Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mad Men: Norma Jeane kissing Santa Claus

This episode was a puzzle forcing me to give it some thought, particularly regarding how Don's character is being used to emphasize ... what? Finally, consideration of related American historical cultural background seemed appropriate before diving into a review of the episode.

This show is set in the heart of New York City, both in physical location and with regard to the cultural avant-garde. The second wave of the American feminist movement had reached boiling temperature. Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl sold 2 million copies in 3 weeks in 1962 warming the cauldron around working women. But Betty Friedan's 1963 book The Feminine Mystique ignited the fire.

Brown's book was a pop advice book on how to handle men in various situations to the single girl's advantage.

Friedan's more scholarly book challenged the basic assumptions about a woman's role in terms of family demands and housewife assumptions. Motivational research behind advertising that "manipulates" women into consumption and perpetuates a "sick or immature" society instead of one that encourages women to develop their human intelligence is one of her key criticisms of 20th Century life.

Feminism as a movement refers to a series of campaigns for reforms on issues such as reproductive rights, domestic violence, maternity leave, equal pay, voting rights, sexual harassment, and sexual violence. Voting rights were accomplished in the so-called first wave.

What most people don't really understand is that this second wave resulted in the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a 1967 Executive Order extending full Affirmative Action rights to women, Title IX (1972), the Women's Educational Equity Act (1975), Title X (1970, health and family planning), the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (1974), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the illegalization of marital rape and the legalization of no-fault divorce in all states, a 1975 law requiring the U.S. Military Academies to admit women, and many Supreme Court cases, perhaps most notably, Reed v. Reed of 1971 and Roe v. Wade of 1973.

One critical element affecting women at this time was birth control. Most don't remember that although the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive in 1960, contraceptives were not available to married women in all states until Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 and were not available to unmarried women in all states until Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972. Carey v. Population Services struck down a New York law forbidding distribution of contraceptives to those under 16 in 1977.

Wikipedia notes:

Many economists argue that the availability of the Birth Control Pill led to an increase in women in the labor force. Since the pill allowed women to have a sexual relationship while pursuing a career, it is given credit as one of the factors in the quiet revolution.

Remember that this season is set in 1964, before Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 struck down a law in nearby Connecticut that prohibited the use of contraceptives. If you are under 35, you were not born when that case was decided.

To say that Peggy and Joan, along with Faye, Allison, and Phoebe, all working women, plus Betty who gave up a modeling career to become a housewife, were living in times different from today is to
  1. minimize the flow of events regarding a woman's life and
  2. minimize the personal stress and confusion they confronted daily.
They are working women who have to figure it out or it might kill them like it did the real fake Faye Miller in 1962 (more on this later).

There was no rule book as the women were rewriting it while many men stood around looking ... puzzled.

In some kind of ironic twist, this season's Christmas episode ends with Teresa Brewer's version of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" with its "Jingle Bells" counterpoint. (In case you missed this version, the song someone posted on YouTube is embedded below at the bottom.)

On a positive note, other than Pete Campbell everyone (including most of the TV critics and audience) was glad to see Freddy Rumsen return. I guess one can ignore that it was sad to see the "AA" Freddy being a counterpoint to the drunken Don. So much in these first two episode is about Don Draper without his anchors - no wife and no established employer to fall back on, just his single, self-employed self, aka Dick Whitman, lest we forget. But despite Don's prominent drunken "bad" behavior, his situation and that of all the men appear to be a means to the writers' ends.

Freddy Rumsen brings an account - Pond's Cold Cream. This is hardly a product that needs a man's understanding to sell. And Peggy let's him know it, telling him he's "old fashion" and he just looks momentarily "puzzled" before continuing with an idea to use the 62-year-old Tallulah Bankhead and a bouquet of roses in an ad for Pond's. Peggy points out that she's old saying: "Nothing makes old ladies look good." Some may have thought that was kind of a mean remark, but if you're in advertising focused on the client's interest, the expanding market in 1964 was going to be the baby boomers, not their grandparents.

Peggy is at the head of the assault on rewriting the rules. She has learned the hard way and intends on figuring out how to get through the subtle complexities, including having her own controllable paramour. And Freddy, sober or not, has completely missed the signals even though he seemed more aware than some of the other men.

Which brings us back to Dr. Faye Miller, the woman psychologist carrying the torch for use of that motivational research Betty
Friedan so disdained. One has to assume at least one of the writers knew the history of the name they gave this character, right?

Immediately after her divorce from Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe was so distraught and potentially suicidal that her psychiatrist Dr Marianne Kris drove her to New York Hospital and checked her in to a private ward on February 5, 1961, under the pseudonym of Faye Miller.

On August 5, 1962, perhaps one of the most successful working woman of her time, Marilyn Monroe, was found dead in her home. Suicide.

Not for one minute do I believe Don doesn't understand advertising psychology. His walking out to avoid dealing with the questionnaire is to avoid dealing with Dick Whitman. But he does ask Dr. Faye to dinner only to receive a rebuff and her assuring him he’ll be married in a year. When Don protests, she "apologizes" with sarcasm telling him that she forgets that people don’t like being told they’re a type.

I'm uncomfortable with the Don character as portrayed in this episode. Perhaps there are some things predictable about Don, but there was nothing trite about the character.

This brings me to that other woman in Don's life, his daughter Sally.

Sally sees in the ghost of Christmases Past her dad lurking around the house. She wants her mom to move. Maybe she can make that happen as she has that maladjusted Glen Bishop looking out for her.

Last season he had a thing for her mother. But, hey, if his newly found Betty-surrogate Sally wants to move, he can arrange to make it less desirable for the Francis family to live there while bringing a little satisfaction to Sally in the form of an untouched room. After all, Glen and Sally both have divorced/remarried mothers, another modern feminist type, the free-thinking-feminist-mother? Anyway, the Glen-and-Sally relationship has somewhere to go.

Sally does have a father. Before Christmas we have (enter trite) Secretary/Office Wife Allison reading Sally's "Dear Santa" letter to Don. You get the feeling that what Allison is reading matters to her; in fact, you get the feeling that Don matters to her. (This character - superbly played by Alexa Alemanni - has been in all three seasons and 21 episodes, so we know she knows something about Don.) Without any feeling, Don rattles off the list of stuff she should get for the kids.

Then after the Christmas Party fiasco he "sleeps" with Allison. Then he's very uncomfortable. After all he's the one who thought Roger was an idiot for marrying his secretary. Allison-the-office-wife delivers the packages, completely gift-wrapped. Don appreciates her extra services - two fifties worth. (At least he didn't have Allison slap him around.)

We get the impression in this episode that Allison has thought about becoming the next Mrs. Don Draper, but is confused. No worry, even Dr. Faye Miller is confused about Don, probably because he's really Dick Whitman deep down in that head these women find attractive.

As usual, this season's Christmas episode felt like a family Christmas with all those layers under the surface, too many to peel through here. So much was under the whole Christmas party thing with Roger being humiliated by the sadistic, closeted client Lee Garner, Jr., who bullied Sal in the editing room last season.

But it would be remiss not to note one more new woman character introduced in this episode, next door neighbor St. Vincent Hospital Nurse Phoebe (played by Nora Zehetner whose character on "Grey's Anatomy" was shot and killed at the end of last season). In contrast to Allison, she is able to handle drunk Don's attempts at "seducing" her. But she's aware of him as a person, enough to elicit from Don: "I don't hate Christmas, I hate this Christmas."

Me too, Don. So sit back and enjoy the music.

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