First, let me assure everybody that Easter worked out well. We ended up buying flowers for the ‘rents and visiting with them and then did the Nugget’s basket with her. It was a medium-sized circle of greetings, hugs and kisses (at least from the Nugget) and an all-around good time.
That’s the addendum to last week’s post on my anti-social ways. If someone tells me to be someplace at a certain time (okay, within a time parameter), I generally show up, suit up and even . . . have a good time. I know the ‘Publican has been ready to tear his remaining hairs out with my perversity on matters social. I say I hate sociability, I complain loudly and often, and I say “NO” to just about everything at the beginning.
Then I get over myself and go and have a good time. Or, if not a good time, I figure, hey, one day while I’m writing about this it’ll be a good vignette. (Ha! anyone who writes can always use even bad times as fodder.)
We got back in time for our Sunday evening ritual, pizza and television. A very exciting evening indeed. I was going to add “ice cream” to the list and many Sundays we’ve been doing this; last night, however, it was gelato, salted caramel Haagen Dazs for the ‘Publican and Breyers’ Tiramisu for me. Since I’m working on one pound less a week, I had a small bowl and he had the almost pint (Haagen Dazs has cut their ounces, those bastards!).
But the best part of the evening was “Mad Men.” We were early adopters and loyal viewers, so it only seems right to follow it to the end. I guess I never realized how few people watch the show, but unlike Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead (both shows that we watched and loved – and with the zombies, we still watch and love), when we talk to others, nobody ever knows anything about what’s going on with the show.
Mad Men is a show for baby boomers and even though we are, or were, a mighty demographic, we’re aging and, in a twist of irony, nobody cares what we watch, eat, drink, or buy anymore. Certainly not ad men! The demographic they want is younger than us now. It’s the Gens X & Y and even millenials they court.
I’m just about the same age as Sally Draper is on the show. I graduated from high school in 1975, so in 1969, I would have been in middle/junior high school. And although our lives are radically different in many ways, we have similar dads. Not that my dad was as handsome as Jon Hamm’s Donald Draper, but he was “the man in the gray flannel suit” of his era, just like Don Draper. So when I watch Mad Men, I think of my father and all the men of his generation.
Last night was an interesting show. In the last few seasons, we’ve been introduced to one, now two, black women secretaries. Their arrival has not been exactly with open arms, but it’s now 1969 and it’s time for the ad agency to get with the program. First, it’s interesting that no black men work there, only black women and I don’t think that’s accidental, because the positions they work in are clerical and ostensibly considered less prestigious.
The jobs for men would be 0n the creative side, the graphic designers and copywriters, or on the accounts side, the getting and keeping of business. At this point in history, accounts men are men who have pedigrees in WASP society (Bert Cooper, Roger Sterling, Kenneth Cosgrove, Pete Campbell, even Harry Crane) either by birth or by attendance at the right colleges, and are able to wine and dine the captains of industry who will be their clients, also men from WASP society primarily. There are no Irish, Italian or Jewish (let alone Puerto Rican or black) men or women doing account work at Sterling, Cooper. The only way a person of ethnicity, color or non-Protestant religion would make it in the advertising world would be through creative, but even there, it’s been a tough nut to crack. We were introduced to a gay man in Season one, Sal, who was also Italian, but he’s been gone awhile. Peggy Olsen, a woman, has made it through creative, and we have Michael Ginsburg and Stan Rizzo. Of course, our main man, Don Draper is a man without the right past (although with a very WASP name), or any past at all, and he is the head of creative.
So in 1969 it would be almost impossible for an African American man to be hired in this advertising agency in any position, although it’s probably only a few years away from one being a graphic artist or copywriter. And probably a decade before one will be an account executive.
Ironically for some women, it’s clear that being a secretary is not without any movement up the ladder. After all, we meet Peggy Olson in the first episode as she’s starting her first day working for Don Draper as his secretary. By the time we meet her now, she’s got her own office, has left the tutelage of Draper and then returned through a merger of two firms. She’s a lead copywriter and the creative genius behind many accounts. She’s come a long way, baby. (it’s implied in an earlier season that Peggy is responsible for the Virginia Slims’ tag line.)
And so, too, has Joan Holloway Harris. She’s an older version of the secretary who takes care of her boss in more ways than one, but triumphs through it all because she’s smart and is the consummate pragmatist. When 1960 dawns, she’s basically already the office manager as well as Roger Sterling’s on-again, off-again lover. Eventually she parlays herself into a partnership with the firm (although how she does this is really horrible at the time).
Joan’s now flexing her account executive muscles – in last week’s episode she schooled a marketing professor, and by the end of last night’s episode, she moved upstairs to her own office with the accounts men. One of her accounts is none other than Avon Cosmetics, which in 1968-69 was probably a pretty big coup.
No matter their gains, though, the women have to take a lot of crap to get where they are. And the two African American women have to take even more. Dawn, the first secretary who ends up working for, and being loyal to Don Draper, has proven herself a capable employee who breaks into the very white walls of Sterling Cooper. Shirley, the newcomer (you can tell this because she wears her hair in an Afro, where Dawn has relaxed hair – a difference between when they were hired and what was considered acceptable then) is working but she’s not as happy about it – she is getting married and it’s implied that her fiance would prefer her to not be working at all.
When a dozen red roses are on Shirley’s desk, Peggy’s reaction is that they are for her (even though the card is not in them . . .) without even asking Shirley if they are hers. When the truth comes to light, Peggy’s embarrassed but blames it on Shirley (hey, she’d been drinking in her office for awhile by then), saying that Shirley humiliated her because she didn’t immediately let her know, or let her know privately, and is flaunting her fiance status in front of her (uh, yeah, she’d been drinking for awhile). She demands Joan move Shirley off her desk.
And of course, Dawn who now works for Draper’s replacement but still fields Don’s office calls (and surreptitiously gives Don the dope by coming over to his apartment in the evening after work), has her own issues to contend with. Secretaries in those days were much more than just typists or message takers; they also would do many personal errands for their bosses (and some still do.) In this case, she’s off to buy her boss a bottle of perfume for his wife because it’s Valentine’s Day. And sure enough, while she’s gone, Draper’s daughter Sally just casually drops by, thinking she’ll find her dad at work. Ooops.
Don Draper hasn’t told any of his family, including his wife, that he’s basically been furloughed for who knows how long. He keeps the fiction that he’s still working because, as he tells Sally, he’s ashamed and doesn’t know what to do about it. The guys in the office are probably hoping he’ll just get another job and slink away, but it’s unclear what he’s going to do, even as he goes to lunch with a guy from another agency, for no reason other than social. Right.
So back to Dawn – her boss, the unimaginative and old school guy that he is – stomps off to Joan to demand that she be moved off his desk, too.
What’s clear to everybody at the agency is that neither black woman can be fired because of their skin color. For what it would mean to be the ad agency that just happened to fire it’s only two black employees on the same day. The optics of this are devastating to the firm. Plus Joan knows that they are valuable beyond the optics, because they’re good employees, even if neither of their own bosses seem to get this.
So she moves Dawn to the reception desk and then finds out that none other than Bert Cooper himself who is the big, big boss (played by Robert Morse who starred in Broadway’s “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”) just can’t have a black woman sitting at the reception desk where anybody coming off the elevator could see her.
Bert says this standing casually in Joan’s doorway, as if she ought to know this and no, he’s not thinking that Dawn be fired, of course not. As an aside, you know that Cooper would also not tolerate having an old woman, or a fat woman, or a less than attractive woman, or . . . a man (oh, horrors, a man in reception, what’s the world coming to!) at reception, either.
The ending scene in last night’s episode is a fitting one. As Joan has now moved upstairs, her last act as office manager is to replace herself . . . with Dawn. And as Dawn moves into her new, private office, she sits down at the desk and smiles.
I knew this wouldn’t be just any show watching the first episode. In it, Peggy goes to Joan’s doctor to get birth control pills, which in 1960 was a radical act. The pill is the single thing that set women more free from their biology than anything that came before it.
Which is why I love the show. For all its horror in showing us who we were, we also get to see how we have changed. Yes, the change feels glacial episode by episode, but from our perspective today, it’s pretty monumental, too.
P.S. to Mad Men watchers – yes, Sally Draper made her dad drinks when she was about six or seven. Gotta love the 1960’s.