter to focus on her career (Throughout most of the second season until she finally divulges the secret to Peter, Don is the only one in the office who knows her secret, and tells her: “Listen. This never happened. It will shock you how much it never happened.”).
Throughout the first two seasons, Peggy begins to learn that, like Joan, she must play the game in order to win. In season two, episode six, “Maidenform,” when she dresses up to go to the strip club we see that she is learning how to navigate the boy’s club in a horrible way, the only way open to her at the time. On the other hand and unlike Joan, we get the sense that soon she will be whatever the fuck she wants and pulling in all the big accounts. The heartwarming message: Smart girls win!
Um…what else? Some random points:
- There’s some serious Sexual Politics of Meat happening in Peter’s speech about hunting in Season One, Episode 7, no? If I had the stamina, I would point it all out, but perhaps instead I’ll just point out:
- And that pretty much says it all.
- Speaking of ickiness: The not-so-sexy junior executives. The older guys are the sexy ones in this drama, not the young things. Yet, amazingly, it doesn’t work the other way: it is primarily the younger women who are the sex kittens and bombshells. This is not exactly a new or surprising dynamic, but I point it out only to show how profoundly crude and horrid the junior execs are. As Kinsey says in the pilot episode: “You’ve got to let them know what kind of guy you are, so they’ll know what kind of girl to be.” The process of becoming an adult male in the Mad Men universe is the process of couching your intense misogyny in softer words and learning discretion, which all of the older executives understand.
- Some of the older men are so discreet that they do things like, for example, throw their dogs into the midtown Manhattan street to fend for themselves so they do not have to witness their drunken binges (season two, episode six).
- Hey, what do you peeps think is the significance of the scene when Don writes the real Mrs. Draper’s address on the last page of The Sound and the Fury, which his lover has described as “the sex scenes are good”? I can’t remember The Sound and the Fury, but I’m sure it means something.
So, that’s about all I’ve got for now. We’ve got our nihilistic men and our yearning, feminism-needing women, and I’m just dying for season three to see how it all plays out.
The central question Mad Men leaves me with is (and the way I think it translates to our lives today):
Are we more free than our parents and grandparents were? Are we living more honest and real lives now, after the second wave of feminism and the tumult of the late 1960s and now that we’re so postmodern and self-aware?
Some of us are, and some aren’t, of course. But it does seem to me that even those of us living dreadful, dishonest and fake lives now at least have more of an option to be free. Opportunity is the buzzword of the oughts.
Deprived of beautifully made dresses and furniture, what will we do with our golden opportunities, our one chance to live beautifully and freely?