Skokie, Illinois is a suburb of Chicago that for someone my age and perhaps a bit older, is best known for being the backdrop to all your favorite John Hughes films. But prior to Claire Standish, John Bender and the rest of the Breakfast Club trashing the school library with a dance party, Skokie Illinois was a battle ground for free speech. In 1978, the Nationalist Socialist Party of America (NSPA, otherwise known as Nazis) were set on making their political presence known by holding a rally in a near-by Chicago park. When Chicago outlawed rallies in that particular park, the NSPA set their sights on Skokie, which also happens to have a large Jewish population.When Skokie refused to let them march, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stepped in on behalf of the NSPA. When Chicago lifted the ban on demonstrations at their first intended rally site later, the NSPA returned to their original plan.
The most surprising part of this whole Nazi debacle is that Chicago was such a callow coward about the whole thing. Chicago, as a major city, is far more equipped to handle a Nazi rally than a smaller suburb like Skokie. In fact, it would benefit both parties to have the rally in Chicago where there are more media outlets (who won’t have to travel as far) to point their cameras and pens at you, and Chicago will naturally have a larger police force that can put down whatever riots an event like this could incite. Instead, Chicago was a complete wimp and almost ended up letting their little suburb of Skokie take the hit. For the love of Hitler, Skokie calls itself a “village” – they can’t handle a Nazi march. They could barely handle John Bender.
In Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech, they speak with a lawyer with the ACLU that came to the defense of the NSPA, Martin Garbus. Garbus also happens to be Jewish. While I’m sure he was emotionally convoluted about taking this case, I think he absolutely did the right thing. If I were in the same position as Garbus, I would have taken the case. Like I’ve said in other posts concerning the 1st amendment, free speech is for everyone, whether or not we like their message. If we start making exceptions to to the 1st amendment, where does it end? And how long will it be before you become an exception yourself?
If the NSPA has the right to march on Skokie, that means that others also have the right to march against them. And if everyone who was against this march in the first place came out to protest, they would completely overwhelm the neo-Nazis. The Nazis should be allowed to march, and the rest of us that are against it should just do as the Greeks do: protest.
These type stories are nothing new – just last September, the Westboro Baptist Church was protesting in Brooklyn in various locations that included local schools and synagogues. At almost every single one of these protests, Westboro was overwhelmed by counter-protesters. Organizations and individuals will always push the envelope of free speech and that’s a good thing.
And if you don’t think it’s a good thing, you’re in luck. The 1st amendment gives you the right to tell the Nazis to “EAT. MY. SHORTS.”
Stick a fork in Mad Men, season one is officially over for this viewer. To celebrate, I officially Mad Men-ed myself (if you hadn’t gathered it yet, the picture to the right is not actually me, but Enid from the film Ghost World). I’m alright with season one being over, mostly because I’m so looking forward to the next seasons I have to watch.
The first season, as a whole, was very enjoyable. I thought the first half was pretty slow starting, but by the middle and end of the season I was completely hooked. It’s hard to believe that HBO actually passed on this show – to be honest this show seems like it would be a better fit on HBO than AMC. But AMC lucked out and so have the dedicated viewers of the show.
One of the best qualities of Mad Men is that it’s incredibly rewarding to watch. The tiny moments of foreshadowing make the more dramatic plot twists a great pay-off for the viewer. In the beginning, I complained that the characters didn’t have many redeeming qualities and actually, they still don’t. But they are magnetically complicated and now that I know enough about their damaged histories, I care to find out what happens to them. The more I know about the characters the more I want to keep watching. Their lives seem risqué, even from the vantage point of 2008, when the first season aired. Despite the risqué subject matter, Mad Men manages to execute everything – unexpected pregnancies, office affairs, suicide, dark pasts, and homosexuals still in the closet with dignity, elegance, and class.
The first and following seasons of Mad Men have done well critically. Obviously, I don’t disagree. Some reviews, usually international such as the Mark Greif review in the London Review of Books, have criticized the show for “failing to do anything except congratulate the future” and called it an “unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better.” I won’t say he’s dead wrong, but I will say he’s definitely failing to see the bigger picture. I will also say he could accuse me of the same thing. Really my biggest complaint is the lack of humor used in the show – of course it’s not comedy but Mad Men has a very sly, dark, and ironic sense of humor, and I would have enjoyed seeing them employ it more often.
I feel like I’ve tackled most of the major questions I wanted to answer about Mad Men, so in lieu of repeating what I’ve already said and making useless jokes, I would like to present the best hits of Couch Commando’s Mad Men blog posts from the first 2/3 of the show:
I’m very glad I went with Mad Men for this blog project. While it wasn’t far out of my viewing habits, who knows when I would have gotten around to watching it. And at least this time I had a place to gush about my favorite parts. I’ll definitely continue to watch the show. It’s always difficult to wrap things up, so instead of a lame attempt at summing up the whole season in one sentence, I’ll leave you with a video that does it better than I can (beware, NSFW):
Viewed in the afternoon, on the couch, with a friend.
So here we are. It’s finally come down to the very last episode of season one. Luckily, I don’t have to be sad since I’ve got two more seasons to catch up on, and this show isn’t going off the air any time soon. In this episode, Betty Draper is getting ready to spend Thanksgiving with her family. Don isn’t coming (mostly because he doesn’t want to) but he tells Betty that he can’t with his work load at the office. The next day Betty’s friend Francine is waiting for her to get home in a panic – she’s found out that her husband is cheating on her by looking at the phone bill. After Francine leaves, still distraught, Betty grabs the family’s phone bill.
Later at the therapist’s office, Betty Draper opens up a can of worms when she off handedly says,
Still, I can’t help but think that I’d be happy if my husband was faithful to me.
Woah, black Betty (Bam-ba-lam?). It’s clear that Betty is completely aware of her husband’s extracurricular activities.
At the office, Peggy Olson is running auditions for a radio spot. Impressively, she takes charge and even ends up firing a woman she hires when she can’t do the job to her satisfaction. Draper is working on a new campaign for Kodak and after looking at the box full of pictures from his brother, he calls him at his hotel only to have the clerk tell him his brother committed suicide.
Back to Peggy, she’s climbing the corporate ladder. Above her on the ladder is Pete Campbell, who drags in a new account for Clearasil. Draper thinks Olson will be perfect for it but Campbell says she’s just a secretary and not good enough for the account. In response, Draper calls in Peggy and immediately makes her a junior copy writer. She gets to share an office with another writer but before she can enjoy it, she starts feeling ill. Before you know it, she’s at the hospital where she goes into labor with Pete Campbell’s devil spawn. Yeah, that’s right ladies. That Seventeen magazine article about being pregnant for nine months without knowing it is true. You know, it’s true like that time George Bush told you that abortion would give you breast cancer? Is my sarcasm apparent?
Later a nurse comes into Olson’s room with the spawn and asks if she wants to feed it, but Olson just turns away without a word. The show ends with Draper returning home to an empty house. He sits on the stairs, depressed, and hold his head. The end of the show isn’t quite a cliffhanger, but I’ll definitely be watching the next two seasons to find out what happens.
After all that drama, I’d like to segue way to a more uplifting subject. Since I started watching the show, and even at the beginning when I wasn’t hooked, the one reason I would have kept watching is the costuming. The period costuming of Mad Men is amazing and for anyone who enjoys vintage clothing, a great show to be watching. I really enjoy vintage clothing and I worked in a costume shop while I was doing regional theater in the south. Two different productions of Bye Bye Birdie (a musical produced in 1960) later, and I think I’m pretty well steeped in 1960’s fashion.
Janie Bryant is the costume designer for the show, and she’s done an amazing job. A few posts ago I wrote about the color palette of the show – Bryant is largely responsible for the it. The show’s time period is great for costuming because it’s really a time when people weren’t afraid of dressing. There is so much color, texture, amazing patterns, and great design details to the clothing. Personally, I think this period is defined by the details. The perfectly executed kick pleat at the back of a skirt, the charming little bows and buttons, hidden pockets set perfectly into inseams and pin tucks, generous seam allowances, satin linings, and the absolutely masterful construction of clothing.
Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson are a great example of how transitional this time period was in silhouette. Holloway’s dress is more 60’s – the form-fitting dress with an attached scarf and a kick pleat in the front is killing me in the best way. Her fashion forward style also fits her character perfectly – the office manager sleeping with a partner wouldn’t be caught dead in anything less femme fatale. Olson’s dress is more 50’s – the wide circle skirt is an older, more conservative style which compliments her goody two shoes attitude. Bryant does an incredible job of matching the character with the right clothes.
I have to admit, watching Mad Men has even affected my own clothing choices. When I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year, I went vintage shopping with a friend who just happens to be a costume designer and fellow Man Men viewer. After our day on Magazine Street, we both ended up going home with 1960’s era wiggle dresses a la Joan Holloway. Now if I could only find a matching Don Draper to go with the dress, I’d be set.
Viewed late at night, on the proverbial couch, with friends.
This episode of Mad Men takes place during the Nixon and Kennedy election. The office gathers around the TV with copious amounts of alcohol to watch the action. As the numbers get closer and the crowd gets drunker, one of the ad guys, Ken, chases down Allison, a secretary, as his friends shout out colors. He tackles her to the floor and lifts her skirt to find out what color her underwear are – blue. Everyone laughs and the viewer is relieved that Gloria Steinem exists.
Earlier that day, Pete Campbell discovers that Draper is considering hiring another ad guy for a job that Campbell wants. Instead of handling it with dignity, he goes the high school route and attempts to blackmail Draper with the information he’s found in the box he stole in the last episode. Draper runs off to Rachel Menken asking her to run away with him to LA, but she soon realizes he doesn’t want to run away with her – he just wants to run away. Draper returns to the office, calls Campbell’s bluff, and hires the other guy. When Campbell goes to the big cheese to tell him that Draper’s real name is Dick Whitman, Cooper says he doesn’t care. In a flashback, we learn how Draper became the infamous Don Draper. He basically got sent to a two man camp and when the other man died in an accident, Draper stole his dog tags.
This episode gives us a lot of background on Don Draper. When he was at his two man post, the two men come under attack. When it’s over they both light cigarettes and his superior points at some liquid at Don’s feet, when Don accidentally drops his cigarette, they realize it was gasoline. The explosion kills the real Don Draper and the new Don Draper gets sent back home, new identity and all. This brings up a lot of questions about Draper: Is he a coward? Or was it survival? Why did he abandon his (now dead) brother like that? And what kind of butter fingers does he have to go around dropping his cigarette in gasoline? Still, this episode might be the most character development of Draper I’ve seen all season.
Also in this episode, Peggy Olson is starting to get on my nerves. While she’s learning to be a go-getter and I thoroughly approve of that, she can also be a whiny goody two shoes. Olson is so too pure to be pink it hurts (two Grease quotes in two posts – this is what a steady diet of kitschy pop culture gets you, my friends).
I have to admit, I didn’t really step outside of my normal viewing habits with this show. I was already considering it when I realized it was an option for our blogs. I tend to shy away from things that become rife with mainstream popularity, but I generally end up gimping on to the wagon a year or two later, as I’ve illustrated with this blog. The real reason I considered watching this show are the costumes. A subject I’m so excited about, I’m saving it for next time.
Viewed on my usual couch, evening, with friends.
Things in the Mad Men world are getting darker and darker. This episode opens with Don Draper’s brother, Adam Whitman, at his hotel sending a package to his brother. When he returns to his room, he hangs himself with his own belt. Back at Sterling Cooper, the office is limping along without Sterling. Just in time for a meeting, Sterling returns and promptly has another heart attack in the meeting. In the meantime, Peggy Olson gets a new account for a personal massager masquerading as a weight loss tool. In Sterling’s absence, Draper is made a partner and Peggy gets a raise and maybe even her own office. Pete Campbell finds the package sent to Draper and takes it with him. And last but not least, Betty Draper is at home having an affair with an destabilized dryer.
Throughout the season I’ve been noticing the sets of the show. Set in 1960, the show is obviously a period piece. The set designers and decorators have done an impressive job emulating the time period. The Sterling Cooper offices are beautifully done – there is the pit, or a bull pen, where all the secretaries desks are, and surrounding the bull pen are the offices of Don Draper, Pete Campbell, and the rest of the crew.
The individual offices are perfectly in sync with the time period and some, like Cooper’s, reflect the trends of the time period. Style-wise there was a lot of Asian influence (Rachel Menken even has a scene in an Asian restaurant in this episode where she does a terrible job of eating with chopsticks), and Cooper’s office as several Oriental touches to it:
In addition to the perfectly stylized offices, I also find the colors used in the show very beautiful and timely. Everything from painted walls to the clothing have an amazing palette. The colored glass surrounding the pit in combination with the greys of the office give the whole area a cool and toned atmosphere. The costuming in the show compliments the set in every way – mossy greens, warm reds, greys, taupes and brassy golds visually pull together every scene. The color palette of Mad Men makes even the most boring episode appear visually interesting and appealing. I’m actually pretty convinced that Mad Men might be the most visually stunning show on TV right now.
Viewed at home, (I still hate this couch) early evening, by myself.
On this episode of Mad Men, things are getting dark, twisted, and sexy. It’s about to be Labor Day Weekend and the Sterling Cooper mad men are working on Nixon’s ad campaign pro-bono, but they’ve got to cut the brain storming short for a meeting with Menkens. I haven’t reviewed too many of the Rachel Menken plot points, but Menken’s is a large department store owned by a Jewish family. One of the daughters, Rachel, is helping her father run the business and goes to Sterling Cooper for help revitalizing the store. She and Don begin a friendship, but it’s obvious they are both putting in a lot of effort into side stepping the mutual attraction they have for each other. Rachel puts an end to the flirting when she finds out Draper is married.
Roger Sterling passes Joan Holloway in the hallway and asks her what she wants to do that night since the whole city will be out of town and they can go where ever they want. She requests to see a movie and the two get in a spat. Her friend Carol shows up at the office because she’s been fired for covering for her boss and in a fleeting moment of empowerment, the ladies decide to hit the town by themselves for some real bachelor hunting.
By clicking this cut, you acknowledge that you are over the age of 18, or a 15 year-old boy that really needs more practice at finding porn on the internet.
Viewed at home on the couch, by myself, in the late afternoon.
In this episode, I actually started to enjoy the child-like ice queen known as Betty Draper. A few posts ago I predicted that we were about to see another side of Betty, and it turns out I was right. The meat of this episode is about a rival advertising agency trying to steal the suave Don Draper away from Sterling Cooper’s Madison Avenue roost. Jim Hobart, the man fishing for Draper, happens to meet the Drapers at the opera during a production of Fiorello!. He compliments Betty on her Grace Kelly looks and suggests she model for their new Coca-Cola ad campaign. Betty suddenly decides to take him up on it and make a sudden return to the modeling career she left behind when she met Don. Little does she know the offer is just another way for Hobart to steal Draper away from Sterling Cooper – much like the golf clubs and the hefty salary he dangles in front of the “mad man.”
When Draper decides not to take the job at the other company, Betty suddenly gets dropped from her ad campaign and instead of telling her husband the truth, tells him that she’s decided to be a stay at home wife again because, after all, she hates having Don come home to leftovers every night. During her working mom absence, the kids have let the family dog snatch one of the neighbor’s pigeons, though the dog doesn’t injure it too badly. The neighbor threatens to shoot the dog if it comes on to his property again. At the end of the episode, Betty Draper does this to retaliate, and I fall just a little in love with Don Draper’s super square wife.
Back at the office, Peggy Olson’s weight gain has become office fodder. Weight gain, shmeight gain. Can anyone spell P-R-E-G-N-A-N-T with Pete Campbell’s devil spawn? Olson rips the seam of her skirt when she leans over in her chair, and covers it by wearing her sweater around her waist all 7th grade style. Joan Holloway tries to help by loaning Olson an ill fitting red dress.
I can’t believe how much I like this show compared to when I first started watching it. I’m ready to tear through the rest of the season so I can start up the second season. There is no doubt the show has gotten better as the season gains momentum – they definitely started to hit their stride mid-season. Mad Men is also a period piece – every last detail fits into the exact time period the show is set in. Despite this, the show manages to be completely relevant. While the offices and clothing are a bit different, and everyone might be a bit more drunk then they are now when noon rolls around, it still goes to show that the human experience hasn’t changed all that much.
On April 21, 2004, an annual Day of Silence at Poway High School in southern California, student Chase Harper wore a t-shirt with tape across the front that said “Homosexuality is Shameful” and referenced Romans 1:27. Harper was not confronted or punished for this shirt. The following day he wore a similar shirt that added “Be Ashamed” and “Our School Embraced What God Has Condemned.” On that day, his teacher David LeMaster told him he was in violation of school dress code and he was eventually suspended after he refused to change his shirt.
I suppose from an adult perspective I understand why schools have dress codes – teenagers are easily distracted and those are difficult years to get through anyway, especially if you’re wearing the wrong t-shirt. When I was in high school I thought dress codes were just irritating. Growing up in a southern beach community where we lived in bathing suits and flip-flops 365 days a year, my high school had a pretty strict dress code to reign us in. But our society constantly underestimates teenagers – they’re so much more responsible and mature then we give them credit for and young adults are more than capable of choosing their own clothing – offensive or not.
I do think that a high school should be a market place for verbal ideas. Surely there was a verbal outlet for his ideas and opposing views. And should kids be allowed to wear anything they want to school? Yeah, probably. Are they? No. So ideas should be shared freely, and unless you’re in the drama club’s costume department, leave out the clothing discussion, suck it up for four years and save your offensive clothing for college where everyone will be too drunk to notice your t-shirt’s anti-gay slurs.
I don’t think the kid should have been expelled or suspended. No sense in punishing the brat just because he cherry picks verses from the Christian bible to take too literally. I think he has the right to free speech, but his school has clearly curbed the free clothing. I also think it takes a lot more nerve to speak your mind than to wear a shirt. Putting on clothes is easy. Telling people what they might disagree with is hard. What I don’t understand is that he wore two separate t-shirts – the first time they left him alone and he got to wear his opinion on the matter. What was the need for the second shirt? Why did he feel the need to wear another one?
As a student I would have told him how hateful and judgemental his shirt was. Well, “college me” would do that. “High school me” would probably have shoved his locker full of gay magazines. I’m kidding. I’d still do that. If I were his teacher and the shirt was causing so much controversy I couldn’t get the class to concentrate, I probably would have done the same thing as LeMaster. But if I were really in charge of his punishment, I would have sentenced Harper to a makeover from whatever gay advocacy club the high school has (or the drama department’s wardrobe crew because you know it’s the same) for a little high school Queer Eye for the Straight Guy action and a one year membership to PFLAG.
Viewed at home on my couch, with a friend, late at night.
In this episode, Peggy Olson’s having a big day – the copy she wrote for Belle Jolie lipstick is being presented to the client. She comes in early and runs into Pete Campbell who’s also in early to avoid his responsibilities at home that day – he and his wife are moving into their new apartment. To ease the nerves, Campbell calls Olson into his office and initiates an early morning office tryst before the rest of the staff gets there.
Later that day, Olson’s ad copy is a success. Don Draper and the rest of the crew pour her a congratulatory drink and decide they’ve worked enough. Most of the office leaves to go to a bar called P.J. Clarke’s where they do the twist. Seriously. Olson asks Campbell to dance but he declines and tells her, “I don’t like you like this.” Olson backs away as her eyes fill with tears.
Draper, who has just received a bonus from the head partner at Sterling Cooper decides to trek down to the village to take Midge for a Parisian weekend. Midge and her beatnik friends have other plans – they’re getting stoned and listening to Miles Davis records. Draper gets stoned with them and flashes back to his childhood (wherein he still has the creepy haircut). In the flashback we meet Don Draper, then known as “Dick Whitman” and his family, who takes in a drifter for an evening.
Furthermore, we learn that Draper (Dick Whitman) is a “whore-child” as the hobo drifter teaches him the “hobo code.” These are a series of pictures left on the front of houses for other hobos – a picture of a knife means a dishonest man lives there, a zig zag line means there’s a nasty dog, and a pie means good food. When the hobo leaves, the young Draper (Dick) finds a picture of a knife on the fence post of his house. Back at Midge’s, Draper takes a photo of Midge and her friend Roy. Upon closer inspection of the photo, Draper sees that Midge and Roy are in love. He says this, but still asks her to go to Paris again. She says no. Draper takes the bonus check, endorses it, and sticks it in Midge’s bra. With that, Draper leaves.
It’s safe to say I’m getting into the show now. Whenever I discuss it with friends who are hooked, I find myself constantly reminding them not to spoil the future seasons for me because I’ll definitely be watching them. I’m looking forward to watching these characters develop over time – the show is good about not giving everything away too quick. It’s also very subtle when it comes to the important details. Blink once, and you’ll miss them.
Viewed late at night, at home on my couch, with a friend, during a heavy thunderstorm.
This is Roger Sterling. He is a major partner at the Sterling Cooper ad agency, and the boss (read: drinking partner) of Don Draper. He has a wife and daughter, but he’s having an affair with Joan Holloway. In most walks of life, he’s generally despicable. In this episode, Sterling becomes an unexpected dinner guest at the Draper home outside New York City. When Don goes to the garage to search for more liquor, Sterling helps Betty take the dishes in the kitchen and ends up hitting on her. She resists him, and Don walks in sensing that something has happened between his wife and Sterling. After boss man leaves, Draper yells at Betty, telling her she was acting like a giggly school during dinner and blaming her for the episode in the kitchen.
The next day at the office, Sterling brings Draper a bottle of liquor and apologizes for the night before. He compares it to “parking your car in the wrong garage” and explains that “When a man gets to a point in his life when his name’s on the building, he can get an unnatural sense of entitlement.” He likes to mention that his name is on the building a lot. Draper plays it cool, but he’s still verbally holding it against Betty. Later, we see Draper speaking with the elevator operator and handing him some cash.
Speaking of Betty, we see her grocery shopping the next day. She spots Helen Bishop (the divorcee from down the street with the serial killer-in-training son) and says hello. Helen tells Betty that she found the lock of blond hair in her son’s room and admonishes Betty saying, “He’s only nine!” Betty slaps Helen and runs out of the super market. I think we’re starting to see Betty come undone, which sounds bad – but I think Betty is going to start showing that she’s a lot smarter and more multi-faceted than everyone thinks.
A few episodes ago it was mentioned that Richard Nixon, a likely presidential candidate, might be using Sterling Cooper for his ads. Sterling wants Draper on the account so before a meeting with Nixon’s people, the guys go out to lunch. They eat a few too many oysters and drink multiple martinis, completely forgetting to discuss Nixon’s ad campaign. When they return stuffed and drunk, the elevators are out of service. With Nixon’s people waiting, Sterling huffs and puffs up the 23 flights of stairs while Draper barely breaks a sweat. Draper introduces himself to Nixon’s people and Sterling makes an attempt, but instead vomits martinis and oysters all over the rug in the lobby of the office. They give Sterling a moment to collect himself while Draper follows the men in to the meeting with a trace of a smile on his face.
After writing in another post that I felt a certain scene must have been written by a woman, I decided to do some research on the writers of the show. As it turns out, seven of the nine writers on the show are women (pictured above). Unsurprisingly, the articles on the female majority confirms many things I would already assume. Of course, the writers have a larger pool of experiences to draw from since they’ve probably encountered many of the same problems that Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson would face in their work places.
I hate to admit that knowing so many of the writers are women makes me like the show more, but it is true. For that reason, I’m glad I didn’t know anything about the writers when I started watching the show. However I wonder if that has anything to do with the men of the show being less like-able. I’m definitely not one to believe that women can’t write for male characters, or vice-versa, but personally I have a harder time feeling sympathy for the male characters. Then again, this difficulty could also be a product of the fact that I’m female and usually tend to feel more kinship with female characters. Either way, it’s interesting to know exactly who it is behind the words of Mad Men.