Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mad Men: Can there be soup without a pot?

Before plunging forward, I need to thank my partner in life for offering much that makes up this and other "Mad Men" posts. Without her reactions to this show and discussion of the stories from her perspective which is based on having experienced the workplace in 1965, I would miss much.

Joyce explains it all to Peggy:
"Men are this vegeteble soup and you can't put em on a plate or eat em on the counter, so women are the pot. They heat em up, they hold em, contain em, who wants to be a pot? Who the hell said we're not soup?"
The as yet undeterred Peggy offers, "I don't think that's true."

In an otherwise excellent cover story on "Mad Men" in the current issue of Rolling Stone,  the writer says:
This season, Weiner has taken a step back from the broader themes, placing less attention on the world around Don Draper....
Well, not exactly. Both growing ferment around Vietnam and, most obviously, The Second Wave of the feminist movement underlie this whole season.

If you didn't get it before, this episode was in your face all about "the changing of the guard" in the feminist movement. (Read my review of episode 2 of this season for a short recap of the feminist movement which actually accomplished much, unlike the Vietnam thing. I also have a footnote at the end of my post on my thoughts expressed in previous posts on the feminist them of this season by episode.)

The sudden death of Ida Blankenship is the symbolic "fireworks, cannons, cymbals crashing, the loud 1812 Overture movement" announcing the handoff to the women of The Second Wave.

A great deal of comedy surrounded Don's problem that she died at her desk while a client was in the office. But if you carefully watched the women of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, you knew this event impacted on them at the core.

That the men don't know how to write her obituary is not surprising, but the best description of her achievement was Burt Cooper's: "She was born in 1898 in a barn. She died on the 37th floor of a skyscraper. She was an astronaut." What a truly remarkable piece of TV writing.

The second more subtle, but still in your face, feminist element of this episode was Sally's revolt. This particular scene summarized the other end of the feminist story arc as both these women know that their choices will seriously affect the life of all the little girls out there in 1965.
Unlike many of this season's episodes, much "happened" in this one. But we still have the subtle undercurrent. For instance, Sally makes and serves french toast to her dad. What's that about, you ask? Well I'm glad you asked.

You see, it was Carla who taught Sally. Peggy let her clueless new love interest (clueless is the theme for her love interests) know in no uncertain terms that there is a parallel here. Women are servants of men, blacks are servants of whites. This was the social norm.

This structure enables SCDP and the depicted households to operate smoothly. Secretaries - women - took care of their bosses - men - emotionally. Megan-the-office-wife takes care of Don and Sally. Faye struggles because she fails with Sally, making her feel less of a woman. Joan and Roger are so co-dependent emotionally that they can't escape their relationship which thrives on it's illicit nature.  Yet Joan is also trying to take care of Greg and, though he's not worthy, she feels like she's failing somehow. Even Ida took care of Cooper in their time in her way.

Peggy hints that ignoring the black boycott of their client's stores may be hazardous. The undercurrent is that the men of SCDP ignoring the women of SCDP, as a symbol of the times, may be hazardous.

When Megan tells Sally everything will be alright, Sally says clearly: "No it's not."

And we know it's not.

More bluntly was the warning from Joan to Roger saying she's afraid of the change in the neighborhood their walking through. Roger, you've ignored the change and it's hazardous. This scene has further undercurrents. When you watch Roger and Joan curl into themselves out of fear (and a good tactic), you also sense that additional level of reality facing each that Ida's death pushed forward. Roger told Don he fears dying at the office. Joan fears Greg will die in Vietnam.

Naturally, after the trauma they turn to each other for familiar comfort. Was this a one time thing or a new beginning? Only Weiner knows.

Finally, the whole boycott issue deserves some historical context. S. H. Kress & Co. and the F. W. Woolworth Company did see some early 1960's boycotts. When they spread north, the issue became more corporate. Fillmore Auto Parts is taking a big risk. Don should be listening to Peggy and no one should be suggesting using Dean Martin because he was buddies with Sammy Davis Jr.

The general wakeup call for the corporate community will begin soon. In August 1965 the Watts Riots occurred. From Wikipedia:
Eventually, the California National Guard was called to active duty to assist in controlling the rioting. On Friday night [August 13, 1965], a battalion of the 160th Infantry and the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron of the 18th Armored Cavalry were sent into the riot area (about 2,000 men). Two days later, the remainder of the 40th Armored Division was sent into the riot zone. A day after that, units from northern California arrived (a total of around 15,000 troops). These National Guardsmen put a cordon around a vast region of South Central Los Angeles, and the rioting was largely over by Sunday. Due to the seriousness of the riots, martial law had been declared. Sergeant Ben Dunn said "The streets of Watts resembled an all-out war zone in some far-off foreign country, it bore no resemblance to the United States of America". The initial commander of National Guard troops was Colonel Bud Taylor, then a motorcycle patrolman with the Los Angeles Police Department, who in effect became superior to Chief of Police Parker. National Guard units from Northern California were also called in, including Major General Clarence H. Pease, former commanding general of the National Guard's 40th Infantry Division.
This wasn't just in the North, it was in Hollywood. Of course, it would take the much worse 1967 Detroit Riot for corporate America to realize that the race problem was not a quaint former Confederate States problem, but an American problem in general, a problem that still hasn't been fully resolved.

But if the Don Draper's were a little slow off the mark to see that this was bad for business, Peggy and the bra burners do have to realize that there were no women's lib riots resulting in the death of many, the injury of many more, and huge losses of property.

Still, without these women pushing their agenda, we would not have the very different workplaces we have today and the greater opportunities for women in our society, regardless of race. (Yes, I know there remains a glass ceiling.)

But someone still has to ask Joyce the philosophical question: "Can there be soup without a pot?"

Episode 1: "...The episode story arc about the Janzen swimming suit people offering a thematic reference to the 1960's battle over women openly embracing their sexuality...."
Episode 2: "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."
Episode 3: "...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? "
Episode 4: "The one thing we know about Peggy is she knows she has the talent and skills for the job and has already chosen to become "a suit" not a hippie nor a traditional wife and mother."
Episode 6: "So here we are at SCDP-creative this season. The mentor genius Don/Dick is losing it. Peggy is stepping up to keep things in order. These are two people who know each other - not yet equals, but almost family in the sense that you know which uncles have a drinking problem."
Episode 7: This is the one episode where Don and Peggy's relationship both personally and professionally grow in ways contrary to and well beyond the general men-women office relationship.

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