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      A donor has generously offered to match all donations, up to a total of $1,000 or till Friday midnight (the end of the fundraiser.) When we’ve reached the total, if we do before the end, I’ll put up a post, subject to vagaries of being awake and at a computer. My sincere thanks to this […]
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“She’s doing it the way she wants to do it”: Abramson vs Mad Men

Peggy Olson questions herself

Woot!  Talk about timely.  Matt Weiner batted one out of the park last night with Mad Men.  He encapsulated in one episode what many woman go through in the working world every day.  Quick summary: Peggy Olson is the creative for an ad for Burger Chef.  Through a series of unfortunate events, Don, her former boss, now works for her.  Pete, the sales guy, says that when it comes time to give the presentation to the client, he thinks Don should give the presentation, not Peggy.  That’s because Don is the voice of authority, Peggy brings the emotion.  She’s the woman and therefore the Mom voice.

Fans who have followed this show since the beginning must have snorted their G&T through their noses at that statement.  Peggy deliberately rejected motherhood because she “wanted other things”.  But it’s not the motherhood/emotional part of Pete’s stupid assessment that’s important.  It’s that Peggy is NOT the voice of authority, even though she’s capable, bright and in charge of the strategy.

This is what Jill Abramson and other powerful women have been facing.  No matter what their title says, they are ultimately not the voices of authority.  Some dude is.  In Abramson’s case, it was her publisher.  Sulzberger has recently come out saying that it wasn’t gender that forced Abramson out but her management style.  Well, of course!  She was probably just crazy enough to believe that when it came to management decisions, she would get the final say because she was the executive editor.  Instead, I’m guessing that every decision she made was questioned.  If everything was going well, it was because she had talented people working for her.  If a decision went wrong, it was a zillion times worse because she was the agent who made it happen.

Hey, Pinch or Punch, or whatever your silly nickname is, we have seen this play before.  Her authority is only relevant when it turns out wrong.  If everything is going right, she doesn’t get any credit at all.  How many times have I been to presentations where a guy talks and he’s given praise and helpful suggestions.  He even gets to finish.  But when a woman gets up to talk, it’s perfectly Ok to talk over her, force her to explicitly detail every decision and calculation, and then point out the flaws bit by bit until the end can’t come too quickly, if she’s allowed to finish at all.  I’ve even seen male underlings do the dirty work of tearing into a female rival’s work with the ferocity of a Rottweiler while the rest of us sat in stunned silence.  It’s rude, vicious and serves to strip a woman of all authority.  She can’t help but question herself.  What crime did she commit to merit such a public dressing down?  There’s no reason for it except competition.  And they do it because it works.

So, yeah, it’s very simple to make every management failure to look like the biggest mistake in the world if you train enough eyes on it, don’t hold back on the disrespectful criticism and don’t stop the nasty criticism once it starts.  Men are allowed to make mistake after mistake.  Their mistakes don’t count unless the company or top brass is embarrassed, like Howell Raines embarrassed the NYTimes by hiring and promoting Jayson Blair.  But a woman is NEVER allowed to make mistakes because her authority is already so shaky that anything that goes wrong doesn’t look like a learning experience but a catastrophic failure.   That’s a perfect way to inhibit creativity.  Just drop a house on someone the minute they take a risk and get it wrong.

But back to Peggy and Don.  Don was her mentor.  Yes, yes, this is fiction.  But in last night’s episode, he turns up at her office and gives her, not the answer to ad, but something far more important.  He helped her believe in herself and her instincts again.  He gave her the support she needed.  In the last scene, she has the confidence to go on and do it her way.

Now, it’s just a TV show, fergawdssakes, but come on, guys, we’re fricking half the population and it’s the twenty first century already.  Mentor your female colleagues and when the challenges to her authority start flying (and they will), stand up for them.  Is that so much to ask?  Otherwise, you might end up with this guy:

Obama Arrives In New York

 

Instead of this woman (who everyone now seems to want desperately):

 

Yeah, that went well.

*********************************************************

Speaking of Hillary, now that Tim Geithner is out with his book featuring himself as the savior of the global financial system while the rest of us, you know, suffer in the name of shareholder value, let’s look back to the time when one of the presidential candidates proposed saving the homeowners (as authors Atif Mian and Amir Sufi assert was a missed opportunity):

 

So there you have it, folks.  We saved the banks but doomed the economy and many unemployed peoples’ careers due to what may turn out to be an insufficient number of Penis Years.

Now, I realize that there are going to be some bloggers on the left that will roll their eyes and laugh and insist that it was a lot more complicated than that.   I will not deny that many of them were victims of a stellar campaign that convinced them to vote against their own best interests and that campaign should be a textbook case of a social psychology experiment in situational influence that we should all study.  But when it comes right down to it, penis years had a lot to do with it.  We are condemned to suffer by a bunch of dicks.

 

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Mad Men: Don Draper meets the Button Moulder (as do we all)

IBM computer- 1969

We’re heading into the final innings of Mad Men.  This season is the first of two parts of the finale.  I’m still convinced that Matt Weiner is using Henrik Ibsen’s plays as the foundation of the series.  (plus there was a dead giveaway in season one when either Joan or Peggy mentions Ibsen in passing) You can read more about that connection in one of my earlier posts on Mad Men.

Matt Weiner is a genius.  There are so many levels of Mad Men.  You choose your comfort zone.  Are you only interested in who that sexy cad, Don Draper, is bedding now?  Is your most memorable moment the one where a Guy walks into an ad agency only to lose a foot to a secretary on a riding lawn mower or the one where Miss Blankenship dies at her desk and has to be carried away carefully to avoid the attention of the attendees in a high level meeting going on in the nearby glass walled conference room?  Maybe you’re following the feminist track with Peggy, Joan and Betty.  But at the heart of the series are at least three well known plays by Ibsen: A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler and, most significantly, Peer Gynt, played by Don Draper himself.

I have a few revisions to make to my previous post.  It’s now clear that the role of Solveig from the play Peer Gynt will now be played by Peggy.  This happened definitively several seasons ago in the episode The Suitcase when Don’s friend in California, Anna Draper, dies from cancer and appears to Don as a ghost, suitcase in hand.  At that moment, he has his head in Peggy’s lap after Peggy has stayed up with him all night and has now seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Don Draper’s character.  No one else in the series understands Don Draper as well as Peggy does. His name is unimportant.  She knows his true identity. And to top it all off, Matt frequently shows her in the same shot with a picture that resembles a rising sun in the creative department’s lounge (ex-lounge, but we’ll get to that in a minute).  The symbolism is undeniable and unsubtle.  It also eliminates Betty Draper as Solveig.  Betty is the rich farmer’s daughter who Peer abducts but later finds boring.

Playing the role of Eilert Lovborg, the man who squandered his brilliance on orgies and substance abuse, is Roger Sterling.  He still has a chance to redeem himself.  Betty Draper Francis is reprising her role as Hedda Gabler.  She married a boring but nice guy and seems to be struggling with narcissistic personality disorder.  But enough of that.  Let’s move on to Peer.

Last night, Don met the button moulder in the form of a computer technician who’s installing an IBM computer with an extended lease in what used to be the creative department’s work area/lounge.  In Peer Gynt, the character of the button moulder plays a sort of servant of Death.  It’s his job to melt down the souls of those who are about to die.  The button moulder doesn’t melt the notorious or the saintly.  He melts the ordinary into a great mass.  A person who has never done anything notable or outstanding just gets get added to the melting pot and gets subsumed, forgotten over time, becomes so indistinct as to become nonexistent.  What better metaphor in the modern era for the button moulder than a computer?  I mean, have you tried to get through an HR filter these days?  Even the most accomplished person has a hard time.  To stand out in 2014, you need to be a criminal on Wall Street or Edward Snowden.

So this is how the creative dies, not with a bang but a keystroke.

 

Post in a hurry

Weather here in Pittsburgh is right up there with Edinburgh, Scotland this spring.  The forsythia still have yellow flowers on them.  The magnolia tree was in full bloom when we got a hard, hard frost a couple of weeks ago.  That turned all of the blossoms brown.  That same frost killed the flowers in my planter.  Don’t you love to spend money on plants to watch them die?

Lovely.

Cate Blanchett as Hedda Gabler

I noticed that someone was reading my Mad Men post from a couple of years ago.  I still stand by the Ibsen connection but I have a couple of revisions, as well as some theories about a secondary theme on the submission of the creative forces in business to the forces of convention and money.  Heads up: it doesn’t end well for the creative types.  But if you’re wondering how it is Americans celebrate the MBAs and their values to the detriment of everyone else, Matt Weiner may have an idea about how that happened.  I’ll try to map that out later.

Betty Draper as Hedda Gabler

In the meantime, what is the real world consequence of the defeat of the creative?  We may be about to find out when it comes to infectious diseases.  The NYTimes reported yesterday on the first case of MERS in the US.  MERS is a respiratory disease that is related to SARS.  It has a lethality rate of around 30%.  That’s scary high.  It doesn’t mean that MERS is going to take off like the pneumonic plague but I’m betting that fellow passengers on the flight with patient zero are sweating buckets right now.

MERS is a viral infection but resistant bacterial infections are the ones to really worry about.  Viral infections require vaccines and they’re trickier to treat once you get an infection.  For example, what do you take if you get the flu or ebola?  Cat’s out of the bag at that point.  You don’t have a lot of options but to wait it out and hope your immune system kicks in before you die. But we know how to make antibiotics.  We just aren’t making a lot of new ones these days.  Those kinds of drugs aren’t profitable because patients don’t take them for long periods of time so the shareholders aren’t getting a high enough return on investment.  The antibiotic projects get dumped from the portfolio in favor of cancer drugs and orphan disease drugs.  Maybe that’s reassuring to the cancer patients out there but how does it feel to be the shareholders’ cash cows?  And what about the patients with resistant infections, psychiatric illnesses and other illnesses that are difficult and expensive to discover drugs to treat?

In the meantime, the creative types are busily writing their resumes in the wake of another M&A announcement.  That’s the way the world works these days.  The research divisions are viewed as unpredictable and expensive weights on the bottom line.  The hardworking creative geniuses are at the mercy of the bean counters and MBAs.

And so are the rest of us.

Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away

I go to a Mad Men blog these days to chill out from politics.  If you follow Mad Men, you know that Betty Draper found out who her husband really is and that, added to all of the other emotional insults she’s taken over the years, has forced her to come to some decisions in her life.  The first is that she doesn’t love him anymore.   She’s been flirting with a Republican political operative (back in the days when there was such a thing as a liberal Republican) but she rebuffs him in his office when he wants to boff her on his sofa.  It’s tawdry, she says.  And she walks away.  Two episodes later, he proposes to her.  He still hasn’t slept with her.

One of the commenters at Basket of Kisses says that Betty is using a classic negotiation technique: she comes to the table prepared to walk away from it.  There is a line she isn’t willing to cross.  (We’ve seen Betty do tawdry so we know she can.  It’s just that her other little fling didn’t have any high stakes attached to it.)  When it comes to the rest of her life, Betty is being very choosey.

Last year, we were hotly criticized for not jumping on the Obama bandwagon.  We were called every name in the book.  We were told we were jeopardizing the lives of other women because we wouldn’t budge even in the face of Deomcratic scare tactics when it came to abortion.  Some of this was because we doubted the sincerity of a party that scrubbed all references of reproductive rights from most of their candidate’s websites.  But mostly it was because there was a line we were not prepared to cross.  We were not going to let the Democratic party benefit from our votes when we knew they had disenfranchised many of us during the primaries.  We were not going to let the party take our votes for granted.  If they wanted them, they needed to give us something first.  They didn’t and we didn’t.  We walked away.

In retrospect, I think that was a good move on our part.  It revealed the Democratic party for what it really was.  They were mean and nasty to us.  They called us “bitter knitters”.  We were old, uneducated women.  We were racists.  Jon Favreau sent us an FU postcard.  For awhile there, before the economy tanked, they were very worried that we would actually make a difference.  There is power in walking away.

I blame the party for depriving my friends of the pure joy of seeing the first African-American elected as president of the United States of America.  I watched a sea of elation in Bryant Park in Chicago on a TV in a little bar in Manhattan and suddenly, I was one with that crowd.  I was filled with joy and exhileration.  But no one around me was celebrating.  The women I was with saw themselves as roadkill on the way to Obama’s victory.

But we walked away.  And now we have been vindicated.  They really were the awful, big business compromised, evangelical voter toe suckers and all around unprincipled players we thought they were.  The might have run us over but at least we didn’t hop into bed with them.

The rest of the left blogosphere has a choice.  They can continue to be fucked over by these assholes or they can preserve the rest of their dignity and walk away.  The road to rehabilitation starts by ripping up your party card and mailing it to Donna Brazile.  Then, join the rest of us.  We’re the third party.  We’re the rapidly growing group of voters in every state that designates themselves as unaffiliated.  We’re the potential 30% of elected female officials who will change this country.  We’re the people who don’t have to hold our elected officials accountable anymore because we are through dealing with them. And I think we have finally achieved the critical mass to become our own third party.

Just walk away.


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Mad Men: Three Ibsen Plays

Matt Weiner in a former life

Dramatic Literature was my first English credit at college and I remember thinking that it was really fun but totally useless.  When was I ever going to use it?  Apparently, it was a concept waiting for an application.

Decades later, Matt Weiner created Mad Men.  I started watching Mad Men in the second season, just before the episode The Mountain King.  It took me a few days to catch up (continuously down loading from iTunes).  And then I saw the method in his Madness.  Weiner is recreating at least three plays by Henrik Ibsen.  Here is RD’s Ibsen Theory of Mad Men:

Ibsen play #1: Don Draper is Peer Gynt

Run away! Run away!

Peer Gynt is an adventurous dreamer.  He is a creative and gifted storyteller.  But his whole life is one of avoidance.  Early on in the play, he runs off with the rich farmer’s daughter, but then dumps her and becomes an outlaw.  There is a beautiful young woman named Solveig who encounters Peer throughout the play.  Peer’s adventures take him to the home of the Mountain King, a troll,  where he engages in an existential discussion about what separates man from troll.  The Mountain King tells him that man says, “To thy self be true” while trolls say, “Be true to yourself-ish”.  Peer meets a Green Woman who turns out to be the Mountain King’s daughter.  She’s beautiful on the outside but really a troll under her skirts.  They have some kind of relationship.  She says she’s pregnant, he says he never touched her. He returns home and finds Solveig waiting for him.  She says she knows all about who and what he is and she is willing to stay with him warts and all.  Peer welcomes her into the house he built for them.  They are happy for about a split second because the Green Woman shows up dragging a crippled child with her.  The child is the product of their illicit affair.  Peer denies this but the Green Woman curses him and says that the evidence of Peer’s infidelity will always come between him and Solveig.  Peer decides to run away.  He has more adventures, wins and loses fortunes, is pressured to sign some tricky contracts, engages in some shady and disreputable business careers (advertising, anyone?) and in the end is forced to confront his life and whether he has been true to himself.

Ok, I don’t think there is any question that Don Draper/Dick Whitman is the Peer Gynt storyline.  If you’ve been following the show, you’ll see the existential struggle as the main event.  Who is Don Draper?  What kind of man is he?  But the current season focuses on his relationship with Solveig and the Green Woman or Betty and Suzanne.  Betty is the idealized woman to Don.  She is beautiful, sophisticated and pure.  He feels most sexually attracted to her when she pretends to be someone else, as in her flirtation with him when they went to Rome together in the episode Souvenir.  Otherwise, Betty is the mother figure to Don and therefore untouchable, which is frustrating and confounding Betty.

In the last couple of episodes, Betty finds out Don’s true identity and confronts him.  Realizing that divorcing him without clear proof of infidelity might leave her penniless and force her to give up her children, Betty appears to have decided to accept Don/Dick.  The mysterious Don Draper is suddenly starting to make sense to her.   The last few moments of the last episode are the most touching of the series.  Don wakes up after his confession, not knowing what to expect from his wife or life.  She stands in the kitchen, calm, clear eyed and less tense than we’ve ever seen her.  She asks him if she can get him something for breakfast.  He answers no, they look at each other knowingly, he gently touches her cheek but does not kiss her.  She greets him at the end of the day in the same manner, offers him the rest of her hot dog and they go trick or treating with their children.  This is as good as it gets as far as marital bliss.  It is a simple tableau of coming home to warmth and acceptance. They start fresh from this point.

BUT, the Green Woman is still out there.  In Peer Gynt, the Green Woman seems to symbolize eroticism and infidelity.  We’ve seen Don’s struggle with both.  It’s a fight he often loses.  Usually, Don keeps his little forays in tight little compartments.  He doesn’t boff the secretaries and he doesn’t covet his neighbor’s wife.  This time is different.  Suzanne is his daughter’s former teacher.  Early on, she asks him if he really wants to dally so close to home.  Don’s having some issues at work and feels under pressure to sign a contract (ding!, ding!, ding!) and he gives into his attraction to her.  He first sees Suzanne dancing under a Maypole, a symbol of nature and fertility.  But each encounter after that is darker, shadowed.  The sun is eclipsed, he meets her running in the wee small hours of the night, he visits her in her dark, poorly lit over-the-garage apartment.  Could it be that all this darkness is obscuring Suzanne’s true nature?  Does the darkness allow him to touch the animal, erotic nature at the core of the sexual experience?  We can only speculate.  Don appears to see something about Suzanne that eludes the rest of us.

However, one thing is certain.  Suzanne is getting closer to her target.  The boundary between Don’s erotic world and the home that he is trying to protect is being breached.  The Green Woman is moving from public sphere- the school, to neighborhood -as a nocturnal runner, to Don’s public image- encountering him on his morning commute on the train, to right outside his house- when he leaves her in his car to go in to get some clothes for their rendezvous in Connecticut.  There are two episodes left for her to finally physically come between Don and Betty.  The season’s ending is going to coincide with the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Weiner says that he will not focus on the assassination.  That territory has been covered. (Update:  He lied.  I guess it was unavoidable.  Nevertheless, he’s gotten it out of the way, leaving the last episode open for the final confrontation.)   But the parallels between the end of Camelot, that perfect tableau of domestic bliss, and the end of the Draper’s marriage are pretty clear.  Peer and Solveig are going to be separated.  They won’t get back together for a long time.

Ibsen Play #2: A Doll’s House or Betty is Nora.

What *do* women want?

Nora Helmer is a woman who has it all.  Three children, a well respected husband, Torvald, and soon the financial security that will allow her the kind of lifestyle her family has waited a decade to enjoy.  Early in the marriage when she was pregnant with her first child, her husband’s doctor tells her that Torvald will die from consumption if he does not spend time in a warmer, drier climate.  Because they are poor, and because her father is dying (or recently dead), Nora forges her father’s signature on a promisory note from a disreputable lawyer.  Women do not have the right to take out loans in their own names so she has broken the law.  But she reasons that she has done this for a noble cause and that if Torvald ever finds out, he will come to forgive her.  After Torvald’s recovery, Nora secretly takes on work in order to pay off the lawyer.  She is almost finished paying back the loan when Torvald is made manager of the bank where the lawyer now works.  Torvald vows to fire the lawyer because of the lawyer’s past transgressions.  Torvald’s tragic flaw is his intense preoccupation with appearances and propriety.  He doesn’t want the lawyer’s past blotting his own reputation.  Torvald also treats his wife as a child.  She is his lark, his little squirrel, his little wife, play acting as a grown up.  When Torvald finds out about the loan, he is immediately concerned with his own reputation and sets about disciplining his wife.  He forbids her from raising her own children.  She finally comes to realize that she has been living in a dream world.  She has been a doll in her father’s and then her husband’s houses.  She has no identity or rights except that which they have given her.  She decides that she is incapable of loving her husband or raising her children because this was not freely her choice.  She decides to leave her family in order to exercise her free will and become the person she is meant to be.

Betty Draper, nee Hofstadt, is a woman trapped by convention.  She is a beautiful, well educated, poised, pampered suburban housewife.  She is also bored out of her gourd.  A couple of episodes ago, we found out that Betty was an anthropology major at Bryn Mawr and she says she never uses it.  But we have seen Betty paying very close attention to the social confines of her world and have even witnessed her knowledge of human nature to manipulate her friends into cheating.   Betty may not be the wittiest person in the world and her emotional restraint, something she blames on her Nordic heritage, makes her appear cold and humorless.  But Betty knows that something isn’t right with the constructed environment in which she lives, which strips all agency from her and other housewives and infantilizes them.  Betty reads.  We’ve caught her reading Ship of Fools, The Great Gatsby and The Group.  It’s only a matter of time before she reads The Feminine Mystique.

Throughout this season, we have seen Betty’s own struggle with identity.  She has dreams of her mother telling her to be happy with what she has and to keep her mouth shut.  But Betty longs for an emotional connection with her husband and an intellectual connection with the rest of the world.  She is conflicted about the birth of her third child (there is some overlap here with Hedda Gabler, see below).  She’s depressed.  She snaps out at her children and can’t connect with her daughter Sally, who shows some evidence of misbehavior due to neglect. Unlike Nora, Betty’s problem is not necessarily that her husband is infantilizing her, although he does make a big deal about “showing her off” as the beautiful trophy wife she is.  It is the culture of the early, pre-sexual revolution 60’s that is hemming Betty in.  It is the obstetrician who tells her she is pregnant and then when he sees she is unhappy about it tells her to let her husband take on the burden of worrying.  It is the small town atmosphere that insists that her conduct remain above reproach.  It is the hospital where she goes to deliver that straps her down during labor and administers drugs to her without her consent.  It is the lawyer who tells her she doesn’t have the right to divorce in New York state unless she can prove conclusively that her husband is an adulterer.  It is the whole construct of the 60’s American experience that has defined the rigid confines of the box she is in, one that she entered into willingly, trained by her mother and her social caste, and which she finds to be artificial and empty.

She has been flirting with Henry, a Republican political operative.  But instead of giving into Betty’s desire to be swept away and rescued, Henry stands firm and tells Betty that she will have to come to him of her own free will.  She will have to decide if a relationship with Henry is what she wants and if she is willing to break with convention to have it.  She is also confronted with her role in Don’s life when she discovers his true identity.  She wants to confront him immediately but he eludes her.  When she has a chance to talk to him, he interrupts her anger and tells her to get ready for a dinner where he is to be honored as a humanitarian.  His respectability in the society is rising and he uses her as a status symbol, much like his new Cadillac.  She is a possession to him.  As she gets ready for the dinner, we see her in her gown in the bathroom, struggling to resume her role in her story, burying her anger, arranging her face.  She knows now that she is a doll and she sees the reality of her world.

What will be the trigger to cause her to reevaluate her life and take control of it?  What will Betty become after Camelot’s brief, shining moment is over?

Ibsen play #3: Joan Holloway Harris is Hedda Gabler

Hedda Gabler is one of the most complex characters in Ibsen’s repertoire.  I think Weiner has mixed some of Hedda with Betty and some of Nora with Joan.  Betty’s facility with shotguns and fascination with fainting couches come to mind.  Hedda’s complicated interior monologue can be shared with several female characters including Peggy as well.  Hedda is a product of her time.

But does it go with Danish Modern?

Hedda Gabler spent her youth having a good time and then began to realize that she was in danger of becoming a spinster.  The social stigma of becoming an old maid spurs her to find a marriageable partner.  She was once in love with Eilert Loveborg but Eilert, an intelligent man from a good family, is reckless.  He ruins himself with too much wine and women.  On a whim, she marries Tesman.  Tesman is a good man but not the brightest bulb in the pack.  He is a scholar studying for his PhD and hoping to get a position at the university.  It is his intention to give Hedda everything that is good in life: a beautiful villa, servants, horses and financial security.  But he hasn’t secured the position yet.  Hedda and Tesman return from their wedding trip, a trip they took on borrowed money, and live in the lovely villa that Tesman has secured without any visible means of support.  More complications ensue.  Eilert has gotten his act together and has written a brilliant book that makes Tesman’s work pale in comparison.  Also, Hedda *may* be pregnant.  This is not absolutely clear in the play but she doesn’t deny it when others infer this about her.  Eilert is now competition for Tesman for the same position at the university.  It turns out that Eilert has a research assistant, Thea, who was once a schoolmate of Hedda’s.  Thea loves Eilert and helps him reform his life.  She helps Eilert write his book.  Hedda is jealous of Thea’s ability to influence Eilert’s life.  Eilert comes to Hedda and confesses that although he owes a great deal to Thea, Hedda is his only love of his life.  Hedda rejects him and then provokes him to prove he is a man by drinking more than he should over Thea’s protests.  Eilert goes partying with Tesman and some other friends and ends up disgracing himself at a whorehouse.  He loses the second book that he has been writing with Thea’s help.  Thea is upset but vows to help Eilert get himself together.  She goes in search of him.  Meantime, Eilert’s second book falls into Tesman’s hands.  He debates what to do with it but in the end decides to return it to Eilert.  Too late!  Hedda has burned Eilert’s book.  Eilert returns to Hedda in despair over his missing book.  He feels guilt because he finally realizes that it is Thea who is the source of all of his strength and inspiration.  Hedda gives him a pistol and tells him to die beautifully.  He goes out to another whorehouse to drown his sorrows and accidentally shoots himself with Hedda’s gun and dies.  The fact that it is Hedda’s gun make her a target of blackmail.  Hemmed in by her domestic circumstances and the loss of the love of her life, she commits suicide while Tesman and Thea work to reconstruct Eilert’s book.

Whew!  That was long.

Joan is paralleling the Hedda story pretty well.  She doesn’t have Hedda’s confounding personality but her goals mirror Hedda’s.  Joan had her fun in Manhattan and was the person who held the Sterling-Cooper office together.  But in her early 30’s, she looked around for a marriage partner and not seeing one at Sterling Cooper, she married the next best thing- an up and coming surgeon.  She dreamed of a life of ease in the suburbs.  Except, it turns out that her husband, aside from being a rapist, is not a very good surgeon.  He was hoping to become chief resident.  Instead, he ends up losing his surgical residency.  Joan doesn’t know this when she quits her job in anticipation of living her suburban dream with her doctor husband who promises to provide for her.  She finds out about their sudden change in circumstances on the eve of her last day of work.

Meanwhile, Roger Sterling, the dissolute scion of one of the agency’s founders, has divorced his first wife and married one of his secretaries, Jane.  But Roger and Joan were once an item.  Roger clearly loved Joan but was married to Mona at the time and Joan didn’t see a future for them.  Now that Jane is in the picture, Roger seems to be settling down.  Ok, he still does really offensive things, like singing in blackface at the country club.  But in general, Jane seems to be having a stabilizing effect on Roger.  There is no love lost between Jane and Joan.  Joanie is clearly more intelligent and sympathetic.   Jane is too young for Roger and a gold-digger but for some peculiar, unfathomable reason, Jane gets Roger.

Joan’s storyline is the most uncertain.  She has to get a new job.  Greg has joined the army to practice surgery.  He doesn’t see Vietnam in his future but we do and, Ok, we’re kind of hoping he doesn’t make it.  Joan?  She’s gone to the one person she trusts and feels closest to in order to find a job- Roger.  He is trying to hook her up with a friend.  What happens to her after this season is a mystery.  Will she disappear forever?  Will she come back?  Will she end up an army wife?  Is this a suicide or a homocide by Weiner?

Ok, here’s your chance to tell me I’m all wrong about this theory.  Weiner may have never read Ibsen in his life and this is all original material.  Ehhh, even Shakespeare got his plots from other sources but the language was all his own.  If Weiner is going for Ibsen here, it would make perfect sense.  Ibsen was writing in the Victorian era, which pigeonholed the individual into roles for life.  His plays were all about self-discovery and self-actualization against the mind set of the collective, the consensus reality.  Mad Men is a chronicle of the 60’s and how American culture shook off the stifling conservatism and conformity of the post WWII era.  But the forces of conformity are strong.  In a sense, we are back to that era after having passed through a period of social unrest and sexual revolution.  As we learned to our horror last year, women still do not have the same opportunities to succeed as men.  We have watched confident, capable women reduced to charicatures.  They  are bitches or Caribou barbies, aggressive  or bubble headed.  Our country is also going through an identity crisis.  Are we the land of the selfish or the country of the more perfect union, striving for domestic tranquility and providing for the general welfare? Do we want to nourish creativity or harness it to the ruling class? Where do we go from here?

Your turn…

Who here thinks creativity is easy?

You’ve probably seen this ad in the past couple of days.  I really loved it, although I’m not sure who at Intel approved of it:

I know the guy who invented one of the most widely used anti-depressants in history.  The company that he worked for bought his patent for a buck and is reaping in billions every year- well, for the time being anyway.  And what did Morris get?  Well, other than a pretty nice bonus, he gets fan mail.  He get letters from people who thank him for saving them from the wreckage of their minds.  Now, some of you may scoff haughtily at the notion of an anti-depressant, assuming (wrongly) that most people who take them don’t need them.  I might agree that they are overprescribed but the thing is, if you are one of the people who can pull yourself together under their influence in a way you can’t do without them, you probably aren’t terribly interested in the superior minded folks who tell you that there’s nothing wrong with feeling that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  Ever.  For day after day, year after year.  Well, you get the picture.

Yeah, Morris gets fan mail.  I don’t know how these people tracked him down but they did.  He’s a rockstar.

Last week, Don Draper, the Creative Director of Mad Men’s Sterling-Cooper, told his protege that she wasn’t an artist, she solves problems.  Those of us who work in creative fields like processor design, drug design, even auto-mechanics, are problem solvers.

Those who work in the insurance industry and the finance industry are NOT problem solvers.  I think this point was lost on the folks at Planet Money recently.  Ya’know, back when the Financial Meltdown of 2008 was young, Planet Money was a great little podcast.  It explained how all of the moving pieces meshed together.  The few missteps in the beginning when Adam Davidson told us all not to get too mad at the bonus structure of the bailed out companies were naive but we could overlook them.  Then came that cringeworthy interview he had with Elizabeth Warren and it all started going rapidly downhill from there.  The latest stupidity has spread from Adam to Alex Blumberg.  God, I had such high hopes for him.  One of the recent podcasts extolling finance as the “geniuses” behind every new innovation that has made our lives better has really taken the shine off of him for me.

Oh, sure, the moneybags have financed a lot of good stuff but there have been plenty of things that never got off the ground or have been hopelessly stalled.  Take stem cell research for example.  I guess it depends on the religious mindset of who is actually holding the moneybags.  Or the fact that back in the 90’s, Apple nearly went out of business when all of the big corporations gave lifetime employment to the IT nazis when they bought PCs that ran nothing but Windows.  We are all going to be paying for that  non-diversification of the the desktop for a lifetime.  Or the fact that our financial wizards can not think beyond 3 months, which is forcing a lot of companies to merge, cut their workforces or get gobbled up by private equity.  Or the fact that so many small businesses can’t get loans because all of the bankers who Adam Davidson insists we just had to save are sitting on big piles of money because they refuse to divest themselves of their bad assets.  Yes! Let’s hear it for our financial braintrusts!

How frickin’ clueless can you get?  I’ll answer that: pretty clueless, especially if you’ve never seen real creation at work.  Some of our corporate overlords have this fantastic notion in their overblown egos that the companies they pilot would sink without their skills.  The R&D people make note of this all of the time.  Yes, we can be replaced by cheaper Ajay Bhatts in Hyderabad but real creativity doesn’t come by swapping out parts.  It takes a certain environment.  Malcolm Gladwell touched on this in his most recent book, Outliers, when he describes the characteristics of successful people.  Your native intelligence can only take you so far.  Other things have to come into play, like how effectively your family advocates for you at school, opportunity and location and something that most of us in America overlook- how hierarchically our society is structured.  It turns out that in highly hierarchical societies, creativity and problem solving is squelched, sometimes with disastrously fatal results.

The grumbling of the problem solvers is starting to make noise.  At least we, the R&D people are starting to hear it from each other.   A real resentment is starting to simmer about how the corporate people think their s%^& doesn’t smell because they don’t have to spend their days in the labs touching things with their hands.  Their salaries and bonuses match their egos.  The newest thing is a management development program where the trainer encourages the non-corporate types to use the same meaningless biz-speak jargon to communicate with the “people who have the money”.  See, if you use the latest trendy word combination, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.  You put it in a context they can understand, even if the rest of your presentation is completely over their heads.  Someone tried to convince me the other day that this was a good idea.  It’s not.  There are studies that show that the more jargon a business uses, the more poorly run it is, a prediction made by Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian in his book Less Than Words Can Say three decades ago.    I don’t think I have an obligation to contribute to my own demise.

I worry about a country that had a cornucopia of innovation in the past is now facing its biggest creative crisis.  This country is becoming more hierarchical all of the time while it is also becoming less able to cope with the demands of new technology and how to solve problems with it.  It doesn’t help that our nation’s teachers blame everyone but themselves for their poor preparation.  Yes, if we would only pay them better, they would learn this stuff like every other advanced industrialized nation’s teachers that use standardized testing.  Well, not to worry.  At the rate things are going, there will soon be a glut of highly educated future teachers on the market who will be fluent in advanced mathematics and science.  When the creative types finally lose their jobs because they can’t convince the “people who have the money” that solving problems is worth a damn, they can take a crack at the classroom for a little less money but summers off.

They might not have fan mail, but at least they’ll have a union.

Catch more on the battle of the creatives vs the hierarchy on Mad Men tonight at 10PM EST on AMC.

PS.  Thank someone who solves a problem for you tomorrow.  We need to start a movement.

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Don Draper is Peer Gynt: Discuss

Let’s go a little Mad (Men) tonight:

Mad Men season 3 starts tonight at 10PM EST on AMC.  Last season left us with some sucker punching cliff hangers.

Its all Friedans fault

It's all Friedan's fault

Will Betty Draper figure out the Feminine Mystique before or after the birth of her third, not-really-planned-or-welcome baby?

Will Peggy write the real book on Sex and the Single Girl?

Helen Gurley Brown did Sex and the City in 1962

Helen Gurley Brown did Sex and the City in 1962?

Can Don go a whole season without cheating on his wife (and will it still be fun to watch if he does?)?

Will Pete become history’s first Angry White Male?

Will Roger figure out that to his hot, young fiance, the sexiest thing in his pants is his wallet?

Will Joan finally realize that she’s the bedrock person at the agency?

It’s 1963 and Camelot is about to end with a bang.

Mix a martini and loosen your garter belts.  The times they are a-changin’ on Mad Men.