Wednesday, April 22, 2015

GH's Throwback Thursday, Mad Men Edition: "New Business"

"Watching the Wheels"
by John Lennon, 1981

People say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing.
Well, they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin.
When I say that I'm OK, well, they look at me kinda strange.
"Surely, you're not happy now, you no longer play the game."

People say I'm lazy, dreaming my life away.
Well, they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me.
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
"Don't you miss the big time, boy? You're no longer on the ball."

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.
I really love to watch them roll.
No longer riding on the merry-go-round.
I just had to let it go.

Ahhh, people ask me questions, lost in confusion.
Well, I tell them there's no problem, only solutions.
Well, they shake their heads and they look at me as if I've lost my mind.
I tell them there's no hurry, I'm just sitting here doing time.

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round.
I really love to watch them roll.
No longer riding on the merry-go-round.
I just had to let it go.
I just had to let it go.
I just had to let it go.

As I mentioned last week, the Beatles officially broke up in the spring of 1970, around the time we're currently seeing on Mad Men. John Lennon was a successful solo artist for a few years after, but by the mid-1970s, he'd lost interest in fame and had become a devoted father and househusband, spending his days taking care of Sean, his son with second wife Yoko Ono. This song, "Watching the Wheels," was his ode to that activity—he wanted to emphasize how important it was to spend time with his family, that working yourself to the bone isn't the point of life. It was released a year after his death.

With Don's Draper disillusionment of late, I suspect he'll experience a similar turnaround by series' end. In the meantime, in Mad Men Episode 7.9, "New Business," he's still beating that dead horse he calls love.

Here's a sampling of the most-heard song lyrics on American radio in May 1970, the time we've landed on in this episode:

"Band of Gold," by Freda Payne
I wait in the darkness of my lonely room
Filled with sadness, filled with gloom
Hoping soon
That you'll walk back through that door
And love me like you tried before.
Since you've been gone,
All that's left is a band of gold.
All that's left of the dreams I hold
Is a band of gold
And the dream of what love could be
If you were still here with me.

"Cecilia," by Paul Simon (Simon and Garfunkel also disbanded in 1970)
Celia, you're breaking my heart,
You're shaking my confidence daily.
Oh, Cecilia, I'm down on my knees,
I'm begging you please to come home.
Come on home.
Making love in the afternoon with Cecilia
Up in my bedroom.
I got up to wash my face,
When I come back to bed,
Someone's taken my place.

"American Woman,"
by The Guess Who
American woman, stay away from me.
American woman, mama, let me be.
Don't come a-hangin' around my door,
I don't wanna see your face no more.
I got more important things to do
Than spend my time growin' old with you.

"Turn Back the Hands of Time,"
by Tyrone Davis
Oh darling please, please let me come back home.
Your love has been so good to me, baby.
And I just relied without it.
I can't go on and you're the other half
That makes my life complete.
If I had one more chance, we'd have a love so sweet.

"Love or Let Me Be Lonely,"
by the Friends of Distinction
Love me, let me be lonely.
Part-time love I can find any day,
So don't defy Mother Nature's way.
Please make it mine, a love for to stay.
I can live without love,
If I wanted to in this lonely room.
But I don't want to, so I leave it up to you
To wash away my gloom.

"Love on a Two-Way Street," by The Moments
I found love on a two-way street and lost it on a lonely highway.
Love on a two-way street and lost it on a lonely highway.
True love will never die, so I've been told, but now I must cry.
It's finally goodbye, I know.
With music softly playing, her lips were gently saying : "I love you."
She held me in desperation, I thought it was a revelation.
And then she walked out.

Wow. Talk about depressing.

The age of Motown aside, these are some seriously lovelorn people, all hitting the top of the charts at exactly the same time. No wonder everyone in this episode is either lonely, making horrible choices in love or dealing with the fallout of a marriage's end.

Good Housekeeping, April 1970
Let's just review our principal characters' current romantic statuses.

Don (twice)
Roger (twice)
Joan (twice)
Harry (most likely)*

Married/In a relationship:
Stan and Elaine
Marie (and her husband)
Marie-France (and her husband)
Sylvia and Arnold

Meredith (presumably)

That's about 50 percent divorced—half the major players in this episode, and three of them have done it twice. Those in committed relationships are all philandering (with the exception of one, but that seems to be due to her religious conservatism, and she's incidentally the most miserable of the bunch).

Years ago, in the first season of this series, a young divorcée named Helen Bishop moved into Don and Betty's quiet Ossining neighborhood and caused quite a disruption. Betty and her gossip hound pals considered her a threat, a victim or a virus, with a mission to infect all the "happy" unions around her. Likely due to his own outsider mentality, Don treated her with respect. And bored with her own life, Betty approached her with curiosity.

In fact, she may have been one of her first "patients."

"I know it's beyond your experience, but people talk to me.
They seek me out to share their confidences."

Good Housekeeping, May 1970
Betty's jab at Don this episode brings up an important point: Betty's an example of the many housewives forced by their husbands to seek psychotherapy, but by 1970, seeing a psychologist had become the norm. This contributed to the culture shift at the time, as W. Bradford Wilcox explained in a 2009 article for National Affairs: 

"The psychological revolution of the late '60s and '70s, which was itself fueled by a post-war prosperity that allowed people to give greater attention to non-material concerns, played a key role in reconfiguring men and women's views of marriage and family life. Prior to the late 1960s, Americans were more likely to look at marriage and family through the prisms of duty, obligation and sacrifice. A successful, happy home was one in which intimacy was an important good, but by no means the only one in view. A decent job, a well-maintained home, mutual spousal aid, child-rearing and shared religious faith were seen almost universally as the goods that marriage and family life were intended to advance.

Good Housekeeping, June 1970
"But the psychological revolution's focus on individual fulfillment and personal growth changed all that. Increasingly, marriage was seen as a vehicle for a self-oriented ethic of romance, intimacy and fulfillment. In this new psychological approach to married life, one's primary obligation was not to one's family but to one's self; hence, marital success was defined not by successfully meeting obligations to one's spouse and children but by a strong sense of subjective happiness in the marriage—usually to be found in and through an intense, emotional relationship with one's spouse. The 1970s marked the period when, for many Americans, a more institutional model of marriage gave way to the 'soul-mate model' of marriage.

Good Housekeeping, June 1970
"Of course, the soul-mate model was much more likely to lead couples to divorce court than was the earlier institutional model of marriage. Now, those who felt they were in unfulfilling marriages also felt obligated to divorce in order to honor the newly widespread ethic of expressive individualism. As social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead has observed of this period, 'divorce was not only an individual right but also a psychological resource. The dissolution of marriage offered the chance to make oneself over from the inside out, to refurbish and express the inner self and to acquire certain valuable psychological assets and competencies, such as initiative, assertiveness and a stronger and better self-image.'"

Good Housekeeping, May 1970

It brought the chance to begin again.

Pete Campbell says something profound about that this episode, as he's giving Don advice, while Don is only reluctantly commiserating. I chuckled while watching this scene, because it reminded me of Don and Pete's exchange in Episode 1, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes."

Don tells Pete while walking to the Lucky Strike meeting, "Campbell, we're both men here, so I'll be direct. Advertising is a very small world. And when you do something like malign the reputation of some girl from the steno pool on her first day, you make it even smaller. Keep it up and even if you do get my job, you'll never run this place. You'll die in that corner office, a mid-level account executive with a little bit of hair, who women go home with out of pity. And do you know why? Because no one will like you."

While driving to the golf course, Pete says to Don, "You think you're going to begin your life over, and do it right. But what if you never get past the beginning again?"

This typically isn't a problem for Don, because as Faye Miller once told him, he only "likes the beginnings of things." But think for a moment of what it must be like to be the man who "has no people," as Grandpa Gene used to say.
Good Housekeeping, May 1970

We've now reached a point in time where no one seems to have people. And even when they do, as in Megan's case, the generational differences make relating to them nearly impossible (Weiner makes this quite literal as Megan switches from French to English and back again this episode—she and her family don't even speak the same language anymore). Over several seasons, we've watched these characters suffer silently or act out in relationships that were making them miserable, but the misery they experience now has a different tint to it. It is filled with striving and self-loathing and the desire for self-actualization and power. The vibe is busy and disorienting, and it's not only in the wallpaper.

Good Housekeeping, May 1970
It's why few viewers really enjoyed this episode. It had very little sweetness and very little charm. And much like Stan's interaction with Pima, every experience of intimacy was fueled by something selfish and quite the opposite of love. Pima's not the only hustler, as Peggy calls her. Every sexual act was an exchange of goods.

It was new business.

Though Don does seem to be feeling the first glimpses of love for Diana. There is something different about her.

Though I'm not sure how different she really is.

After all, she did have sex with Don in an alleyway for money.

When Don tells Diana he thinks he knows her, it's her shame that he knows. It's similar to the shame he carries around constantly, so to find someone who's enduring just as much brings him a sense of relief.

But while Don has adopted a persona that helps mask his inner shame (yet really only perpetuates the cycle), Diana wants her shame to stand center stage. She lives in a room of shame, she wears dark colors, she wears uniforms so that she can blend in. She even blends into the walls of the elevator in this episode.

Janie Bryant often uses this trick to convey how connected a person is to his or her environment or current situation. She does it with aplomb when Roger meets with his two secretaries—Roger's gray and navy suit and tie matches the Op art poster behind him perfectly, while Shirley's orange-and-blue floral print blends in with her background and Carolyn's neutral suit matches the curtains.

We are used to seeing Roger dressed in all gray, sitting in a completely white, minimalist, serene environment. His old office decor made it seem like he did almost nothing all day (albeit in style). His new decor better conveys the workload he's begrudgingly inherited and his level of discomfort as the new Bert Cooper. And when he needs to hide from the mayhem, he naturally chooses the only place nobody frequents before 11 a.m.: Don's office.

(OK, so Don is sometimes there by 10, but Weiner sure seems to be hammering home the fact that he's late nearly every day this season.)

So Diana in her blue waitress uniform is very much at one with that diner. And Diana in her brown waitress uniform has merged with the dimly lit steakhouse. Nobody could ever find her there. Except for maybe a private detective. Or someone as persistent as Don.

It's likely the reason some viewers believed Diana was imaginary at first.

Women didn't wear waitress uniforms or even really work in restaurants until the 20th century. What we know now as the traditional diner waitress uniform came about during the Great Depression, when the only luxury people often allowed themselves was a piece of pie at the corner diner. Because of this, there was a greater demand for female servers—as Jennifer Wright points out in her recent article on Eater, "restaurants were one of the few places still hiring, and respectable women joined men in search of jobs. Women were willing to work cheap, and diner owners found that a female staff could entice both male clients (who enjoyed having pretty women bringing them food) and female clients (who felt more comfortable among other women). The new workforce needed a uniform that was serviceable, attractive and respectable. Though there wasn't one definitely 'original' design, a pattern emerged among mass-produced uniforms. The white—often detachable—trim around the sleeve was attractive, but more importantly, it made the outfit reminiscent of those worn by ladies' maids (as did the little hat). Imagine a stereotypical French maid outfit: Chances are, you're picturing the same thing as a diner waitress uniform, but in black. The typical waitress uniform therefore needed to seem servile enough to make customers feel as though they were getting a little bit of luxurious treatment with their coffee and dessert."

(The John Dos Passos book Diana reads in the diner was published in 1937, just after the Great Depression. And the novel Mildred Pierce was published four years after.)

As outrageous as fashion trends are becoming as we enter this new decade on Mad Men, Diana's normal garb is a sensible throwback. And so is much of what Don wears, by the way. Which is what makes his decision to put on his suit to answer the door, and her remark about whether he sleeps in it, even funnier.

Good Housekeeping, May 1970
This is also an episode that brings us a woman dressed in a full man's suit for the first time (Peggy's plaid pantsuit and Joyce's blazer don't count). Pima's look is almost laughable to a modern audience, but it seems to be taken quite seriously by the people around her—her uniform conveys power, because it resembles a man's. She is mostly shot from below, so she appears stronger and taller than she is. There is nothing servile about her whatsoever. She takes what she wants, even if it means stealing from a nurse (another servile uniform). As I've mentioned earlier in this blog, this was a time when feminists often took fashion very literally—Annie Hall wasn't the only one dressing like this.

Speaking of fashion, Don encounters three different exes this episode, and each is overdressed for an appointment. Each found excitement with Don at one time, and each gave him her trust. And when Don didn't respect that trust, each ended up taking something from him.

For Betty, it was his children, on whom he looks back wistfully from the backdoor. For Sylvia, it was his dignity in front of his children (though Sally's catching them in the act was accidental). And for Megan, it's a million dollars (and all of his furniture—also accidental).

So Don is left at the end with a blank slate of a room and a blank slate of a woman.

But unlike his exes, Diana is on to him from the start. Each ex has told him she wants nothing from him, but Diana truly means it. And when you're wanting nothing, there's no reason to conduct any business. For Diana, Don is merely an escape from her personal hell. And even that is too expensive.

Good Housekeeping, May 1970
And while Don might recognize his hidden shame in Diana, her shame is self-generated—he was born into his. He didn't actively abandon a child, like she did. Rather, his childhood was so bad that he actively abandoned himself. Much like his own mother abandoned him at birth. He was born a bastard, the product of an affair. After his alcoholic father died, the woman who never really wanted to raise him anyway brought him along with her to a whore house, where he was defiled by the only people who offered him any sense of camaraderie: prostitutes.

This level of abuse is very difficult to undo. With each new romantic encounter, he is hoping the woman will be the one who loves him for who he is. But as long as he keeps attracting women who just want an escape, who want to be with this debonair, charming man, if only for one night, that healing can never occur. He will never reach the level of a trusting relationship necessary for him to feel whole.

And no matter how much wealth and prestige he accrues, there is a place in Don's mind that resembles Diana's dump of a studio apartment. It is a bare and dingy room where he put teenage Dick to rest, and he's been waiting to be let out ever since.

Until next time, "Good luck with your bright future."

"Reflections of My Life," by The Marmalade (May 1970)

The changing of sunlight to moonlight
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my eyes.
The greetings of people in trouble
Reflections of my life, oh, how they fill my mind.

All my sorrows, sad tomorrows
Take me back to my own home.
All my cryings (all my cryings), feel I'm dying, dying,
Take me back to my own home.

I'm changing, arranging, I'm changing,
I'm changing everything,
Ah, everything around me.
The world is a bad place, a bad place,
A terrible place to live, oh, but I don't wanna die.

All my sorrows, sad tomorrows
Take me back to my own home.
All my cryings (all my cryings), feel I'm dying, dying,
Take me back to my own home (oh, I'm going home).

All my sorrows, sad tomorrows
Take me back to my own home.
All my cryings (all my cryings), feel I'm dying, dying,
Take me back to my own home.

*I've added the phrase "most likely" to Harry's name because it's been pointed out to me that he still wears his wedding ring when he meets with Megan. Also, two reddit users (chaiceratops and Rept4r7) reminded me that though Harry said Jennifer was talking about divorce in "Waterloo," Weiner has never made it clear whether or not they went through with it.


Anonymous said...

Really love how you use the contemporary lyrics to show the feeling of the time period, really helps put all the actions in perspective, thanks for a great analysis!

Laura Carney said...

Thanks, Mike! I always try to find something in pop culture the characters were experiencing...Matthew Weiner has said he likes to draw on that the most. Our beliefs and feelings about things are so often affected by our environments.

I added links to videos in each song title, so you can listen to them, too.

Jules Aimé said...

Given that the pilot ended with the 1955 Band of Gold, I think it it would be kind of cute if the Finale were to end with the 1970 Band of Gold :-)

Coming from Quebec, I suspect the switching back and forth between French and English is just meant to be an honest representation of what Quebecois are like in real life. We all do that when we get together with our families. Some thoughts come out more naturally in French and others more naturally in English. The interesting thing is which messages are expressed in the public language (English) and which in the private language (French).

Laura Carney said...

Jules, nice observation! I'd forgotten about that original "Band of Gold." That was a great moment.

Yes, I agree about the switching back and forth—I know it's natural to do that. I meant to highlight that she seems to save her more "modern" opinions and thoughts for English. And her mother and sister do seem to speak in English less than she does, despite understanding it.

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