Zombie nouns in a zombie finale of a zombie show.
The nouns: Post-industrialization. Financialization.
The post-post-war economy based on ideas and services. Based on abstract ideas of “value.”
An economy that by the zombie finale of Mad Men is any moment now, just about, right on the edge of fully usurping the old order of pensions, factories, and loyalties.
Bert Cooper’s elegant valediction celebrated this culture as it died out—and as Cooper helped wreak its death.
Those of you still looking for a granitelike, inccorruptible definition of “irony,” I proffer this:
Bert Cooper, a racist, sexist richierichhead, beneficiary of decades of racist, sexist policies and institutions keeping him at the top, safe in his eccentricities because he will light his hunnerts afire and put you on the pyre if you’re bad for his business, singing that “the best things in life are free.”
All the show has ever been about is the merging of business and love. Cynically, it’s been about commodification writ large and strong. Generously, it’s been about the ways intimate connections help us survive commodification writ large and strong. Pete, Don and Peggy at the Burger Chef: is this family real in a meaningful way? Is it more like a swarm of some kind of cannibalistic insect, cobbling together a temporary peace for the sake of the Client?
Sure, the show can’t decide whether it’s cynical or generous, in this framework. And there’s no need to decide. A show, like a person, can be both.
But the show’s plot, its fixation on the merging of love and profit, its relentless obsession with a Psych Lite explanation of human drives, suggests that financialization/postindustrialization/post-Fordism, all the zombie nouns describing the post-WWII era, that late capitalism itself is driven by love. By inadequacy and insecurity. By marital infidelity. By betrayal.
By human feeling. Not by the inhuman mechanisms of capital.
Or, perhaps, the mechanisms of capital are fueled, welded, electrified by human feeling.
In the era of finance capital—our zeitgeist, a fact of economic history—the electric zap of digits creates more value than goods we can pick up and hurl at our loud neighbors.
Abstract conceptions of value—in real estate, in companies, in services—are real value.
Belief in value is value.
Nowhere is this more true than in advertising. So it’s no wonder that as Don’s face has cracked open with feeling throughout this zombie half-season (Jon Hamm Acting!), his company has engaged in the #1 late capitalist activity: mergers, acquisitions, going public. Dividing, combining, fusing, and splitting the corporate body so it’s a Frankenstein monster of itself.
Sterling imagines a value for his firm and suddenly Joan is a millionaire.
All because of feelings. Male jealousies, insecurities, rivalries.
This kind of narrative couldn’t have happened before the 60s made feelings central to public life.
But while “Don’s Carousel Moment” remains the hallmark of the series for many—and which critics say Peggy’s triumph echoed in the finale—my favorite Mad Men moment will always be Peggy shooting the pigeons.
Because Don’s “Carousel Moment” was not memorable for his eloquence under heavy pressure. It was memorable because performing the role of a devoted family man for money made him actually feel like one. And when he got home, it was too late. His family had already left, and his sudden experience of valuing his wife and kids would be squandered.
Emotional value wasted. Money value? It got him the business. And it remained a hallmark of televisual artistry, cited repeatedly as an example of this show’s greatness, metonymized facilely by Don’s greatness.
And the thing is, despite the fact that I will always remember Betty shooting pigeons, I think the show is wrong.
Feelings don’t drive capitalism. Not even big, burly, manly feelings of manliness. Money does.
Coworkers aren’t family, even when they are very very cool.
And remember when Don raped Bobbie Barrett? Manually, in the restaurant hallway? To reinforce his power? Because she was a threat?
And while I resent that this zombie half-season is some fusion of Weiner’s ego and his desire to maximize revenue and social capital, I’ll probably watch Zombie Finale Part 2.
Because all those zombie scenes—Betty shooting pigeons, etc.—give me the teensiest bit of faith that all our investments will eventually pay off.