Mad Men randoms

Part four in a four-part series. Part One is here, Part Two is here, and Part Three is here!

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:
  • DSCF6232
  • 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?

10 Responses to “Mad Men randoms”

  1. brittany

    rereading sound and fury right now… knowing nothing about the show, i’ll try to help fill in?

  2. Monique

    This is what I love about Mad Men. It reveals a lot about the sixties that is otherwise glossed over in mainstream media. It’s always funny to me to compare the show to some of the Doris Day movies from the time period and see how much they are alike and different.

    • zoe p.

      Yo. I was not watching MM when you wrote these, but I am now. I saw most of season 3 then worked my way chronologically thru Season 1 and part of Season 2. I just met Bobbi Barrett. Now, isn’t she a man?

      I can’t find anyone else with this theory – I didn’t look very hard – but what else is that scene in the restaurant hallway about? I did find that maybe the sex scenes between Don and Bobbi become more explicit, so maybe that’s “proof” that she’s not though I doubt MM would go so far as to offer . . . ahem . . . proof. Their two make-out sessions thus far were totally off screen.

      There’s lots of evidence FOR Bobbi’s being a man, but I don’t want to go into that now . . .

      Hopefully you’ll find this comment on an old post. But if I don’t hear back from you, I’ll probably write again . . . ; ) An issue as important as this . . .

      • lagusta

        WHAT????? I was reading this on my phone in bed this morning, and your comment caused me to SHOOT out of bed so I could think about it. Thoughts: -I think you give the MM writers too much credit. And also, why would they be letting entire seasons go by before they revealed? If true though…WOW. Bobbi!!! -I thought the scene in the restaurant (which hurts me to even think about….owwwwww) was him very violently putting his fingers inside her, in a sort of “I control you, whore” way. -Go into your evidence! I can’t wait!!

  3. zoe p.

    I am working on this. Evidence. Let’s see.

    At first I thought she was a man simply because of Don’s threat. How on earth could Don ruin an insult comedian? How could anyone ruin an insult comedian? If one’s public persona is obnoxious drunk there is very little left . . .

    And Don doesn’t make empty threats.

    Then too Don’s threat seemed to come at a moment when Don forcibly gained full knowledge of something he’d maybe suspected after the make-out session in the car. Or maybe he’s just making a point. Don doesn’t stand when Bobbi leaves the table. All the other men do.

    The make-out session in the car was a rare thing – in Mad Men world, there’s no end to bedrooms and hotel rooms and office spaces for them to use. I thought that scene was set in the car to suggest that the sexual encounter was limited, in some way. Our visual access to the scene was pretty limited, compared to what we’ve seen so far. And the second encounter was no more than a closed door. After we’ve seen Peggy and Pete and Sterling and Joan and Betty and Don and Rachel?

    There was something a little draggy about the hair, make-up and clothing choices – fur collars, shoulder pads, cigarette holder – given to the character. And in the first conversation with Don, Bobbi seems to establish a kind of spectrum of roles she inhabits – sister, wife, manager – none of which fit her well and which sort of gestures to an endless series of substitutions and subterfuges.

    And because I’ve seen Season 3 already, I’ve seen Don fault Sal for not sleeping with a guy. Don’s “you do what you have to do” attitude makes more sense if he’s fooled around with Bobbi.

    I actually didn’t put this together with Don’s washing his mouth out with soap (they noticed this on the AMC board) and his rather strong reaction to fooling around with Bobbi, though I noticed that his reaction was a little uncharacteristic. He sleeps around. What’s the big deal about Bobbi?

    I didn’t get the Dubonnay reference they noted too, but I buy it. Jimmy teases Don that he appeared in the film “The Gentlemen’s Agreement” a film about anti-semitism that’s been read as being about . . . gentlemen’s agreements. Between the commercial and the dinner, Jimmy goes from looking Don Rickles-esque to looking a lot like Lenny Bruce, whose play with sex is much more liberating. And I like that he’s as taken with Don’s looks as with Betty’s.

    I do give MM too much credit, but what I really think is that they frequently set up situations like this one (and others) that can clearly be read two ways. They lead us on. A woman in a man’s world or a man playing a woman in a man’s world? (That’s not quite right, but you know what I mean) Then when the story develops, they choose the less interesting of their options . . .

    Oh, wait, when I was watching the episode for the first time, I also got a meta feeling: the theme of the show was what could not be seen on TV (they were trying to get Belle Jolie to sponsor the abortion episode of some show). And Sal’s story was developing in this episode and I like the idea of all kinds of queer on one show, rather than Sal as the only queer sexuality in the world.

    In this episode Betty also says, “Somewhere there’s a pregnant girl floating in a lake.” Which is a smart and funny and cynical allusion, but totally not in character for her. I think her dialog in this episode is randomly generated.

    OK, I’m done.

    • lagusta

      YOU ARE BLOWING MY MIND TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT I CAN ONLY USE CAPS. I don’t quite buy your argument, mainly because 1) what about those kids they’re supposed to have? 2) I don’t think the writers would expect the viewers to be that sophisticated, 3) and again, I think the big reveal would have already happened,

      but my god, I love thinking about it!

      The next time I have a long cooking day I’m going to rewatch all the episodes with her in them and muse on your theory.

      I actually think you being wrong is more interesting (no offense, a big part of me hopes you’re right just because it would be fun) because it means she’s one of the absolute most complicated women on the show—everything you’re saying (“There was something a little draggy about the hair, make-up and clothing choices – fur collars, shoulder pads, cigarette holder – given to the character.”) contributes to a more complex character, which just does my heart proud. Like most everyone on the show, she doesn’t fit into her time, and is trying to bend the universe to her will just so she can be who she is. Awesomeness.


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