So, perhaps it wasn’t the ending many fans wanted and hoped for. If that’s want what you want, “Friends” is probably still on re-runs on one of the Turner stations.
Don Draper blew up a consistent source of income for an advertising firm — Big Tobacco — last week in a gamble designed to save his firm. He ultimately couldn’t take another gamble by blowing up his Don Draper identity, as Faye Miller suggested at the start of Sunday’s season finale.
Don has spent his entire adulthood chasing the idea of who he wants to be, rather than who he really is, a central theme to this season, this show, and, not coincidentally, what advertising sells to us, the people. Or, as Draper told Faye in Episode 2 of this season: people are torn between “what I want versus what’s expected of me.” With all we know and have seen of Don Draper, how he sells products as much as he sells his identity on a daily basis, why would he want to be “stuck trying to be a person like the rest of us,” even if a potential visit from the G-men sends him into panic attacks and nervous breakdowns? And aren’t we all a little bit incapable of change? Or as Don once told Faye (wrongly, as it turns out): “You can’t tell how people will behave based on how they have behaved.”
Who doesn’t, sometimes, commiserate with Don Draper? I know I do, torn between who I want to be and who I am, what I want versus what’s expected of me. Is it true that “every time something good happens, something bad happens,” as Peggy puts it? Or can you simply retreat, even for a day, into what you want to be and not do what’s expected of you without consequences? Or do you have to be Don Draper, and ignore those consequences as much as possible?
Among the meticulous historical details, brilliantly gripping story lines, and the spot-on commentary on America then and now, Matthew Weiner’s 1960s-set Mad Men is really a paean to the age-old battle of creativity vs. business, and how those concepts sometimes fit, sometimes don’t in America, yes, then and now.
Obviously, if you enjoy eating and having a roof over your head, you can write and paint as much as you like, but you still need to turn the heat on in the winter.
Still, the lament is that creativity always seems to still get the short shrift — even when creativity is what you are selling — often by devaluing the workers who produce it (through low salaries, under-staffing, or merely a general lack of creative freedom).
Don Draper, the ad man who keeps his firm in business through his much-sought-after creativity, is a proxy for the artist whose work is bought and sold, but whose creativity derives its business value through bringing in money. It’s not art for art’s sake, a point obviously made clear in that he’s in advertising, and not a starving artist. But he is an artist nonetheless, and though not a poet or painter, it’s a point worth noting.
“I want to work,” Don says in last year’s season finale, as he learns his firm is being sold to a larger corporation with even larger eyes on the bottom line (and, presumably, less on the creative aspects of the finished product, except, again, as a commodity). I commented on nymag.com‘s recap of the finale, and I wondered if that episode, and the entire series for that matter, expressed Weiner’s feelings about creative workers, including writers like himself. Don wants to create something — yes, a new firm, but he also wants to create new ads. It’s how he gains his self-meaning in the world. It brings him material gains, and it brought him a wife, kids, and house with a white picket fence — all those things that people expect to see. Don wants the freedom to create ads, and running his own agency will bring that as he railed (in that finale) about accountants wanting to turn a dollar into $1.10.
As much as it is about social change 45 years ago, Weiner’s show is as much about the search for creative freedom (for himself personally as a television writer and creator, but also for all creative types at large). But without being able to turn that $1 into $1.10, Don would be without his own firm and lose that creative freedom he so needs. Mad Men portrays that duality, nicely in a 1965 skin.
Tonight, in this season’s penultimate episode, as they further learn of the dire financial straits their new firm is in, Peggy asks Don, what are they going to do?
“We’re going to sit at our desks and keep typing while the walls fall down around us, because we’re creative — the least important most important thing there is.”
It’s not a new question: is creativity merely another commodity? Holding a mirror to society to reflect back what you see — it may give viewers greater understanding of the world, but how do you support a family on that? Don’s ex-fling Midge makes a guest appearance in this episode as a struggling artist and heroin addict — does her art have value to her beyond its ability to bring her money to further fuel her habit? Or does it inspire Don to continue the strategy laid out for him in the first episode of this season — to promote and sell himself (and his agency) in order to have creative freedom? Is that inspiration worth the $120 (in 1965 dollars) Don pays for it? Should we even put a dollar amount on it? But isn’t that what you do if you graduate college with a degree in English, Fine Art, Drama, and so on? If your degree can’t help you get a job (and thus earn money), is such a degree valuable merely through its intrinsic value?
Perhaps it is the least important most important thing there is. How do you eat off of that, and is it crass to even ask the question? Or is linking the two concepts mutually necessary?
After a session of unbelievably unproductive writing/blogging last night, I stopped in at my neighborhood upscale bar and had perhaps the worst Old Fashioned I ever paid $7.50 for. Chilled water (a lot of it) dispensed from a shaker into what looked like a martini glass without the stem. No ice. Some muddled fruit in the bottom of the glass. I think there was a drop of bourbon. Maybe it was rye. It was hard to tell through the shaken, chilled liquid leftover from a Delmonte mixed fruit cup that I was sipping.
Whenever I order one of these and the bartender says “sure,” and then I see two bartenders huddled over their black-covered drinks book, I know I’m in trouble. It’s only one of the six basic drinks in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks. I want to flag them down and replace my order with a Budweiser, or anything other than what they are about to attempt to pour, really.
So tonight, before a night of somewhat more productive writing/blogging (well, at least piling up my “drafts” folder), I stopped in another upscale bar (more of a restaurant, really) in a different but nearby neighborhood, and had perhaps the best Old Fashioned I ever had in a bar before. For $5.50. The bottom of the glass wasn’t a mashed fruit cocktail (a split cherry and a bare sliver of orange, which is how it should be — not, God forbid, a giant orange wedge). Good proportion of ice. Served in an Old Fashioned glass (the glass, after all, is named after the drink, something they perhaps missed in Pub No. 1; or maybe it’s me). Choice of bourbon (I went for Knob Creek), with just the right amount of booze to walk you up to the edge of putting you on your ass, but not over. Perfect. Don Draper would be pleased.
Of course, naturally, there was no TV, which I prefer in my bars, generally (not because I don’t like TVs, just that they normally show the worst thing they can find at the time, namely a Yankee or college football game, or the local 24-hour news channel, typically headlined by cat-stuck-in-tree stories, but I’m digressing). So of course I missed the end of Roy Halladay throwing only the second no-hitter in post-season history. But as a recently minted Mets fan, that would’ve been salt in the wound (though I always liked Halladay with the Blue Jays), and I was enjoying my drink. So I had that going for me. Which was nice.
With Mad Men kicking off its fourth season on Sunday, it’s time to celebrate the Mets-Mad Men connection.
Mad Men takes place at a point in history, to cite a 2008 New York Times Magazine article, when ad men were rock stars of an era, when “the creative revolution in advertising was taking off.”
The Mets were born in 1962, in the heart of the Mad Men era (and the year in which season two of the series takes place). They were New York City’s new team in the National League after the Dodgers and Giants left town, and much of their essence, which survives today, is — at least in part — a product of early Sixties advertising. The “Meet the Mets” song, as much an effort by J. Walter Thompson as it was of the Mets’ execs themselves, has that fun, zippy feeling of the early, swinging part of that decade.
The Mets even garnered passing references in two episodes of the show, both from junior executive Ken Cosgrove. He tries to use the lure of Mets tickets (“great seats for probably a terrible game”) for a date with Jane, the new secretary — and future second wife of partner Roger Sterling — in season two (1962), then drops by Pete Campbell’s office with an offer of Mets tickets, which Paul Kinsey takes him up on, in season three (1963).
Jimmy Breslin, in his own way in his 1963 book “Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game?,” links advertising and the Mets’ birth:
“As noted earlier, it took more than baseball people to create the Mets. One of the biggest culprits, for example, is a beer company called Rheingold. This company, based in Brooklyn, put up, on the advice of an advertising agency, $1,200,000 per year on a five-year contract to sponsor the Mets on television and radio. The bid was made and accepted in the fall of 1961. The Mets had not yet signed a player. By December, the Mets had signed players and the Rheingold account was taken away from the ad agency and placed with another organization, J. Walter Thompson. …
“‘We didn’t like losing the account at all,’ one of the admen said over a martini.
“‘How come you lost it?’
“‘Somebody gave the client a bad report.’
“‘What was it?’
“‘They told the sponsor who was going to play third base for the Mets.'”
The “Meet the Mets” song and the Mr. Met mascot fit in perfectly with the early Sixties. It’s something that perhaps Don Draper wouldn’t have thought of — Draper, socially climbing, image conscious, would probably have been a stodgy Yankee fan, and possibly would have dismissed the Mets ad campaign, the way he is both intrigued by and then dismisses the ultimately iconic “lemon” Volkswagen Beetle ad in the first season.
Though who knows? Would the 1960s version of J. Walter Thompson, which was involved in the “Meet the Mets” song, have had more in common back then with Sterling Cooper (though certainly not today) than Doyle Dane Bernbach, which came up with those “lemon” and “think small” ads? Or perhaps the Mets’ early campaigns fell more in the category of “traditional” (for 1962) advertising rather than DDB’s ironic VW Bug ads.
Either way, perhaps the mysterious, slowly adapting Don Draper might have come up with the Mets’ catchy, enduring ad campaign, after all. Along with the upheavals of the Sixties, perhaps we’ll see more changes in Don Draper, with a new firm to run (as set up in the final episode of Season Three) and presumably new life away from his wife and children (we’ll see, beginning Sunday night). Of course, this might come down to where you feel the Mets’ ads of 1962-1964 fall in the traditional-ironic advertising divide.
Author Dana Brand describes in his Mets Fan book, how, as a child in the early Sixties, he loved the “novelty of the blue and orange colors, and the cool, contemporary brevity of the name” of New York’s new team.
(And, come to think of it, orange surely must have seemed to be the “new” color for the Sixties. Along with the Mets, think of the orange adopted by new teams like the Astros in 1965 and hockey’s Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. Or, put another way, think of teal and purple as the new “orange” of the Nineties, with the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies.)
SNY’s chipper “Mets Yearbook” TV commercial — with the bobblehead doll, clips of Casey Stengel and the Polo Grounds, an easy-to-whistle tune, and the 8mm filmstrip feel — pays homage to those days.
Brand, later in “Mets Fan,” writes in a piece about the “Meet the Mets” song:
“It fits with Mr. Met (who would think him up now?). It fits with the apple that comes out of the hat every time a Met hits a home run. It doesn’t come out of the twentieth-first century … It is the tone of the team. It brings us back to the smiling sixties. It draws us into the Mets-happy universe.”
How correct he is. It is a team for the Mad Men era, both then and now. New York was changing, New York baseball was changing (even the Mets themselves, who moved from the old Polo Grounds to the modern Shea Stadium in 1964), and, of course, America was changing. The orange-and-blue Mets were, and still are, the baseball baby born of the Mad Men period.
Addendum, August 30, 2010, 12:24 a.m.: Another Mets reference in Mad Men — an orange Mets pennant appeared in Lane Pryce‘s 1965 office in the Week 6 (season 4) episode that aired earlier this evening. A nice touch, and a humorous one, because why on earth would the dry British Pryce have a Mets banner in his office? Is he merely trying to immerse himself deeper in his newly adopted country by following the Mets’ eventual 50-112 season? Or did his secretary add that to his decor, with Pryce — distracted by his constant concerns over the ad firm’s finances — not even noticing it?
Addendum, October 8, 2010, 9:55 p.m.: No, Pryce is certainly a Mets fan. Witness his love of America in the episode of two weeks ago, when he comes out with a Teddy Bear and red, white and blue balloons to greet (he thinks) his son. Pryce, the stuffy Brit, has embraced his new country, and what was more 1960s American (well, more ’60s New York, anyway) than the lovable underdog of the Mets of that decade?
Other than the anomaly of the golden year of 2005, what else has this decade given us in film? You got the Lord of the Rings triology and Million Dollar Baby. And then …? The Departed was OK, but it ranks well below Scorsese’s other stuff. What else you got? Studios sending out flicks like 21, last week’s big money-maker, the film based on that allegedly fictional non-fiction book? (link to Boston Globe thanks to Gawker)
No, this is TV’s decade. As I said before, this is decade that’s given us great shows, almost all dramas, many of whom I haven’t even had the chance to catch up and see yet: “The Wire,” “Mad Men,” “Deadwood,” “The Sopranos” (yes, I know it began in 1999), “Band of Brothers,” “The Shield,” “Rome,” “John Adams,” and even more populist stuff like “Rescue Me,” “Sex and the City,” “Entourage,” “Playmakers” and “Battlestar Galactica.” What else am I forgetting? (“Friday Night Lights,” perhaps, another one I haven’t seen.) The jury may still be out on some of the network comedy items — I’m thinking the American “The Office” and “30 Rock” — but it’s enough to offset the Reality Crap and make you want to invest in a good DVR.
Why is all this? Well, I’m developing a theory that we’re seeing the rise of writers and producers (and especially writer/producers) and the decline of directors, or at least in the power structure. A writer can stretch his or her legs out better over the course of a 7- to 20-episode season than can be done in a 2- to 2½-hour flick.