Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mad Men: There are more Mexicans here, Anna, but you already know that.

So far this season, when I watch an episode I tend to be overwhelmed with feelings about memories. I’m never certain about the intent of Matthew Weiner and his “Mad Men” writers who have a character makes a statement relevant to today, when that statement is also very relevant to creating important historical context. We know that “Mad Men” is much about context, the place and time.

When Stephanie said to Don regarding advertising "You're kidding me. It's pollution!" I felt that it clearly reflected Betty Friedan's criticism of advertising mentioned in my post on last week’s episode. And Don’s response was reflective of the truth about the direction Americans collectively headed which got us into the economic mess are in: "So stop buying things."

The most politically charged comment of the day was Anna joking question to Don about whether there were more Mexicans here (in San Diego) or Acapulco. Assuming Anna’s perspective about what constituted a “Mexican” was typical for middle-aged "Anglo" Californians of 1964, the correct answer was “here.”

At that time Acapulco had a population of about 50,000. (It also had a huge influx of gringo tourists like Don.)

In the 1960 census in the City of San Diego there were 29,085 people born in the United States who had Spanish surnames and 22,194 people who were born in Mexico out of a population of 573,224. In San Diego County, there were 50,402 people born in the U.S. who had Spanish surnames and 37,870 people born in Mexico out of a population of 1,033,011.

I don’t know whether the writers included the comment to emphasize the difference between Anna’s 1964 California and Don’s 1964 New York, but there was a huge cultural difference beginning with history. (Alta) California was part of Mexico from 1535 to 1848 (313 years), including Mexico’s colonial period when it was known as “New Spain.” California will have been a U.S. state only 160 years on September 9 this year.

California, with its 840 mile Pacific Coast frontage, faces Asia (Japan, China, Korea, and Siberia) and Asian culture. It is part of the Pacific Rim demographically, geologically and economically. Mexico is literally “south of the border.” The California land area is 163,696 square miles and in 1960 had 15,717,204 people (96 people per square mile, approximately 50% more people than it had in 1950 and over double the population it had in 1940, and that 1960 population number would double again by 2000).

New York faces Europe across the Atlantic and is deeply tied to European culture. In the early 1600's, it was settled by the Dutch, but in 1664 it became the British Province of New York in 1664. It established its first state constitution in 1776. It does have an international border, but with Canada, specifically Ontario and Quebec, provinces that have a (partly) French heritage. The New York land area is 54,555 square miles (about one-third the size of California) and in 1960 had 16,782,304 people (307 people per square mile, about 10% more than it had in 1950 and 25% more than it had in 1940 and by that 1960 number would increase only 13% by 2000).

The point here is that California in 1964 offered a different milieu than the East Coast, including New York. The differences went much deeper than just the pop culture which would infiltrate eastward, but even that was "in our faces" in this episode.

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, “Jan and Dean,” were both born in Los Angeles and attended University High School (the post office that serves 90210 is located within the District and Los Angeles city boundaries). In the early to mid-1960's, Berry and Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys collaborated on roughly a dozen hits and album cuts for Jan and Dean. Jan and Dean were a significant part of the California surf and auto culture music of the time. When we first see Dick (Don), Anna, and Stephanie in the bar, it is Jan and Dean we hear coming from the jukebox.

Then we see Don and Stephanie dancing to “Old Cape Cod” recorded by Patti Page, a hit in 1957, not even eight years earlier.Stephanie calls it old, Dick says it suggests a beautiful place he wishes he could go. For Dick that is meant to be a metaphor, but Stephanie takes it literally and asks him if he’s ever been there. Dick is jerked back to real life suddenly and says “no.” Nonetheless, we know that Old Cape Cod is more than a bit different from Jan and Dean’s California.

Stephanie’s UC Berkeley experience is radically different from anything Dick/Don has experienced. In September 1964, University officials announced that existing regulations prohibiting advocacy of political causes or candidates (other than invited political speakers, and fund raising and recruitment of members by authorized student organizations at the intersection of Bancroft and Telegraph Avenues) would be strictly enforced. This was one of those "Smell gas - light a match." moments that began the Free Speech Movement, a student protest which took place during the 1964–1965 academic year on the campus.

In the spring of 1965, the free speech inertia would be taken over by the Vietnam Day Committee movement and a May protest attended by Dr. Benjamin Spock. This would expand to the rest of the nation. Presumably Stephanie frequently will not be going to classes in 1965.

The Earth was moving under our feet, as it always is here in California. That's our way of life. When the Earth becomes unstable for Dick/Don, it is a major shift. Divorce and creating a new company in the same year, 1964, are change. But on the eve of 1965 learning of Anna's terminal bone cancer - well, a piece of California just fell into the ocean for Don Draper taking with it Dick Whitman.

Don knows that being surrounded by such instability can be uncomfortable. And so he signs off "Dick + Anna '64", packs up, and returns to New York instead of going to Acapulco. There he could commiserate on New Year's Day with his new-found fellow newly-single buddy Lane Price. They drink booze without bite provided by Lane's alcoholic father, then go to a campy Japanese monster movie (folks in the blogosphere are arguing over its identity) where Lane yells  pseudo Japanese to irritate irritable moviegoers, then enjoy a double-date overnight set up through Don's call girl, and then ultimately return to the offices in the Time-Life building where management is seated around a conference table (!) with Joan at the head kicking it off with: "Gentlemen, shall we begin 1965?"

Like Don, Joan's planned life is shifting under her feet. Her doctor-husband Greg is already a disappointment after failing to get the big prize at the hospital. But he's in the Army now, and she is sure he'll go to Vietnam. Maybe he'll get killed there.

Uhhhh, well, he is an doctor-officer, not some lieutenant who's going to get fragged. Just how many doctors will be killed in Vietnam? Surely there must have been one. I don't remember any and can't find any through a Google search.

But Joan doesn't know that. We learn that she, soon to be 34, is ready to start a family with Greg. She's off the pill and according to her sympathetic gynecologist, it could take at least a month before she's fertile again. No, the two abortions appear not to have caused any problems. Two? But things aren't going according to plan. She and Greg can't coordinate schedules. We are presented with a failure homemade luau, I guess as a symbol of her frustration. Greg has no appetite and Joan cuts her hand. That seems to be the only thing Greg the-possibly-soon-to-be-MASH-surgeon can fix for Joan, using a few stitches.

While this scenario would be easily believable today, what "Mad Men" is presenting is Joan as a real pioneer in the dilemma facing a career woman in the age of the pill (in 1964, an age that is barely 4, maybe, in New York City with a very sympathetic gynecologist) - how do you have it all?

But this story arc does continue the feminist theme from the last episode.

As with every episode, the layers are deep and there is too much to discuss, though I probably overthink it. The best wrong-headed quote of the night would be Stephanie's: “Nobody knows what’s wrong with themselves. Everyone else can see it right away.” If the last sentence were true, the course of history would have been substantially different.

I'm trying to figure out why this episode was named: "The Good News."

No comments: