Ok, Footnotes crowd: Let’s get long form! I think you’ll like. From one of the best scenes of the series.
* * *
Man in Fez Hat: You what it’s like to watch all you ants go into your hive? I wipe my ass with the Wall Street Journal. …Look at you—satisfied, dreaming up jingles for soap flakes and spot remover, telling yourself you’re free.
Don: My god. Stop talking. Make something of yourself
Midge’s Lover: Like you? You make the lie. You invent want. You’re for them… not us.
Don: Well I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie. There is no system. The universe is indifferent .
Man in Fez Hat: Man, why’d you have to say that?
* * *
It is so easy to take Don’s side in this moment. History, more or less proves him right. (Plus, it’s difficult to feel sympathy for a pigeon-chested twentysomething in a peasant shirt when he is standing next to Don Draper). The political changes that defined the 60’s and 70’s came about through a combination of disciplined political action — not music festivals.
This idea of counterculture, and the Us v. Them dichotomy has always existed Western Civilization (see supreme court case Jesus v Romans), but this specific bohemian scorn against ‘the ad man’ was fomented specifically during the 1960s.
In the view of Midge’s glassy eyed party guests, society had become overrun with lies and propaganda thanks to hyper consumption fueled by advertising. The world was soiled by injustices (like Biloxi) and yet people were told freedom was to be found in washing machines and Cadillacs. “The system”, then, was considered a huge swindle of images and symbols that repressed individualism and truth. The way to rebel was to renounce symbols of greed, discipline, and uniformity.
The rub? This was done by adopting a whole new system of symbols: a hammer and sickle pin to show your defiance to the rigid McCarthyism of the 50’s, a bare midriff to outrage the mothers who taught their daughters to be polite and find husbands, or even a Paul Kinsey style beard to broadcast the notion that you and your face will not be constricted by the tyranny of disposable razors!
Yet according to Don there is no system; the universe does not care what kind of shoes you do or don’t wear; it will continue to spin mercilessly, unmoved by human turmoil (no one knows this better than a dust bowl farmhand like Dick Whitman). So the counterculture that Midge’s buddies adopted was supposed to build a new world on individual freedom. Now, we have the benefit of being 40 years in the future and seeing that this project of theirs did not work so well: The system of hyper consumerism was not staved off by bearded men in ironic fez hats, it’s actually still thriving!
So then, where does that leave Don? Don is also in revolt, yes? But is his brand of rebellion any more or else authentic than the hippies in the corner? After all this conversation is being had in the apartment of Don’s mistress. Don revels in the same kind of hedonism and rule breaking to satisfy his individuality as the dope smokers do. I mean, the guy shows up an hour late every day, bucks at authority, and has joyless sex with powerful women for what reason exactly? To shake off that creeping alienation that comes from a world living in a world of well disguised lies?
At least his feet are clean when he does it.
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