Continuing the thread regarding the credit sequence’s allusionism to Hitchcock, I’d like to add to the Curator’s reference to "Saul Bass’s title work from Vertigo (the optical disorientation)."
Although not actually a part of Vertigo’s credit sequence, Scottie Ferguson’s nightmare scene later in the film shows a black, silhouetted male figure falling into the background space of the image very much akin to the first, fleeting shot of the "falling man" in Mad Men’s opening.
Connecting that falling cardboard cutout to the 9/11 leaper(s) was a stroke of genius on the part of Gary Edgerton. Another reference might be to the semi-mythical Wall Street investors who jumped from their office buildings following the stock market crash in 1929.(Tall tales about panicked speculators leaping to their deaths have become part of the popular lore about the Great Crash. But although jumping from bridges or buildings was the second-most-popular form of suicide in New York between 1921 and 1931, the "crash-related jumping epidemic" is just a myth. Between Black Thursday and the end of 1929, only four of the 100 suicides and suicide attempts reported in the New York Times were plunges linked to the crash, and only two took place on Wall Street.)
Nonetheless, the Mad Men credit scene (and the show itself) creates a semi-mythical time and space that absorbs many iconic social myths, so all of these cultural-media images are appropriate fodder for a postmodernist TV show.
This is an addendum to our last comment, but I wanted to thank Gary for reminding us how Mad Men works as a post-9/11 text - about cultural trauma, about memory, about forgetfulness. While I agree with Frank, about how the series plunders past iconic images, I have just finished reading Susan Faludi’s highly provocative thesis on ‘What 9/11 revealed about America’. From the beginning Mad Men infuriated/fascinated us with its hideously beautiful portrayal of women, but isn’t that the point. Building on Faludi’s thesis, about how the terrorist attacks tapped into a much broader context of America’s experience of power and vulnerability, doesn’t Mad Men do the same. As the ad man falls passed ‘restortation’ images of ‘family’, ‘marriage’ and ‘femininity’ he has helped to create, do they not in turn prove to be his downfall. Thanks to Gary’s smart and provocative posting one realises what a powerfully original and crucial cultural product Mad Men will prove to be.
Thanks everyone for some really thoughtful and thought-provoking contributions. We are still waiting for the end of season two over here in Britain - and, as usual, are behind in narrative events. We can’t wait to see what happens in the light of your hints!
This has really focused us on our chapter for Gary’s forthcoming book and all your contributions have given us plenty to talk about - no silence for Kim and Janet (unlike Peggy and Joan).
Janet and Kim:
I enjoyed your post, especially your comment:
At episode end both Joan and Peggy shed their feminine performance. Joan dismantles her constructed-ness while Peggy washes hers away. Both contemplate the collateral damage of narrative events.
I had been struck with Joan’s performance of femininity. Through most of the first season, she embraces her to-be-looked-at-ness. (In the second season, however, it leads to violence against her.) Peggy struggles to evade feminine performance, but finds herself trafficking in it in order to sell products. They are both, as you suggest, damaged by efforts to sustain feminine ideals.
I was also struck by Joan’s mobility in season one. She moves, undulates, through the secretarial space. Peggy, in contrast, is stuck at a desk, virtually chained to it until she makes her move up through the ranks. In the scene below, Joan moves to Peggy’s desk and lectures her about the necessity to accept to-be-looked-at-ness.
Delighted to see an informed discussion about credit sequences - one of my favourite topics. That said, I’m slightly troubled by the fact that the first half of the video is not attributed to its original source (ie Henry Singer’s 9/11: The Falling Man, from the CBC’s Passionate Eye documentary series) - a film Gary actually mentions in his short article. I’m sure visitors like me could be forgiven for thinking we’re actually watching a video made and narrated by Gary (Which would have been neat!).
Janet and Kim—great clip and post—thank you. Viewers have shared in Peggy’s struggles, and the petty humiliations she’s had to frequently endure, but this is one of the first times that we’ve seen how vulnerable Joan is. And we’ll see it again—more brutally—with the actions of her new fiancé later in season two. In some ways, it seems that Peggy’s naiveté affords her more freedom to create new alternative responses (however tentative) as she goes along (such as sending the priest on his way), while Joan is doubly trapped in her strategy ‘to be looked at,’expending so much effort enacting the ‘Sex and the Single Girl’ model. She seems genuinely surprised by being put back in her place by hapless Harry Crane. Plus Joan and Peggy’s differing reactions to the male dominated world of Sterling Cooper and Mad Men is an obvious source of friction between them, instead of a bond. On the surface at least, Joan seems more trapped than Peggy despite her stylish bravado, although the narrative (and 20-20 hindsight) hints that change may soon be on the way.
It’s also worth taking a look at an interview with title designers Mark Gardner and Steve Fuller of Imaginary Forces at http://blogs.amctv.com/mad-men/2008/03/qa-title-design.php
Here they discuss the influence of Anatomy of a Murder on silhouette design, as well as the titles to Casino, which also features an extended falling man sequence designed by Saul Bass, shaped through a series of neon overlays of Las Vegas and an eventual screen fill of flames. The shared themes here, between hyper-commercialism and post-war male identity also provide a neat counterpoint to some of Mad Men’s elements.
Also check out the Imaginary Force website for some great reel work, including another great institutional cut-up montage for Dollhouse, and some interesting cityscape work for Gossip Girl and montages for Southland.
great post janet! those are interesting scene selections as well.
i agree with your foucauldian reading of the show especially since it is interesting to see how the show complicates any easy binary reading of the world of advertising at this historical moment.
it is very interesting how that great slogan of the feminist era that is just round the corner, the "personal is political" is rewritten here as the "personal is capital". here are some examples …
peggy’s rise to power (which i read somewhere corresponds to actual women’s rise in advertising during these years - though i am no expert) is enabled through this mining of the personal/intimate/domestic for the making of ads. her interventions including the first, "mark your man" lipstick campaign - always brings sentiment (that terrain of womanliness supposedly) to the forefront. thus also the airline ad with the little boy etc.
don learns the lesson well from peggy — recall how season 1 ends with him getting an idea for the carousel ad by looking through photos of his own family. it is very interesting how here again he turns the private memories into a product quite seamlessly and this enables allows him to return home and reconcile with his family.
the entry of the feminine and the intimate into public life which we might see as the great intervention of the 60s is given a very complex reading by this show as the personal enters the political domain through the channels of capital - the personal sells commodities, incites desires.
as such, it resembles for me what marx calls real (as opposed to formal) subsumption where the logic of commodities entirely penetrates all aspects of life OR perhaps what foucault calls biopolitics?
i have also been struck by how don d, as an outsider to the WASP elite culture of Madison avenue, performs a form of "intersectional" politics - allied and sympathetic towards other outsiders - women especially. it is also interesting to align his masquerade to the "double consciousness" and the "feminine mystique" under which women, people of color survived. not only does the show repeatedly, not only through don but all the other male figures show how masculinity is a difficult burden to bear (the show seems to feature multiple male hysterics), but it also aligns its hero to the coming communities –- women, people of color etc.
thanks for a provocative post,
Janet and Kim, these clips are wonderful. The parallels between Peggy and Joan are so crucial. As established in the first season, Peggy and Joan stand out in the world of Sterling Cooper. While the other women in the office cry in bathroom and indulge the men’s abusive behavior with a smile, Peggy and Joan have more agency — Joan because she knows how much she is desired, Peggy because she refuses to be defined by her desirability.
In the second season, I think something of a reversal happens. Joan, who had been dismissive of Peggy’s aspirations in the first season, realizes she has some of her own. As the first part of this clip shows so well, Joan’s desirability can work well with her intellect; the client likes both what she says and how she says it, and the hurt that washes over her face when Harry introduces her to Dan affirms just how important to Joan it was to be not only seen but listened to. In contrast, Peggy actually does advance professionally at Sterling Cooper and is rewarded for her ambition and even assertiveness. It is her personal life that is a mess, from the sister who judges and resents her to this priest who treats her like a little girl, in some ways undermining the success and respect that she has begun to earn from her colleagues. Importantly, as the exchange she has with Pete in the final episode makes so clear, it is a success predicated on rejecting the image of womanhood that she peddles as a copy writer at Sterling Cooper.
Thanks to Gary for his excellent post and to the respondents; I’d simply follow up Jeremy’s observation and point out that, when the sequence concludes, all the trappings of professional power and status have disappeared, and our figure stares at a blank slate (except for the title). So, although the spatial trajectory is downward, the 30 seconds also manage to convey a narrative arc in which the signifiers of identity will be stripped away, an archetypal fall that seems borne out by Don’s travails in the second season. The screen is ready for new projection.