JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Mad Men's title sequence is animated in a style reminiscent of Saul Bass's design for the film, Anatomy of a Murder, the graphic for which was a splayed male body suggesting a crime scene outline. As Debord described the world of the spectacle, advertising is "the commodity contemplating itself in a world of its own making."

Cinematographer Phil Abraham noted about the period's designs, "the overhead grid of lights was a strong graphic element in all the office spaces. In one design we loved, the whole ceiling was a lightbox."

The program's modern design is full of lines, like trajectories, that create a world in motion, generating a woozy, almost drunken hallucination of a bygone era that occasionally veers into vertigo.

Before Peggy Olsen begins her first day as Don Draper's secretary, she is sexually harassed in the elevator by a group of ad men.

Named partner Roger Sterling and Office Manager Joan Holloway. Their affair and its aftermath reveal much about the sexual politics of the era.

Mad Men references many classic ad campaigns. such as the Volkswagen "Lemon" ad in the magazine here.

Creative Director Don Draper

Draper's wife, Betty.

Draper as a man full of secrets, of mystery.

Draper as loving husband and father.

Draper begs Rachel Menken, one of his mistresses, to give up everything and run away with him. She realizes that he doesn't really want to run away with her, he just wants to run away, and she rejects him.

Betty Draper suspects her husband is having an affair.

Betty and Don have a violent argument.

Is Draper just a projection or the outline of a man, like the one in the show's title sequence?

 

 

The past isn't what it used to be:
the troubled homes of Mad Men

by Mark Taylor

"Nostalgia. It's delicate, but potent… In Greek, nostalgia literally means the pain from an old wound. It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone."
— Don Draper, Mad Men, 1.13 (The Wheel)

Nostalgia is defined as "a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for the return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition." The term is often related to homesickness. AMC's series, Mad Men,[1][open endnotes in new window] set in 1960s New York, deals with this yearning. Both in and outside the narrative, the idea of "home," or more specifically a home that has been lost or is in some way unattainable, is central to the series.

Beginning in 1960 and set in the fictional ad agency, Sterling Cooper, Mad Men follows the exploits of the men and women of New York's Madison Avenue, the center of the advertising industry.

Sterling Cooper's boardroom Creative Director Don Draper's office

A stylized portrait of the highly competitive world of mid-20th century advertising, Man Men is a sleek, Kodachrome pleasure craft depicting the social and sexual mores of an era at the dawn of various cultural revolutions. Everyone smokes and drinks with impunity, tossing off casually racist and sexist remarks, which both horrify and titillate our post-PC sensibility. The program's modern design is full of lines, like trajectories, that create a world in motion, generating a woozy, almost drunken hallucination of a bygone era that occasionally veers into vertigo. This feeling of disorientation marks every character and every social relationship in the series.

All of Mad Men's central characters have troubled home lives and uneasy relationships to traditional marriage, expressed through the repressed housewife, the philandering husband, the mistress/secretary, the single mother, the closeted homosexual and the inter-racial couple. Consequently, many of Mad Men's characters seem more "at home" in the workplace than they do anywhere else, even though the constant jockeying for position and subtle shifts in traditional sex roles have created a destabilized environment where belonging is an ever-present concern.

For a workplace drama, the meaning of home is complicated. According to Karl Marx, the worker

"is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home."[2]

This is part of Marx's definition of alienation, that the worker is separated from himself because his labor is not his own. Over one hundred years after Marx, in The Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord describes this alienation as permeating all of modern existence. Being has been transformed into having and having into appearing, so that the modern world is dominated by appearances. The individual constructs his identity based on image — clothes make the man — and, since he can never fully live up to that image, he becomes alienated in all aspects of his existence:

"The individual's own gestures are no longer his own, but rather those of someone else who represents them to him. [He] feels at home nowhere…"[3]

Home is an image that we carry with us, like a snapshot, of people and of places that are always changing. We may have a fixed image, but its contents are already a part of the past. Advertising builds on our personal needs and preoccupies itself with generating images of the perfect life, the perfect family and the perfect home. Basing a dramatic series on the creators of such fictions, Mad Men reveals the artifice behind these constructions. Additionally, by playing against notions about the 1960s as modern, assured, hopeful and less complicated, Mad Men forces us to confront our own homesickness, which is the idea that we can return to a simpler time or that such a time ever existed. The ad men in the series know how to manipulate reality. It is their manipulation that will formulate their future, which is our present.

Mad Men draws on a tradition that includes the 1947 film The Hucksters, which used the story of a radio ad man, back from WWII and in hot pursuit of a job selling soap, to explore many of the less attractive features of the era's competitive yet conformist culture. In pop sociology from the fifties, Vance Packard's best-selling book The Hidden Persuaders, published in 1957, scrutinized advertisers' use of motivational research and psychological studies to manipulate the public. The book critiqued the employment of these techniques in political campaigns. In a slightly broader vein, the novel and 1956 film-version of Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit examined the New York executive culture of the post-WWII era. The title became a part of the U.S. vernacular, symbolizing the conformity and questionable integrity of the U.S. businessman. A number of public intellectuals, such as David Reisman (The Lonely Crowd), wrote well-known books about the change in U.S. corporate culture in the post-war era. Much of this was the subject of standard Sunday newspaper supplement discourse.

The series begins with self-definition, informing us that

"'Mad Men' is a term coined in the late 1950s to describe the advertising executives of Madison Avenue. They coined it."[4]

The term as used here is both shorthand and strategy. If these men are "mad," they are liable to do anything, which is a power move, a way to claim as much freedom as possible. This madness is both the intangible source of creativity and a tangible excuse for bad behavior. As image workers, they are both fashioning society and apart from it, making a home, but too knowing to live there comfortably.

For Mad Men, the series, the additional meaning of "mad" also applies. These men (and women) are angry and the source of that anger is what fuels the show. A nagging discontent troubles the edges of the perfectly appointed modernist sets. Anxiety, revealed through visual style, is the one detail that is most important in Mad Men, a program slavishly devoted to detail. From skinny grey suit to torpedo bra, the hairstyles, dress, furniture, buildings, cars and homes of the early sixties are meticulously rendered, as is the anxiety. This apprehension stems from an uncertainty about the social structure, not only about where one belongs inside that structure but also about how one behaves within it.

In the world of Mad Men, image and belonging are connected. No character embodies this point more fully than Don Draper, Sterling Cooper's Creative Director. Draper is the dapper "alpha male" in the office, the one to whom the others look for guidance and the one of whom they are most afraid. He is a hard-drinking workaholic, whose beautiful wife and two children are safely tucked away in Westchester, an upper-middle class suburb of New York. Draper is literally a "self-made" man. It is revealed in the first season that he has stolen the identity of a fellow soldier who was killed in the Korean War. He is Mad Men's central mystery. Even his name implies hiding or shrouding.

Don Draper as played by Joe Hamm is beautiful, but dangerous like all things of beauty: it is so easy to get lost in them. The perfect 007 hero, he is a cipher, fully self-contained. Draper is an unreconstructed man, a collector of women and trophies. Women want to ride and tame him; men want to ride and harness him. He has no needs that he cannot fulfill for himself. He is full already, of secrets, of mystery.

All of the show's other characters are equally perplexed as they try to anticipate his needs and understand his behavior. But he is not really there; he is just a projection, or the outline of a man, like the one in the show's title sequence.[5] Perhaps it is just another projection to see Draper's duplicity as stemming from some basic weakness that he is trying to cover up, symbolized by the past he has abandoned, the home he has escaped. Everything in his life is a lie,

"and only as liars do [he-men] truly become sadists, agents of repression."[6]

Draper's relationship to home is complicated by his secret past. After winning an advertising award in season 1, episode 5 (5G), Draper's picture appears in a trade magazine, which inspires a visit by his younger brother, Adam (Jay Paulson), now a janitor living in a Manhattan residential hotel. This visit functions as a catalyst for the script to uncover Draper's previous life as Dick Whitman, an orphan raised by his stepmother and her second husband. When Adam and Draper meet for lunch, Adam recalls seeing Dick/Draper on the train delivering his own dead body to the Whitman family. Knowing that Dick was still alive, Adam has lived the rest of his life with the hope that he and his brother would be reunited. When Don rejects his familial advances and offers him $5,000 to leave Manhattan and never make contact again, Adam breaks down. Draper is his home. Eventually Adam's loneliness overtakes him and he hangs himself.

Dick Whitman wakes up after an accident provides him with the opportunity to assume the identity of Don Draper, his commanding officer. Adam, Dick's younger brother sees him on the train, delivering his own dead body to the Whitman family.
Adam Whitman meets Draper at a diner. When Don rejects Adam's advances and offers him ... ... $5,000 to leave Manhattan and never make contact again, Adam breaks down. Draper is his home.

The visit destabilizes Draper's façade. His previous life begins to intrude on his current one. In season 1, episode 6, (Babylon), Draper takes a fall delivering a Mother's Day breakfast to his wife, Betty (January Jones). He lands on his back at the foot of the staircase, and he is briefly transported into the past, which invades his home. Young Dick Whitman has also taken a fall and is scolded by his stepmother's husband. In a further plot development related to his brother's reappearance in his life, before committing suicide, Adam sends a box of old photographs to Don/Dick at Sterling Cooper. Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), an ambitious younger accounts executive, intercepts the box and uses the information in a failed attempt to blackmail his boss Draper into giving him a promotion.

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser), an ambitious accounts executive, intercepts a box filled with mementos from Adam. Pete uses his knowledge of Draper's assumed identity in a failed attempt to blackmail Draper into giving him a promotion.

Draper's assumed identity has provided him access to a world filled with all the trappings of success: a good job, a beautiful suburban home, two children and a lovely wife. His identity becomes multiple: the successful businessman, the loving husband and father, the playboy, and the war hero, but he inhabits none of them. In multiple instances throughout the first two seasons, Draper seeks escape; he doesn't belong. Despite the advantages of class, Don Draper is as big a trap as was Dick Whitman.

In season 1, episode 12 (Nixon Vs. Kennedy), Draper begs one of his mistresses to give up everything and run away with him. She realizes that he doesn't really want to run away with her, he just wants to run away, and she rejects him. In season 2, episode 11 (The Jet Set), while on a business trip to California, Don accepts an advance from a wealthy young heiress. He spends the final few episodes of the season deciding whether or not he will run off with a group of jet-set Europeans who like and will support him because he's "beautiful and doesn't talk too much." In these instances, as Draper's façade cracks, a viewer can feel a sense of suffocation and occasionally desperation. Even though Draper is married, he insists on playing the field; even though he is named partner at Sterling Cooper, he resists a binding contract with the firm. He is always leaving the door open, and in so doing, never committing to his life.

Draper falls in with a group of jet set Europeans who like and will support him because he's "beautiful and doesn't talk too much." In California Draper's escape fantasies visualized.

Just as he abandoned his former identity when a new one presented itself, it is possible that Draper may, at any moment, desert his family or his career should a more advantageous opportunity arise. He is an image and images can be unreliable; this is his "madness." As Foucault writes,

"It would not be possible for power relations to exist without points of insubordination, which, by definition, are means of escape."[7]

Draper's unpredictability is his power, and he wields it most cruelly against members of the upper class, his wife included. Draper dominates Betty; competes with Roger Sterling (John Slattery), the agency's junior partner who inherited the position from his father; and stifles Pete Campbell, the account executive who was hired because of his wealthy family's connections. Draper is antagonistic toward each because of their sense of entitlement.

But their privilege doesn't translate into stability. Betty's marriage has alienated her from her father who dislikes Don because he can't "trust a man who doesn't have any family." Roger's wife and daughter have turned against him. Pete's father belittles his career and refuses to support his new marriage.

In season 1, episode 4 (New Amsterdam), Pete Campbell's new wife manipulates him into buying a co-op apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side, using his family name to smooth the way with the co-op board. Pete's mother is a Dykeman, the family that once owned most of Manhattan north of 125th Street. Pete is alienated from his wealthy family, an outcast, yet his family name is his entrée to both his wife, who has married the name as much as the man, and to the co-op. Since he is rejected by his family, abused by his father and ignored by his mother, the home that is purchased and (unknown to him) the job that is saved with their name are not his own. He is doubly alienated by the privileges secured with his family name. Later, in season 2, episode 2 (Flight 1), Campbell discovers that his father has spent all the family money and become insolvent; even his privilege was an illusion.

Don Draper confronts Pete Campbell about Campbell's insubordination. Campbell nearly loses his job at Sterling Cooper.
Campbell is alienated from his wealthy family, an outcast. Yet his family name offers entrée to both his wife, who's married the name as much as the man, and to a co-op apartment his wife convinces him to buy. Campbell asks his parents to help with the down payment and they refuse. Campbell's wife Trudy uses his family name to smooth the way with the co-op board. Since Campbell is ...
... rejected by his family, abused by his father and ignored by his mother, the home that is purchased and (unknown to him) the job that is saved with their name are not his own. Campbell discovers that his father has spent all the family money and become insolvent. Thus he learns that even his privilege has been an illusion.

In contrast in terms of class and career trajectory, Draper promotes his secretary, Peggy Olsen, a working class Brooklyn girl, to Copywriter and champions her development inside the office. When Peggy is promoted, not only is she forced to create the role (no woman has ever made such a move) and assert her place within the social structure of the office, but the structure itself shifts, forcing everyone inside it to rethink their position. Inside the office, Peggy is always separate, always apart from the crowd. Not only has her role changed from secretary to copywriter, but she has also put on weight, so she is doubly perplexed about how to behave. She is forging a path that no woman has ever trod inside an unfamiliar body. However, she also gains power inside the workplace as she becomes more substantial physically. Her weight distinguishes her from the other secretaries, making her less of an object.

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