30 December 2010

Mad Men Thoughts: Part II

Cicily and I continue our viewing of episodes of the television show Mad Men. We aren't viewing them in "real time," but in our own time, and we've only recently moved from the later episodes of the second season into the earlier episodes of the third.

The second season covers the period from Valentine's Day 1962 until the Cuban Missile Crisis that October.

The Missile Crisis provides an obvious way to have the various characters contemplate their own mortality. Specifically, it leads to a conversation between Peggy and Father Gill that, I imagine, is meant to signify the state of the pre-Vatican-II-Council Catholic Church: just why it needed the reforms that Council brought.

Peggy is an ambitious career woman who arrived at Sterling Cooper in the first episode, and who has since become a copywriter. She had a brief fling with accounts manager Pete early on, became pregnant as a result, and gave up the child, so that her sister could raise him as her child. If I understand correctly, Father Gill has gotten wind of this and wants to get Peggy to confess it.

During the Cuba crisis, Gill makes an impassioned pitch that Peggy should confess her sins in order to save herself from hell -- to which she might be consigned rather quickly if the missiles start flying.

The Vatican II Council convened, as it happened, in October 1962, though unless I missed something the fact went unmentioned in the episode. Still, it is hard to believe the screenwriters were unaware of that fact, when seeing the Gill-Peggy interaction.

By the time of the opening episode of the third season, Sterling Cooper has become a subsidiary of a London-based ad company. The Londoners are laying off Americans, making everyone remaining quite nervous. Also, Don Draper and a closeted-guy member of his creative team, Sal, go to Baltimore to meet with the bosses of London Fog, a company with no actual London connection but which has had success branding its raincoats. (Also, as one of the actual Londoners explains, there's no such thing. The so-called "fog" of Dickens novels and other literature of the period was industrial soot -- London, as it happens, was the first industrialized metropolis in history.)

Draper catches sight (I won't try to explain how -- but Don was not playing the sneak -- the sight was an innocent accident) of an encounter that establishes for him that Sal is in fact gay. On the airplane flight back to NYC, Don tells Sal that he has an idea for a new ad campaign for London Fog. The tagline would be "Limit Your Exposure." At that moment, the significance of this phase is ambiguous. Are we really supposed to take this as an idea for a campaign, or is Don sending a message to Sal: "I don't care about your sexuality, but since others might I hope you'll keep it better hidden hereafter than you did last night."

It later turns out that Don and Sal are intent on putting together a "Limit Your Exposure" campaign. That doesn't change the obvious fact that Don was sending a message on the plane. Perhaps what was originally intended as a discreet message to Sal (to be discreet) got away from them both and became their actual campaign.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.