I haven’t been writing for a few weeks while nursing my right knee after an injury and surgery. But I’ve been following Mad Men closely, thinking about what the show’s writers and actors are trying to illustrate.
Mad Men is now in the process of describing the set of cultural changes that revolutionized American life.
1) downtown hipster culture versus midtown, WASP male culture.
At the end of 4.4 there are a set of beautiful shots, edited so that Peggy and Pete spy each other through the glass doors. Peggy’s on her way to hang with the young editors at Life magazine while Pete, in his blue conservative suit, mingles with a bunch of white-haired white dudes on his way to three martini lunch.
It is significant that Roger and Cooper have been absent, invisible. They are part of the fading, receding mode.
2) WASP male culture becomes introspective
Though he made fun of Roger’s tapes (4.7), Don Draper is now a memoirist, writing to get it down and keep it straight. Swimming, like a John Cheever character, to clean his body and clear his mind. Swearing of booze for coffee. Trying to be a man in full.
The use of silence and the widening, retracting shot as a way of displaying Don’s internal study and his discomfort with whiskey-soaked business chatter in office meeting scene (4:8), puts one in mind of boozy intellectuals in mid-century American high literature: Cheever, Updike, and Bellow. Those writers, like Don in his diary, captured a moment simultaneously rising and fading. Of course, when you document the dying thing, it never really ends. Consider all the inches given over to covering Jonathan Franzen’s “Freedom”: a novel is about a white, upper-middle class family struggling with booze, dreams unrealized, conservatism, business, sex, and trying to get right to live right.
3) Women as professionals and leaders
All season Joan and Peggy have been working through a minefield of social and professional changes. Many women are still negotiating ieds in the work place. It has been very hard for me to watch the cocksuckers in creative speak condescendingly to Peggy and Joan. Watching Joey leave was pretty easy.
“Fuck you, Joey!”
But the elevator scene (4.8) with Joan offering a sharp disquisition on the politics of women in the workplace was powerful and intense. Not only is Joan physically intimidating, she has a mind of crisp calculation. Peggy has the same stunned look on her face that Don does when specific truth sinks in.
Thus far the entire season could be called “The Education of Peggy Olsen”: from episode to episode she gets wiser and bolder, while stumbling still in order to prove she has more to learn.