27 April 2012

Mad Men

I've been catching up with the television series Mad Men.

Regular readers of this blog are of course aware that I’m a fan. Not-so-regular readers can become aware in detail easily enough:  here.
The first episode of the new series (formally known as episodes 1 + 2, I gather, though it was seamless dramatically) drew a lot of attention for Megan Draper’s (actress Jessica Paré’s) rendition of Zou Bisou Bisou (“shoo kiss kiss” according to a quick cheap net translation).  Here’s a link courtesy of YouTube.  And certainly that’s attention getting.

But an equally fascinating subplot involved the fantasy life of Lane Pryce. To review: Lane Pryce is the fellow sent to America by the Brits, Puttnam Powell and Lowe, when PP&L briefly owned the ‘old’ Sterling Cooper, to ride herd over these unreliable Americans. He took part in the shenanigans that helped create a newly independent ad agency, and for his help became a partner in what has since been Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce.

We’ve known, or at least been given opportunity to sense, for some time already that Pryce has an inhibited and potentially troublesome sexuality. This episode seemed to bring that to a new level.

Pryce finds an abandoned wallet in a taxicab, and becomes infatuated with a woman in a photograph there. There’s also a lot of money in the wallet – Lane, a man of honor in all matters financial, returns the wallet with all the cash intact to its proper owner: a Mr. Polito. It’s a lot of cash, and Polito may be some sort of mobbed-up big shot.  Pryce has, though, pocketed the photo of the gal that both he and Polito now in a manner share: Delores.
In a brief telephone conversation, Dolores seems open at least to some flirtation with Pryce.
I’m not really taking any huge leap here when I say I smell trouble.  

Episode 3 is Betty-centric, and gives us a chance to catch up with Betty and her new husband, Henry Francis. Betty is wonderfully portrayed by January Jones, as a woman facing weight gain and, as the show develops, fears that something much worse is behind it.

The writers use Henry Francis to comment on contemporary (2012) politics.  After all, it is now certain (as certain as such things can be) that the Republicans will this summer nominate Mitt Romney for the office of President of the United States. Mitt is the son of George Romney, who was a rather big wheel in the Mad Men era.
In the summer of 1966, when George Romney was Governor of Michigan, and the former CEO of American Motors. He was widely considered serious presidential timber (a status he would eventually – in 1967 -- forfeit with an ill considered remark about how he had been “brainwashed.”) Romney was also seen as the heir to Nelson Rockefeller as the moderate/liberal Republican most prominent in the presidential sweepstakes. After a loss to Barry Goldwater in the 1964 Republican convention, Rocky seems to have lost interest in presidential contention and in effect he was thereafter a supporter of Romney’s own jockeying in 1966.
So much for reality: what about the fictive world? Henry Francis was an aide to Nelson Rockefeller when his relationship with Betty Draper began. He has left Rocky’s employ, and is now working for the Mayor of New York City, John Lindsay. So Francis is making a career for himself on the leftward end of the viable intra-party spectrum within the GOP. Francis is exactly the sort of person most likely to have been an enthusiast of George Romney at this time.
It is startling, then, to see Francis briefly on the phone, apparently with somebody who works for Gov. Romney. Francis is refusing an offer of a joint Lindsay/Romney photo op because, he says, “Romney is a clown.”
You can see a clip here.
I have no reason to argue with the opinion that Mitt Romney is a clown. But George Romney was not especially clownish, certainly not from the perspective of a Henry Francis. Nor was he clownish from the perspective of electoral success – that November he would win re-election by an impressive margin. I think it odd and unfortunate that the writers of Mad Men would let 2012 exert a sort of backward causation into their plot in this way.
Still … the show makes us think. And I enjoyed both (all three!) of these episodes.

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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.