Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mad Men Episodes 5-1 & 5-2: A Little Kiss

Recap: African-Americans protest Young & Rubicam, a competing agency. To tease them, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce runs a newspaper ad claiming to be an equal-opportunity employer. As a result, SCDP finds itself with numerous African American job applicants.

Pete has trouble at home with Trudy and at work with his attempt to upgrade his office. On the train he chats with men like himself who offer him advice on how to handle his domestic situation by indirect methods. At work, Pete arranges a meeting with his fellow executives, where he demands that Roger and he switch offices. Roger refuses but forces Harry to switch offices with Pete, giving Pete a partial victory.

Meanwhile, Roger has trouble getting the entitlement he expects at work and is miserable in his marriage. Joan struggles to take care of her baby, handle her mother, and deal with Greg’s impending return. Lane and his wife are back together in New York but have a strained relationship. Megan throws a surprise party for Don’s 40th birthday, and she surprises everyone by providing provocative entertainment, performing a song called Zubi Zubi Zu. After the party, Megan and Don have an argument that leads to hot sex, with Megan in control and Don wondering what happened.

A major theme of this double episode is people feeling aggrieved and standing up for themselves. Some events involve aggrieved people complaining because they feel entitled to more deference, in accordance with older social mores.  But much of the action involves socially marginalized parties standing up for themselves and protesting in an effort to receive their fair share.

·        After the giggling execs at Y&R pour water bags on the African American protestors, the protestors march upstairs and confront them. When SCDP reads this in the papers, Don thinks it’s funny, Roger thinks it’s great that Y&R is humiliated by the article, and none of the SCDP execs seems to take the concerns of the African Americans seriously. By the end of the episode, as SCDP execs are confronted with the need to hire an African American employee, some execs seem to shift to a very slightly more humane perspective.

·        Pete is aggrieved at home because he expects entitlement, whereas at work his anger seems more legitimate because he is marginalized as a partner by the other SCDP executives. At home, he hasn’t yet figured out how to stand up to Trudy. He and the men he rides with on the commuter train to Connecticut handle their marriage grievances by grumbling to each other and giving each other the advice to be surreptitious, rather than to stand up to their wives and put their views on the table for discussion. These men commiserate, rightly, that their wives don’t understand how hard they work. Pete’s traveling companion says, “Woman don’t understand men. Men need a little time to themselves when they get home.” True enough, but these men expect their wives to know this without even having a fair discussion with them about it, possibly because they think men are entitled and women should already know what men need. One of the men says, “First you go home on the 5:25 train, then the 7:05 train.” Pete accepts the advice, and by the end of the episode, Pete arrives home late. When Pete complains to Trudy at night about his frustrations at work, Trudy dismisses his concerns with the advice, “Dissatisfaction is the mother of ambition.” 

·        At work, Pete is angry about his small, awkward office, and stands up to the SCDP executives, demanding to get Roger’s office. Roger refuses but manages to force Harry to give Pete his office, which at least has a window. Harry tries to stand up for himself to Roger but doesn’t get anywhere. Pete suggests that he won’t bring his new account to SCDP if they don’t give him the office he wants, but he ends up settling for Harry’s office.

·        Roger, who feels entitled personally and professionally, complains about how his shared secretary doesn’t sit on his side very often, and he offers her a bribe, which she refuses. The secretary stands up for herself by telling Roger that Bert Cooper gets more calls. Apparently aggrieved about the new restrictions on advertising brought about by Ralph Nader, Roger asks Pete, “Is there any way to get around Nader?” and Pete bluntly answers, “No.” This line represents Ralph Nader’s social influence in standing up to the moneyed powers that be and representing the aggrieved American public, fighting for the American people’s best interest. At another point, Roger pretends to flirt with Pete’s secretary, Clara, so he can see Pete’s calendar and swoop in on Pete’s meetings. Roger seems to feel aggrieved that he can’t be in on more sales calls, but Pete catches on and later in the episode tricks Roger into showing up for a 6 a.m. meeting at a restaurant, supposedly waiting for a representative of Coca Cola to show up. This is Pete’s indirect but effective way of standing up to Roger.

·        Roger also feels aggrieved when he sees Megan sing Zubi Zu. Roger responds to the entertainment by telling Don how lucky he is, thus humiliating Jane. Later he tells Jane to “shut up” and seems to feel aggrieved that he has to put up with her.  Roger’s final grievance was about women: “The girls are all great until they want something.” He seems to lament that women are more than property for men to use – that women have needs and wants of their own.

·        Meanwhile, Megan’s Zubi Zu number seems to embarrass Don, who is not accustomed to a woman’s overt sexuality displayed in the public sphere, since his generation and social class are used to being discrete. Don handles his grievance indirectly, by being “too tired” for sex after the party rather than directly standing up to her and telling her exactly how he feels about it. Unlike Roger, he doesn’t tell his wife to shut up, but rather engages in dialog with her and ultimately responds to her sexual challenges.

·        Joan’s busybody mother is staying with her to help her with the new baby. Her mother’s controlling attitude bothers Joan but she doesn’t directly stand up to her right away. Joan’s mother also gives Joan the advice to not return to work at SCDP, and rather than saying how much she wants to return, Joan gives a series of excuses for why she needs to go back. Joan’s mom says that when Joan’s husband returns from Vietnam, “He’s a doctor. He’s not going to allow you to work.” To this, Joan finally stands up to her mother and says, “Allow?” When Joan’s mother says: “Where thou goest, I will go,” Joan stands up to her with, “And how did that work out for you?” causing her mother to go silent. This also suggests that Joan plans to stand up to Greg if he tries to make her be a stay-at-home mom and not return to SCDP.

·        Megan, who has no problem standing up to anyone, consults Peggy about a surprise party she intends to throw for Don. Peggy says “Men hate surprises. Don’t you have Lucy in Canada?” But Megan stands up to Peggy and insists that Don will like it. Peggy then goes along and tells her who to cross off the list.

·        At the surprise party, Megan shows herself to be unabashedly sexual in public in a way that Don finds embarrassing. She represents the sexually liberated woman of the time, standing up to the old double standard that Don has lived by.

·        After the party, Megan wants sexual attention and Don protests that he is too tired. Don then complains that he didn’t like the surprise party – trying to stand up for himself, but not voicing the deeper issue of how he felt about Megan’s bold entertainent.

·        Megan stands up to Don financially and says, “It was my money and you don’t get to decide what I do with it.” Megan then continues to stand up to Don to the point of being provocative, which brings her the sexual attention she wants.

·        Roger and Jane show up to the party late, and when Don and Megan arrive at home, Roger and Jane are at the door vigorously standing up to each other, arguing about whether or not they should ring the bell. Thus, they spoil the surprise.

·        Lane’s wife is back in New York. She asserts herself by opening Lane’s mail, and she comes across as aggrieved because she can’t live in England, with all of the social proprieties to which she is accustomed. She feels entitled and is angry at not receiving her entitlement. She seems to be standing up to Lane with self-righteous anger and resentment about his willingness to adopt American social mores of the time. However, in this relationship Lane is the progressive one and he continues to stand up to her.

In each case, value clashes among generational, racial, gender, cultural, and/or status lines contribute to the shifting mores of the era. Individuals who had previously felt entitled are losing their automatic entitlements, and those who had traditionally been marginalized are beginning to move forward in claiming their rights.

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