Here is The Simpsons’ take on Mad Men
I also cried during the "The Carousel" pitch.
I agree with Janet and Kim that the show says a good deal about postmodernity, the ad agency being a perfect setting for such a project. The show itself is glossy and slick and hyperstylized — from the credit sequence to the mise-en-scene to the stylized speech affectations of a number of the characters — especially Pete and Campbell . (My favorite part of the parody here is Will Forte as Pete). "The Carousel" scene strikes me as a perfect synedoche for the show itself for the very reasons that Janet and Kim suggest.
Does not Mad Men say more about postmodernity than parody alone? Mad Men plunders the past and fetishizes the 1960s. Postmodernity is predicated on nostalgia - a longing for imagined times. Maybe this is why the slippage between parody and irony seems more vivid in Mad Men?
… And the poignancy of the Carousel sequence is representative of that postmodern project, and embedded right into the Mad Men text, in that it is selling dreams and visions of a time that never was but imagined to be.
Hi David, thanks for the post. At first blush it seems the essence of Matt Weiner’s original idea is still intact, where the protagonist walks into the office with his back to us, puts his briefcase down, and a jump involving him happens. As is evident by an earlier post of mine, I wondered how he got out of the window, which is a way for Weiner and the animators to soften the act, by leaving vague the intentions of the black silhouetted man. There was a fringe reaction to the jumpers on 9/11 that condemned them for what was interpreted as their committing suicide, despite the fact that these poor souls were confronted with the choice of being burned alive or attempting to escape to an impossible fate seventy-to-one hundred and ten floors below them. Similarly, Weiner may have never consciously intended to evoke 9/11, but as that old saw of literary theory— the intentional fallacy— suggests, artists (like all of us) are only consciously aware of so much of what we communicate (which doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always be on guard against reading too much into things). In a similar vein, after reading Don DeLillo’s terrific novel, Falling Man, which features a performance artist who makes unexpected post-9/11 jumps around the New York metropolitan area with the use of a bungee cord, I read an interview with DeLillo that said he was unaware of Richard Drew’s photograph until someone pointed it out to him after reading his manuscript. Likewise, when I finally caught up with Henry Singer’s 9/11: The Falling Man, I couldn’t help but see the graphic and tonal similarities to Mad Men’s opening credit sequence. Most likely, Weiner and Singer were unaware of each other’s work at the time each produced 9/11: The Falling Man and Mad Men, respectively, but 9/11 is in the air. And as you and I have talked about earlier at the Sopranos conference last May, the first season of Mad Men was produced by essentially the same New York-based creative team and crew that worked on The Sopranos, who were on hiatus between season six, part one and season six, part two of that series. Just as there is a 9/11 sensibility that infuses The Sopranos after season three, I think there is an unmistakable 9/11 awareness that impacts much of Mad Men as well.
Allison’s suggestive and incisive post reminds me that Weiner refers to Mad Men in one of the "making of" documentaries as a "time machine," a metaphor Don Draper himself takes up in his pitch for the Kodak Carousel.
"The past is as open to development as the future," the historian John Merloo once noted, and Mad Men and Allison’s revealing trip down memory lane demonstrated why that observation is as true for critical reflection as it is for narrative.
A stunningly observant post from Jeremy!
BTW: I learned from John Ott’s Health and Light that fluorescent lighting produces a kind of unreality because, like the "panoramic sleights" of the movies, it make use of our persistence of vision. The gas in the tube is sparked on a cycle adjusted to the human mind’s ability to perceive difference. Movies are really slide shows that we can’t perceive fast enough to see as they are. In a room with fluorescent lighting, the room is actually dark part of the time, but we don’t detect the lack of illumination because our brains carry the image of the lit room over the dark hiatus. Much of Mad Men transpires in fluorescent unreality.
As they always do, Janet and Kim remind us with their post how in complex tele-verses women break the narrative glass ceiling and demand our attention.
At the end of 2008 Television Without Pity offered a slide show review of "Anticipated TV Moments That Actually Paid Off," and it says a lot about the state of contemporary television that the top three included the generically worlds apart moving of The Island on Lost and Peggy’s smack down of Pete on Mad Men.
At the very end of Six Feet Under, the five season story turned out to be Claire’s. Two seasons in, Mad Men is already looking more and more to be Peggy’s story.
Wonderfully insightful post Gary, and the comments are fascinating. I wonder what it means that this was not the original conception for the title sequence, as Weiner reveals in an interview in Written By (a WGA publication):
AMC was uncomfortable with the idea that I was originally going to do. In live action, this man driving into the city, and then going up into his office, and then walking past his secretary, and we just see the back of his head as he walked into the office, and put his briefcase down, and opened the window, and he jumped out. Then you see this blur coming towards you, and it would say Mad Men. And they were like, "Uh… okay." And then I said, "Well, you know, I can do it cheaper." And they go, "It’s not about the money."
Allison, great post and wonderful clip. My eyes nearly popped out of my head at this narrative development, something I had not seen coming but conversely something that makes perfect sense of Don’s character and why he is so ‘closed’.
It reminds me of how ER’s Kovac made perfect sense in the Congo and yet seemed slightly out of synch in the US. Of course we knew Kovac’s Croatian story and we can only guess at the past that Don Draper is hiding. As we said before, we are lagging behind the US by a few episodes so this revelation is a bolt out of the blue for us having just left Don by the pool in Los Angeles.
But most of all I loved your last line:’But the show also unearths parts of the historical past that had been forgotten, and in doing so perhaps stumbled upon an appropriate referent in the Korean War veteran to symbolize the conflicted masculinity of Don Draper’. How true and how poignant
Given that in the UK we have just left Don sitting alone by the pool in California while his suitcase turns up home alone, this narrative denouement is quite a turnaround. Wow!
Following on from everyone else, identifying our hero from the forgotten generation with a forgotten war has been an extremely enlightening intervention. (From a European perspective, Don has, for me at least, always carried some of the filmic DNA of the European existentialist hero - like Jean-Paul Belmondo, from A bout de souffle or Pierrot le fou, of the fatherless antiheroes of New German Cinema, particularly Wim Wenders’ aimless wanderers. This representational type, and one fascinated with Americana, was forged from a modernity predicated on a violent dismantling of the old order, on cultural trauma and processes of amnesia, and on radical shifts in visual and intellectual perception. Where the familiar is made strange.)
As with previous posts, Allison reminds me of how trauma erupts in and through the Mad Men text.