Surrender to the Void (Mad Men Tuesday)








OK, friends. It’s throw-down time.

Topic: Dying.

Competitors: Sylvia Plath and John Lennon.

Round 1: Which artist wrote which line?

A. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void.

B. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real.

Round 2: What if we did a “mash-up,” as the kids like to do on the U-Tubes.

Is an art, like all else.
I do it exceptionally well.
So play the game “Existence” to the end
Of the beginning, of the beginning.

Yeah, it doesn’t really work. Because there’s a difference between being a poet and being a songwriter. Sorry, teenagers!

But how about this: which of these characters is more like Sylvia Plath, and which more like John Lennon?

It’s a dumb game, to be sure. But so is advertising.

Wait, did I say that?

Just kidding, Internet. But the absurdity of advertising was on full display this week, as Don and Peggy tried SO PAINFULLY to recreate the charming banter Don and Megan pulled off to win the business of heavy hitter Cool Whip. And as Ken, Don, and Peggy forced some enthusiasm about non-dairy whipped topping in the test kitchen. And as Megan tearfully confessed to Peggy that advertising is not, in fact, her dream, despite her raw talent for it. And as Peggy and Don wrestle with this notion, that there may be other careers more fulfilling than theirs.

I have been avoiding writing about Don this whole time (6 weeks!!), in part because I am loath to participate in the Cult of Draper that seizes our nation for a few months every year. In part because I find the women on the show more interesting.

Don has a kind of essential loneliness whose apparent relief this season has been obviously temporary.

Just like Pete has a kind of essential schmuckiness whose apparent relief—in flickers, throughout his marriage to Trudi—has never been convincing.

Why write about it?

Because work/sex/home is the theme of the show. And this time, Don is really, really worried that all three may be slipping away from him. (And so is Peggy, but that’s another post.) Despite Don’s blasé (and gorgeous) “I grew up in the 30s. My dream was for indoor plumbing,” he is extremely threatened by Megan’s decision to pursue the theatah.

More accurately, he’s threatened by the possible threats to his marriage when she slips out of his eye and out of his control.

When is Mad Men not about men’s attempts to control women in order to stabilize their own senses of self?

As cheerfully daring as Megan is (Lennon!), she’ll never be able to heal Don’s essential alone-ness (Plath!). I’m glad she’s trying to get her own. And I’m glad Don was so nice about it.

But people, please. How long is that going to last? He couldn’t even listen to the whole Beatles song. Lots of bloggers and critics are saying that Don’s facing a generational reckoning. But if so, it’s his own fault. If he can’t sit back and take in the new psychedelic sounds along with his brown liquor, he isn’t allowed to feel sorry for himself with the kids laugh at him.

Instead, his aloneness has been there all along. The generational change is a red herring. He’s always been socially liberal (I’m talkin’ race), though he’d never say it out loud in front of certain clients. The 60s isn’t threatening him in those ways.

Instead, the big deep threat is that a woman (his mom) will leave him. Basic psychology, almost insulting for a show like this. But there it is.

So he cheated on Betty like a mofo (hah!!) to prevent ever getting close enough to be abandoned. He is trying to stay close to Megan. But he sees her going down the elevator. When he tries to follow her, all he sees is a void: a way to fall down the middle of the building, (an intriguing alternative to the fall in the credits).

If Megan would stay in advertising, he could keep better hold of her. They could still have their nooners. Work/sex/home would be reassuringly aligned. Don could stay safely in control. So while it looks like enlightened liberality—he supports her career!—it’s also a way to control her life and her body. How she spends her time and whom she spends it with.

He’s come far, but not that far.

My prediction: Don is Lady Lazarus:

There is a charge 

For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge 
For the hearing of my heart-- 
It really goes. 

And there is a charge, a very large charge 
For a word or a touch 
Or a bit of blood 
Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
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