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Today's Inspiration

April 12, 2013

Don’s flirtation with suicidal imagery in his botched meeting with the Pink Palace brass, reminds one of the executives of “that movie with James Mason walking into the ocean…”
He’s referring to 1954’s A Star is Born: a movie about older man with a drinking problem who sees his alcoholism deepen as his younger wife begins to come into a certain amount of celebrity.
Sound familiar?!?


In the movie, Judy Garland plays a ingenue singer who is discovered by James Mason, an aging but talented actor. He puts her in a movie to help her out and basically immediately feels she owes her life to him from then on out. He begins drinking more heavily the more popular she gets, until he crashes her Oscars speech Kanye-style and accidentally hits her in the face.
Slapstick serves for emotional epiphany and Mason goes into rehab. When he comes out, Judy Garland promises to take care of him but he soon goes off the rails again and — famously — walks into the ocean. Has anyone read Not Waving But Drowning? (“I was much too far out all my life/And not waving but drowning.” So sad!)

The film itself is your pretty standard corny “you’re a star now kid!” movie. Even the death is pretty cheesy — walking into the ocean? What are you, Virginia Woolf? It’s a very feminine death, as well, if you’ll note. Most male suicide has an active component to it and most female suicide is passive (more here on the gender dimensions of suicide). Water plays a huge role in a lot of female suicide, as well. Why did James Mason feel like submitting? And does Don Draper feel the same way? 

He certainly did a lot of submitting in last Sunday night’s premiere: to Megan on the subject of her upcoming soap opera (remember when he refused point-blank last season to let her do theater in another city because of the commitment she’d have to make?); to those photographers on the subject of where his desk should be and what make-up to wear; to Pete and Ken after he threw up at Roger’s mom’s funeral and had to be escorted home; and, of course, to his old haunts in another woman’s arms.

And of course, water is very much on Don’s subconscious after Hawaii.But lo, look how he denies his thoughts of his untimely demise to the Pink Palace ad execs when they call him out on the movie morbidity!

Watch this space for more Don Faces His Mortality: Season 6.
*Footnote by Natasha Simons

June 26, 2012

If mental health practices are Other Natasha’s cocktail topic of choice, fairy tale analysis is my particular hobbyhorse. Most people know the Disneyfied versions omit the morbidity and dark themes of the original fairy tales, but the original Beauty and the Beast, aside from some interesting quirks*, mostly remained intact from its romantic origins. (Actually, in the Disney version, the Beast is much more volatile than in the earliest version, in which he is essentially a courtly, chivalrous suitor.) This is probably the result of its feminized origin. The first version was written down by Madame de Villeneuve in 1740, as a longer version of the typical oral tale of Girl + Animal Bridegroom. (Bestiality a big topic in days of yore.) 
Since every fairy tale is not really just a cute kid’s story — indeed, Beauty and the Beast was originally written for sharing at the court with other adults and then widely circulated thereafter — there’s an underlying moral at the heart of this one. A few scholars feel the tale was intended to convince young girls that arranged marriages weren’t so bad, once you got used to the idea. Consider the elements: a father gives the hand of his daughter, the Beast cautions that the girl must “come willingly” and “of her own accord”, she has to honor both her father and new suitor’s wishes, the Beast grants the father wealth in return (essentially a dowry), and she comes to love a stranger, for which she is then rewarded with a becoming a princess and a pretty sweet marriage. He even gives her a ring at one point as a reminder of him. 
It could veer into a Bluebeard-esque cautionary tale about minding your husband, but — again possibly because of the female origin — Beauty actually gets away with a lot. The Beast grants her every wish, and takes an incredibly passive role in her life until she falls in love with him of her own volition. He even gives her lots of money and freedom to do whatever she wants with the place — should Megan buy some more white carpets, do you think?
So Don walking away from the Beauty and the Beast diorama has some interesting connotations. (First of all, the tale is French, not German, so the whole barmaid getup on Megan is rather odd.) Don lived out the Beast part of this fairy tale bargain, but he never becomes the Prince in the end. Megan married the temperamental Beast, trying to convince herself that he was the prince the whole time. And he certainly did provide for her, the way the animal bridegroom must in order to keep his young nubile bride. The reward for him (and her) is supposed to be a happy marriage; it’s one Don desperately needed, especially after failing with Betty. But she exchanges that reward for her own pride and success, and he never gets that happy ending he wanted. He went through the motions — he tried the courtly husband routine. It didn’t work. Don can’t become anything other than what he is; he walks away. He stays the Beast. And the Beast is marked by one thing: being alone. That castle gets mighty lonely, whether it be Ossining or a Manhattan suite.
*Footnote by Natasha Simons
*Three quick fucked-up things about this story, since it wouldn’t be an old-ass fairy tale without them: 1) in the first version, the Beast was cursed because he wouldn’t have sex with a fairy — they’re vindictive motherfuckers; 2) the Beast doesn’t turn into a prince until AFTER the wedding night — eek; and 3) Beauty’s sisters, who are real dicks to her in the original, are turned into statues by fairies to sit outside the castle until they recognizetheir assholery. Don’t fuck with fairies, man.

June 6, 2012


What does a death by hanging say about Lane Pryce?
In hanging-by-government, the length of the rope and the fall has determined standards that all but guarantee a man will break his neck during his last plummet on earth. In most homegrown cases, however, a person who has hanged himself will not break his neck, usually because the rope is too short or the fall not sharp enough. In these cases, the man will merely strangle to death.

After what is hopefully a mercifully short time, the man will pass into unconsciousness and then expire. From the furrows in Lane’s neck, he seems to have used a rather strong cord, leading to those unsightly bloody gouges and protruding tongue that confront our SCDP folk with the singularity drawing near.
What else did we notice from our friends’ reactions? A certain indication of olfactory unpleasantness, resultant from a hanged body’s evacuation of the bowels upon descent. 
Why did Lane hang himself instead of other possibly less grisly options? There’s a rich literary history perhaps the old British schoolboy in him couldn’t resist: 
The Greeks had a storied tendency to hang their heroes, for one thing. (And to take their lives thusly in real life, as well.) Sophocles, in his take on the classic heroine Antigone, sent her off to a death by hanging, replete with righteousness:
"When I have suffered my doom, I shall come to know my sin; but if the sin is with my judges, I could wish them no fuller measure of evil than they, on their part, mete wrongfully to me."

Perhaps that’s what leaving that resignation letter was: a gesture of spite to his judges. The effluvia served that purpose well, too!
We’ve had a palpation toward suicide for the whole season, as discussed inter alia. Remember Don’s little drawing on his notepad from earlier this season (pictured above)? It certainly set the tone for the season. In any case, we know exactly why Don reacted so badly to Lane’s hanging. Poor Adam Whitman.

In the end, maybe Lane hung himself simply because it is the most handily available form of suicide. Virgil referred to hanging as “the coil of unbecoming death.” Making Lane’s body not the only one with an unfortunate visage, clearly. 

RIP, Mr. Pryce. I remember seeing a preview in the New York Times for the upcoming season describing our vaunted firm as Sterling Cooper Draper Bryce. Poor thing. 
*Footnote by Natasha Simons


What does a death by hanging say about Lane Pryce?

In hanging-by-government, the length of the rope and the fall has determined standards that all but guarantee a man will break his neck during his last plummet on earth. In most homegrown cases, however, a person who has hanged himself will not break his neck, usually because the rope is too short or the fall not sharp enough. In these cases, the man will merely strangle to death.

After what is hopefully a mercifully short time, the man will pass into unconsciousness and then expire. From the furrows in Lane’s neck, he seems to have used a rather strong cord, leading to those unsightly bloody gouges and protruding tongue that confront our SCDP folk with the singularity drawing near.

What else did we notice from our friends’ reactions? A certain indication of olfactory unpleasantness, resultant from a hanged body’s evacuation of the bowels upon descent.



Why did Lane hang himself instead of other possibly less grisly options? There’s a rich literary history perhaps the old British schoolboy in him couldn’t resist: 

The Greeks had a storied tendency to hang their heroes, for one thing. (And to take their lives thusly in real life, as well.) Sophocles, in his take on the classic heroine Antigone, sent her off to a death by hanging, replete with righteousness:


"When I have suffered my doom, I shall come to know my sin; but if the sin is with my judges, I could wish them no fuller measure of evil than they, on their part, mete wrongfully to me."



Perhaps that’s what leaving that resignation letter was: a gesture of spite to his judges. The effluvia served that purpose well, too!

We’ve had a palpation toward suicide for the whole season, as discussed inter alia. Remember Don’s little drawing on his notepad from earlier this season (pictured above)? It certainly set the tone for the season. In any case, we know exactly why Don reacted so badly to Lane’s hanging. Poor Adam Whitman.


In the end, maybe Lane hung himself simply because it is the most handily available form of suicide. Virgil referred to hanging as “the coil of unbecoming death.” Making Lane’s body not the only one with an unfortunate visage, clearly. 


RIP, Mr. Pryce. I remember seeing a preview in the New York Times for the upcoming season describing our vaunted firm as Sterling Cooper Draper Bryce. Poor thing. 

*Footnote by Natasha Simons

June 5, 2012
Yet somehow he was not afraid of anything, was absolutely calm; perhaps because he had looked into the dark corner at last and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there, but somehow not so bad as his long fear of it had been. He saw everything clearly now. He had a feeling that he had made the best of it, that he had lived the sort of life he was meant to live. —Willa Cather, “Paul’s Case”

Yet somehow he was not afraid of anything, was absolutely calm; perhaps because he had looked into the dark corner at last and knew. It was bad enough, what he saw there, but somehow not so bad as his long fear of it had been. He saw everything clearly now. He had a feeling that he had made the best of it, that he had lived the sort of life he was meant to live. —Willa Cather, “Paul’s Case”

4:33pm  |  274 notes   |  lane pryce |  Mad Men Unbuttoned |  season 5 |  natasha simons 
May 11, 2012
Of course, if anyone rises with “red hair” and “eats men like air”, it’s our zaftig miracle Joan Holloway. Keep an eye on this space.

Of course, if anyone rises with “red hair” and “eats men like air”, it’s our zaftig miracle Joan Holloway. Keep an eye on this space.

4:02pm  |  266 notes   |  lady lazarus |  joan holloway |  mad men |  sylvia plath |  natasha simons 
Lady Lazarus and A Chat About Death, Part 2

Lady Lazarus”, in Plath’s own words, is about “the agony of being reborn.” And Megan spent a good deal of the last episode attempting a career rebirth — an agony we can all vibe with. Not only did she have to contend with her own ambivalence about the situation, but with the risk of bringing her all-id husband dangerously close to an existential meltdown. The man cannot handle even tacit questioning of his liiiiiife.

I am your opus
I am your valuable
[…]
Ash, ash—
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling.

Operating not so much as her own character but rather an agitator of the characters around her, Megan may be bringing everyone else to a frothing analysis of her motivations before burning out in a flash of phoenix-like glory like the Lady Lazarus of the poem. (The peanut crunching crowd/Shoves in to see) Notice that “wedding ring” is one of the primary material symbols that the speaker claims does not represent her. Megan is impossible to analyze, refracting attempts to do so into a million opinions on how to feel about her (in us too!), but she is an extraordinary illuminator of the people around her.

Footnote by Natasha Simons

3:41pm  |  37 notes   |  megan draper |  peggy olson |  don draper |  lady lazarus |  sylvia plath |  mad men |  natasha simons 
Lady Lazarus and A Chat About Death, Part 1

With all the death talk this season (cancer scares! nurse killings! snipers!), many Mad Menites are wondering if Matt Weiner is in the mood to finally pay up and off somebody. Rumors swirled last season about Greg Harris and Roger Sterling, but this season the likely friends we have on offer are either young sad Peter or young happy Megs. Let’s consider Pete first:



Do you remember all the way back in “Pilot” where there was some scoffing discussion of a small consideration called the death wish? Don may have blown it off then, but he’s not laughing (down an elevator shaft) now: the man is facing mortality somewhat brutally at the hands of his heedless young wife. Who wasn’t laughing all the way back in 1960? Why, Pete Campbell, of course, who has always understood the morbid urges we all feel: the man and his erstwhile rifle have been hurtling down that metaphorical Freudian highway onto an oncoming car for five seasons now. And now, he’s kind of literally hurtling down that highway. With a re-introduced rifle. And he’s a bad driver!



Speaking of metaphors and psychology, this episode is named after Sylvia Plath’s famous, stunning poem “Lady Lazarus”, which in large part is about the speaker’s fractured identities making it impossible for her to liiiiiiive. Based loosely on autobiographical circumstances, the speaker details her various suicide attempts, and the struggle to reconcile her reluctant, warring body and mind with the facticity of life. Pete, who attempts to mirror Don (and is now seeking out a brown[haired] Betty of his own) while maintaining a complex and frighteningly sad inner life of his own, has to balance his multiple personalities as well in what is becoming an increasingly tenuous situation.



Note well:

It’s the theatrical
Comeback in broad day
To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Which is clearly how Pete has begun to view his existence of coming home on the 525 train. Pete hasn’t attempted to kill himself (yet), but ever since his woeful Job-ian cry of “I have nothing”, it’s been clear he feels he’s dying a small death each time he lives a life he has begun to see only hollowness in. This was also an issue Plath wrestled with, loving her complicated and destructive husband and young children as well as seeking to free herself from it in due course.

Footnote by Natasha Simons

3:31pm  |  55 notes   |  pete campbell |  sylvia plath |  lady lazarus |  mad men |  natasha simons 
"There’d been no escape. What did she so desire to escape from? Such a captive maiden, having plenty of time to think, soon realizes that her tower, its height and architecture, are like her ego only incidental: and what really keeps her where she is is magic, anonymous and malignant, visited upon her from outside and for no reason at all. Having no apparatus except gut fear and female cunning to examine this formless magic, to understand how it works, how to measure its field strength, count its lines of force, she may fall back on superstition, or take up a useful hobby like embroidery, or go mad, or marry a disc jockey. If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else?"

Thomas Pyncheon, The Crying of Lot 49

What do you think Pete’s reading material means?? Consider the captive maidens (Betty, Beth, Peggy to some degree) and the women questioning that malignant magic (Megan, Joan) in your answer.

April 19, 2012

A Meditation on Mailer, Pete Campbell and The Language of Men

"His anger often derived from nothing: the set of a pair of far lips, the casual heavy thump of the serving spoon into his plate, or the resentful conviction that the cook was not serving him enough." —Norman Mailer, "The Language of Men"


Pete Campbell presents a whole different kind of masculinity issue than does our mainstay Don. From S1E1 Pete’s been a mess of insecurities, all stemming from the essential Pete nugget that he simply doesn’t know very much about people. Wavering between the petulance of a child and the brimming over-confidence of a teenager, Pete is his own worst enemy.


He’s quick to lash out — recall this is not the first time he’s been in a fight at the office. He punched poor Kenny for his indelicate comments about fair Pegs back in season 1! Of course, that might have had something to do with his extreme jealousy of Ken — this comes only a few episodes after Ken gets his first story published in The Atlantic. And he’s become so used to shooting off his passive-aggressive sniping comments and being ignored that when Lane actually challenges him to a fight, he’s floored. He’s not used to being directly confronted or spoken to about much of anything, really.

Here’s Mailer again:


"He became aware again of his painful desire to please people, to discharge responsibility, to be a man. When he had been a child, tears had come into his eyes at a cross word, and he had lived in an atmosphere where his smallest accomplishment was warmly praised."

Pete has some…issues with recognition and pride, no? He craves it desperately, and yet he’s either so unctuous or so biting that even when he does good work, people are reluctant to reward him. This man, who was so spoiled in his youth, finds that his peers don’t like him at all. When he pitifully says at the end of “Signal 30” that “This is an office. We’re supposed to be friends”, we get the sense that he actually means it. That SCDP holds the only friendships he’s ever known! This coming on the heels of Don telling Megan that the people at work are not her friends only underscores Pete’s essential misunderstanding about other people and his innate loneliness that comes from being excluded.



As decent as Pete has become at his job, he’s never gotten over his puppy love with Don Draper, the man he has been trying to get a reaction as long as he’s graced our screens. When flattery didn’t work, Pete turned to subterfuge. None of it seemed to work very well, but Pete is still giving Don the biggest steak.


"…with his heart aching he lunged toward Hobbs. He had no hope of beating him. He merely intended to fight until he was pounded unconscious, advancing the pain and bruises he would collect as collateral for his self-respect."

"[He] began to wonder about the things which made him different. He was no longer so worried about becoming a man; he felt that to an extent he had become one. But in his heart he wondered if he would ever learn the language of men."

So then of course, Pete does get called on his pervasive misanthropy and reflex anger toward the rest of the world. And in every glance and gesture, Pete has always tried to ape the standard masculinity: he tries to dress like Don, he blusters through work drinks living up to Roger, he commits adultery after the both of them. And yet even when he’s embraced the trappings of masculinity, he still can’t connect. He hates himself for it because it’s not what he wants, and Don hates him for it because it seems like such a poor imitation of the thing he himself does. Everything Pete does has an air of forcedness to it, because it just doesn’t come naturally to him — the language of men.


*Footnote by Natasha Simons





March 27, 2012

The French New Wave of Feelings and YeYe

Megan pulled off her coup: a hip cosmospolitan soiree that left the guests yearning to go home and have sex. But where did the foal-like Canadian get her moves from? Where did the sex-kitten, bob cut, hip swish and a peek-a-boo routine originate? Answer: France! Her whole routine was decidedly French New Wave, right down to the casually slumped, hip young crowd on the Draper’s couch. 

Beginning in the late 50s with the “auteur theory”, which, not to get you all worked up, was the new and somewhat daring idea that a director was the owner, or the author, of his film. This seed blossomed into a full-fledged manifesto with a number of hot-shot young directors espousing it, including Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda, and Alain Resnais.  The French New Wave was about an aloof stance against the corrupt, flimsy nature of the world. Instead of nihilism or hot-headed rebellion, the New Wavers sought truth in the romanticism of youth, beauty and art. 


There’s no better film that encompasses Nouvelle Vague’s values than Godard’s 1966 masterpiece Masculin-Feminin (a film so trendy it’s STILL inspiring sensitive young artistesses to get that fabulous haircut). Masculin-Feminin works in the strong Marxist elements of the New Wave, mocking commercialism while simultaneously realizing there’s no escape from it — ATTENDANCE TO THE BEAN BALLET IS MANDATORY. In world of bullshit politics, crass commercialism, and an overall corrupt reality the one thing the kids could count on were their feelings. 

Much like many a movement, though the origins of the French New Wave were grounded in theory and a lot of intelligent philosophizing, what ended up leaking through to the mainstream culture was all visual. The aesthetic of the French New Wave was very firmly mod, with Twiggy-like haircuts, tons of cat-eye eyeliner, and A-line dresses. And there were plenty of nonsense songs like the one we heard Our Lady of the Uncomfortable Role-Play sing last night. And that’s how you get, as just one example, the Ye-Ye Girls. 

Ye-Ye, spawned in part from the Beatles’ “She loves you yeah yeah yeah”, is a pop-rock genre defined by its staccato bass line, go-go tempo, minimalist, and unfussy female sound. What each Ye-Ye song had was a smoldering but seemingly unobtainable sex kitten cooing the do-do-da-da sounds. The female lead of Masculin Feminin was an aspiring Ye-Ye Girl, as was the real life actress Chantal Goya. 

"Zou Bisou Bisou" was a Ye-Ye classic and, as we know, very catchy — all the boys of SCDP had it stuck in their heads all weekend.

Footnote by Natasha Simons