What Don Draper wants vs. what we expect of him

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?


On the other hand, you could simply read Greg’s excellent “interview” with Don Draper on how he’d fix the Mets and improve the Amazin’s fan base at Faith and Fear in Flushing.

Cranky Post No. 203: Boomer-oriented commercial

Sorry, can’t gear up much sympathy for the Baby Boomers in these John Hancock ads. You’re 60 years old having a text-message conversation with your spouse about “We’re not even close!!!” when talking about how much you need to retire. If you hadn’t been running around spending your children’s inheritance 15-20 years ago, you know, you might be in a better place, ya think?

(And no, by “spending our kids’ inheritance” I’m not talking about the meme du tea party, but about those bumper stickers people from my parents’ generation used to have on their cars in the late ’80s and early ’90s. But you know, it might as well apply in the reverse for the Glenn Beck/Carl Paladino/Christine O’Donnell-addled, since, if we don’t spend some money to create jobs now, all your worries about government debt hurting your kids in the future will be irrelevant if your kids can’t get jobs now, in the present. But I digress.)

And why don’t you just end those messages to your spouse with a few LOLs and BRBs, just to confirm your lameness.

Mad Men musings on creativity as a commodity

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?

Mad Men and the Mets

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).

Even the Mets acknowledged the connection as much (or merely latched onto a popular show, or both), with a promotion last year related to Mad Men at their new, new modern stadium.

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?

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Color commenting by My Dad, Mets vs. Braves, Sunday, April 25

My father should be on TV. He could talk circles around Joe Morgan and Jon Miller in the ESPN booth (no easy feat). He’s sort of a cross between Phil Rizzuto (in full “O Holy Cow!” mode) and Paulie Walnuts from The Sopranos. Here’s a sampling of his analysis, as we watched the Mets play the Braves, Sunday night, April 25, on the Self-Acclaimed Worldwide Leader…

Top of the second:
This Pelfrey, he’s always licking his fingers. He’s going to wind up with a disease. Who knows what one of these players have?

After the third out, t
op of the second, Mike Pelfrey and the Mets walking off the field:
What was the purpose of a dugout? Why couldn’t it be level years ago? Because it could be cooler maybe for the players? This guy’s eating his shirt, besides licking it. This guy eats his shirt, licks his fingers. Not very sanitary.

(Dad then momentarily switches the channel to The Cleveland Show on Fox5 during the commercial break.)

Two outs, Pelfrey at bat, bottom of the second:
You want a cookie?
Me: Sure. What is it? Chocolate chip?
Dad: No, flax seed.

(Pelfrey grounds out, Dad switches back to Channel 5, which is now showing Family Guy; Peter, for some reason is preparing to join a rodeo and is brandishing a hot iron when he finds his daughter, Meg, on the front step of their house.)
Dad: (laughing) He’s going to brand her.

Top of the third, man on first, one out:
They got a man on, no out.
(Jon Miller then uses the word “omnipresent” in referring to Pelfrey’s high pitch count. Miller 1, Dad 1.)

Top of the third, two on, one out:

Now it’s starting to pour again. A lot of rain. They just had a close-up. Not as hard as it was, but it’s coming down.

Top of the third, two on, one out:

(Jason Heyward grounds into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning, right after my dad notes that Pelfrey has allowed “like” seven Braves on base already.)
Double play! This guy’s getting away with murder.

(Now back to Family Guy.)

Bottom of the third, no outs:
All these guys, they’re second-stringers. Even the pitchers. How do you expect to win with these guys? How do you like that stadium in Minnesota? It’s pretty nice, except it’s cold there.

Bottom of the third, one out, Jose Reyes coming to bat:
(ESPN shows a clip of Reyes’ first-inning single)
That would have been a “crushed” single if this was on YES.

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I hate the ESPN ‘Ball Track’

Memo to ESPN: Thanks for ruining the annual Home Run Derby with your annoying, distracting, execrable and stupid Ball Track graphic.

For those of you who care about such things (all two of you), ESPN introduced a fiery line that follows the path of batted balls during the annual homer tournament. Remember the glowing tail that Fox used to follow the course of the puck during hockey coverage about a decade or more ago, presumably because they thought fans were too dimwitted and slow (or so their message seemed)? ESPN has brought the technology back to crap on its fans tonight.

Hey Bristol Braintrust — Josh Hamilton blasting 28 home runs is exciting, thrilling and made great television. Your Ball Track? Not so much. In fact, quite the opposite. The Home Run Derby is simplistic, perfect television at its best. It’s not complicated, it’s strictly for the fans, and it showcases exactly one aspect of an extremely complex, thinking-person’s sport. So what? It’s July. It’s hot. It’s fun.

The Ball Track? It celebrates the triumph of ESPN.

I’m turning your broadcast off, now. Thanks. Alienation was just what I was looking for to begin my week.

Is this what British and Spanish fans have to look forward to next year when the Bristol Galactus takes over part of the Premier League and La Liga coverage? Oooo. A line that follows the course of a ball, because we think our viewers are too stupid to follow it. Nice. Thanks for condescending.

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‘We will not walk in fear, one of another’

In a presidential campaign pitting hope vs. hate, fear vs. faith, it is worth remembering the immortal words of Edward R. Murrow:

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.

We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.

This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy’s methods to keep silent, or for those who approve. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age.

We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world. But we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.

The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear, he merely exploited it — and rather successfully.

Cassius was right. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

—Edward R. Murrow’s report on Sen. Joseph McCarthy,
“See It Now,” CBS TV, March 9, 1954
(full broadcast transcript)

The players may have changed 54 years later, but the actions in the fear-driven campaign led by Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin, and their supporters, speak for themselves; they speak to their vision of America as fearful and full of hatred, not of America as a place of potential and of promise; an America of divisiveness, a place where Patriotism is defined as displaying examples of our power, not the power of our example; they speak as defenders of your right to fear, hate, attack and resent that which is different.

McCarthyism may have died, at least officially, some 50 years ago, but will it be replaced, to quote Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo, by McCainism?

Good night, and good luck.