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Mid-Century Männerbund: Mad Men Mans-Up

[1]

You can buy James O’Meara’s End of an Era here [2].

9,004 words

“Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” ― H. L. Mencken [1] [3]

“We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.” ― The Animals.[2] [4]

Living in the post-lockdown world of streaming, I find myself more than ever revisiting the good old days, including the early, superior seasons of Mad Men, the world of which looks even more alien — in a good, Golden Age way — than before. Although I have devoted much time to the show,[3] [5] I realized that I had neglected to discuss one of the most remarkable episodes, “Shut the Door, Have Seat,” the third season finale.[4] [6]

The most striking thing about it is how it draws on primal themes of Aryan culture; in particular, it presents a dramatic reenactment of the origins of the Männerbund, and thus its continuing relevance, an accessible archetype, in a way not seen so directly since Brian DePalma’s The Untouchables.[5] [7]

Here’s a plot summary from Wikipedia [8]:

[Conrad Hilton][6] [9] meets with Don [Draper] to inform him that Sterling Cooper and PPL both are being bought out by McCann Erickson, the firm handling Hilton’s other accounts.[7] [10] Infuriated, Don returns to the office and begins hatching plans with [Bert] Cooper and [Roger] Sterling to buy the company. When their offer is rebuffed, Don realizes that Lane [Pryce]’s authority to fire the other conspirators would sever their contracts, giving them the ability to walk away and start a new advertising agency. Lane agrees with the scheme and becomes a partner. Don and Roger start reaching out to other employees to join their new agency, including Pete [Campbell] and Peggy [Olson].

While drinking with Sterling, Don learns about [his wife] Betty’s relationship with Henry Francis and confronts her physically. However, Don later calls Betty and tells her that he will not fight the divorce. Betty leaves with the baby and Henry to get a divorce in Reno. Don, Peggy, Roger, Bert, Lane and Pete subsequently[8] [11] break into the Sterling Cooper office to take necessary supplies and files. Joan [Harris] and Harry [Crane] are soon called in to join the company and help them. The group meets in a small hotel room, where Joan answers calls with the name of the new firm: Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

Sounds like a typical TV episode. But consider this possible re-write:

Male bonding [is] a foundational social principle that feminism has foolishly ignored. [Tom of Finland’s] surreal, random encounters show the male gang or team in operation — forming, disintegrating, and regrouping through ruthless realignments and power reversals. This cruel, compulsive pattern enabled men to escape control by women (mothers and wives) and to push history and civilization forward. But the emotional cost may be chronic loneliness, a subliminal melancholy overridden by action, achievement, or mere display. — Camille Paglia[9] [12]

This episode is about forming, disintegrating, and regrouping through ruthless realignments and power reversals, both personal — Don finally agrees with Betty that their marriage is no longer viable, they sit the children down for a talk, and she leaves for a Reno divorce — and professional — Don refuses to accept becoming a corporate cog as a fait accompli and organizes a secret conspiracy of disgruntled but essential coworkers to steal the firm out from under the owners and establish a new firm on their own terms.

Taking place over a weekend in mid-December, 1963,[10] [13] the episode structure is moderately complex, at least for a TV show, although not approaching Tarantino or Leone levels. The severing of Don from his wife and children is part of the formation of the Männerbund — we saw this in The Untouchables[11] [14] — but for simplicity I want to concentrate on the professional side.

The Männerbund is anti-hierarchical only transactionally; an old hierarchy must be replaced by a new one. Vigilantes are not anarchists, nor are Conservative Revolutionaries. As in The Untouchables, a corrupt police force must be fought by Ness’s outsiders, in order to restore law and order; things must change to stay the same.[12] [15] Thus Don proceeds hierarchically, starting with the founder, Bert Cooper.[13] [16] You can view the scene here [17].

Any scene with these two is a joy to watch and listen to; and to read as well, it turns out. I’d like to take the liberty of reproducing this in toto, set like some mid-century American free verse,[14] [18] as it takes place in front of Bert’s Rothko print:

What’s so urgent that you had to wake me?[15] [19]
Conrad Hilton told me P.P.L. is being sold and us along with it.

[Bert shows little surprise]

So you knew about this?
No, but it makes sense. All that short-term thinking.

So what do we do?

There’s nothing to do.
I have a contract.
You have a contract.
Roger has a contract.[16] [20]

So that’s it? You’re losing your business and you don’t care?

I lost my business last year.

Well, do something about it. If Sterling Cooper is for sale, why don’t we buy it from P. P. L? We could put everything back the way it was.

Young men love risk because they can’t imagine the consequences.

And you old men love building golden tombs and sealing the rest of us in with you.
You’re done. You know that, right?

So I should just throw away my fortune? I don’t have the rest of my life to earn it back.

I understand.
I’ll let you get back to sleep.

Why do you care?

Because I’m sick of being batted around like a ping-pong ball.
Who the hell is in charge? A bunch of accountants trying to make $1 into $1.10?
I want to work.
I want to build something of my own.
How do you not understand that? You did it yourself 40 years ago.

That’s true.
But I’m not sure you have a stomach for the realities.

Try me.

Well, we’re gonna need accounts.
American Tobacco, that’s most of Sterling Cooper,[17] [21] but that’s Roger.

I understand that.

Did Hilton tell you when this blessed event is supposed to take place?

New Year’s Day

This is a beautifully composed scene, in which two men arguing about business sound a number of archetypal themes, most notably youth versus age, puer versus senex.[18] [22] But what’s notable is that this Conservative Revolutionary wants to put everything back the way it was, so that he, as Bert did 40 years ago (a generation), can get back to work; this is no Leftist demanding that everything be torn down to create a work-free utopia. Their liminal deadline is New Year’s Day, when Janus faces both before and after.[19] [23]

[24]

You can buy James O’Meara’s The Homo and the Negro here [25].

There are also a couple of callbacks to classic Bert lines that take on new layers. Most prominently, Bert’s “Why do you care?” echoes his immortal “Mr. Campbell, who cares [26]?” which I’ve analyzed on a number of occasions [27];[20] [28] here it is turned from a defense of Don to a challenge. And “I’m not sure you have a stomach for the realities” recalls “You’re going to need a stronger stomach if you’re going to be back in the kitchen seeing how the sausage is made.”

Both lines come from the first season; the episode titles — “Nixon vs. Kennedy” and “New Amsterdam,” respectively — allude to the theme of youth vs. age, new vs. old, and everything old is new again. Both also involve confrontations between Don and Pete, first Pete trying to get Bert to fire Don, then the reverse. This suggests we should be looking for Pete to play a role in the coup; indeed, Bert followed his dismissal of Pete’s concerns with this line, typically gnomic:

“Fire him if you like. But I’d keep an eye on him. One never knows how loyalty is born.”[21] [29]

But first we need to proceed to the other partner, Roger Sterling.[22] [30] Don brings Bert along to strengthen his hand, knowing that he and Roger are still on the outs. Again, allow to indulge my love of this writing:

McCann is buying P. P. L. and is absorbing Sterling Cooper along with it.
What?

 Conrad Hilton told me this morning.

Christ.

From one john’s bed to the next.
What a joke.

 Don and I have been discussing the idea that we buy the company back.
– Really? Why? – Because we don’t want to go to McCann.
And now you’re sniffing around because I have a golden pork chop dangling from my neck.[23] [31]

 It’s more than that.
You know Bert’s done for.

 Now it’s about Bert, huh? I want to see what you look like with your tail between your legs.

 You sold your birthright so you could marry that trollop.
Here we go. This is your pitch? Well, move along.

I’m not gonna throw it all away because he doesn’t want to work at McCann.
You want to work there?
You don’t value what I do any more than they do.
I was wrong. I learned that with Hilton. I can sell ideas, but I’m not an account man.

You’re not good at relationships, because you don’t value them.
I value my relationship with you.
You do now.
I do.[24] [32]

I’m sorry.
I’ve got points, stock.
If I’m useless, so be it.
There’s a deck chair somewhere with my name on it.

You’re right, Roger.
If you’ve lost your appetite, you should retire.
Of course, I’ve seen that before.
So have you.
Men my age, even younger, they play golf, go on vacation, lose their appetite.
In three years [makes a swooping, downward gesture]

Join or die? Jesus, Bert, he was doing better.[25] [33]
You know it’s true.
You’re still gonna outlive me.
We have to try.
So you do want to be in advertising after all.

Don calls a 9AM meeting with Lane Pryce, the accountant that has been trying to “modernize” (i.e., asset-strip) Sterling Cooper for PPL. Pryce stubbornly insists that it’s too late: not only is Don correct about the firm being sold, Pryce isn’t being rewarded for his work in New York with a promotion in London but is being sold along with the firm.

Fueled by a morning cocktail from his office bar,[26] [34] Don has one of his classic moments of inspirational salesmanship: Pryce can fire the trio of conspirators before the sale, in return for which Pryce will become a partner in the new firm.

Here is the pivotal scene [35] of the birth of the conspiracy, or Männerbund, introduced by the titular “Close the door, have a seat,” which will become another leitmotiv of the episode.

Close the door.
Have a seat.
– What’s he doing here? – You’re gonna read us your will? – I want the Cadillac.
– I couldn’t sleep.
And I thought, why don’t we go to McCann directly? – Because you can’t.
It’s done.
– You’re not even gonna ask? I did, yesterday.
And you were right. P. P. L.
Is being sold, so it seems we’re all going to McCann.

They cut you loose.

I want you to find out what the price was and give us a shot.

Enough.
I should fire you for even trying to involve me in this conspiracy.
Go ahead.
It’s the only thing you did well here.

– Don, let it go.

– I did a great many things here.

Have another [scotch]
It’s 9:30, for God’s sake.

Jesus, that’s right![27] [36]
You have absolute authority to fire anyone.
Fire us.
Fire us.
Sever our contracts.
Let us go.

Can you do that?
Why would I?
Because once this sale goes through, you’ll be thrown overboard, and you’ll be a corpse knocking against their hull.

Nothing good ever came from seeking revenge.
Nonsense.
We’ll make you a partner.
I should think this is worth more than that.
So we’re negotiating.
– We’ll put your name on the door.
– I don’t know.
– Do you know how to do what he does? – I don’t.

It could be done, but getting you, us, out of here isn’t the difficult part.
– We need accounts.
– Let’s say we have Lucky Strike.
And although that’s, let’s see, $23 million in billings…
Twenty-four.
– We’d still need another third for cash flow.
– Well, I can’t take anyone else or Lee Garner, Sr.
Won’t think that he’s special.
What about Hilton? – No.
– Can we get any of our other accounts? We’ll get them.

If I were to send a telex in at noon today that you’ve all been sacked, it’s after close of business in London.
It would remain unnoticed until Monday morning there, 2:00 a.m. here.[28] [37]
That gives us today and the weekend to first gather accounts and then a skeleton staff to service them.
And of course we would have to obtain all the materials required for continuity of service.

Obtain? We have to steal everything.
Anyone approached must be a certainty.
strong>If news spreads, they’ll lock us out.

Do we vote or something? [Roger, Don and Bert raise their hands]

Well, gentlemen, I suppose you’re fired.

Well, it’s official.
Friday, December 13th, 1963.[29] [38]
Four guys shot their own legs off.

We see a similar pattern of emergence here, as in The Untouchables, as if the archetype of the Männerbund functions as a kind of force field, recreating the same arrangement, like a magnet and iron filings.[30] [39] Don, like Ness, is the charismatic outsider forcing change. Malone’s character is somewhat split between Bert and Roger, although mostly Bert: old, wise, peevish, consequently initially skeptical of the idea.

Lane Pryce doubles for Wallace, as I’ve argued before. [31] [40] Lane epitomizes the role of the geek or nerd, as Jack Donovan describes it:

Advanced levels of mastery and technics allow men to compete for improved status within the group by bringing more to the camp, hunt or fight than their bodies would otherwise allow. Mastery can be supplementary—a man who can build, hunt and fight, but who can also do something else well, be it telling jokes or setting traps or making blades, is worth more to the group and is likely to have a higher status within the group than a man who can merely build, hunt and fight well. Mastery can also be a compensatory virtue, in the sense that a weaker or less courageous man can earn the esteem of his peers by providing something else of great value. It could well have been a runt who tamed fire or invented the crossbow or played the first music, and such a man would have earned the respect and admiration of his peers. Homer was a blind man, [32] [41] but his words have been valued by men for thousands of years.[33] [42]

Lane, with his comical spectacles and fussy English manners, is the only one who can fire the lot of them and set them free; also the only one who knows how to set up the firm as a going concern. “Do you know how to do what he does? — I don’t.” As with Wallace, this is his opportunity to man up, if only for revenge.[34] [43]

We’re missing someone for the fourth role, the muscle (Stone in The Untouchables), but that will be next.

What’s most noticeable here is the plethora of pirate,[35] [44] or at least, seagoing imagery:

“They cut you loose.”

“You’ll be thrown overboard, and you’ll be a corpse knocking against their hull.” [36] [45]

“To first gather accounts and then a skeleton staff to service them.”

“We have to steal everything.”[37] [46]

“Well, gentlemen, I suppose you’re fired.” [Shot from a cannon?]

“Four guys shot their own legs off.” [Ahab?]

“Once this sale goes through [“sail”?]

Don orders a firm-wide memo (pre-Email) that the offices will be closed over the weekend for carpet cleaning. We don’t learn whose idea the carpet cleaning is, or why the staff takes the sudden announcement in stride. I suspect Bert either suggested or inspired it; a Japanophile who walks around his firm without shoes, and requires anyone entering his office to remove them, has likely ordered many snap cleanings. Earlier in the season, in “A Man Walks into an Advertising Firm,” Bert steps in chewing gum and fires the “cud-chewing” secretary; Roger comforts her by advising her to just come back on Monday, as Bert will have forgotten.

If this were The Untouchables we’d be done with the formation of the group and get on with the story, or the caper.[38] [47] But these four aren’t enough; they need more accounts, and more workers. Above all, the muscle, Stone’s role in the Untouchables, is missing.

Of course, muscle — physical violence — is rather irrelevant in the modern office.[39] [48] Don knows that what they really need is: youth, which is why he needs Pete and Peggy. And this — youth — is Stone as well; Malone brings Ness to the police academy because the rest of the force is already in Capone’s pocket:

Malone: [to Ness as they assemble their team] “If you’re afraid of getting a rotten apple, don’t go to the barrel. Get it off the tree.”

It’s interesting to study Don’s method of approach, since it likely derives from his advertising skills. Given the relation, from Bernays onward, of advertising to the occult, I would say that Don uses Crowley’s technique of discovering their true will, and then offering to help them achieve it.

But if he was no longer the “man, Aleister Crowley,” and was no longer interested in protecting his family, what was he? Crowley arrived at the conclusion that he existed in the world for one purpose: to teach his fellow men how to contact their own Holy Guardian Angels, or, as he would more pithily put it, to discover their “true wills.”[40] [49]

As Roger to says to Don himself: “So, you want to be in advertising after all.”

Pete makes it clear that he won’t settle for a “a few more adjectives added to my title? Don’t bother. I have other plans.” Another agency — Ogilvy, perhaps — will give him more responsibility, will recognize his (self-perceived) talents for creative advertising. [41] [50]

Roger doesn’t get it, but Don does:

Don: Pete, I don’t blame you for bailing out, the way you’ve been treated.
Pete: So Kenny turned you down?
Roger: We haven’t spoken to Ken yet. And yes, we want your accounts, but we also want your talent.
– Really? And what are my talents?

– You’ll do what it takes.

– No. I want to hear it from him [Don].

t’s not hard for me to say, Pete. You saw this coming. We didn’t. In fact, you’ve been ahead on a lot of things. Aeronautics, teenagers, the negro market [51] We need you to keep us looking forward. I do, anyway.

[52]

You can buy James O’Meara’s book Green Nazis in Space! here. [53]

As the first season episode title told us, Don and Pete’s relationship mirrors the 1960s “Nixon vs. Kennedy feud; ironically reversed, from the viewer’s perspective as a victor in the cultural war. Though it’s Don who is the handsome ladies’ man — Don Juan — he’s also the scrappy outsider who fought his way to the top,[42] [54] while Pete is what Dean Wormer would call “a sneaky little shit” with opportunities handed to him by his social position.[43] [55] And while TV viewers find Don “cool,” his is old school, Rat Pack “cool” which is on its way out.[44] [56]

Nevertheless, as Youth, Pete demands respect and acknowledgement from Don, as the price (Pryce) for joining the new crew rather than jumping the sinking ship.[45] [57]

Part of that youthfulness, that newness, is a new element in this sequence: women. Pete’s wife, Trudy, disappears after letting in Don and Roger, but her disembodied voice issues a warning to Pete — like Erda’s warning to Wotan — when he starts overplaying his hand. When the pair leave, Trudy re-emerges and Pete immediate calls on her aid in preparing his campaign to begin stuffing his “saddle bag” (as he prepares to set off like Siegfried on new adventures).

Trudy is truly named; BabyNameWizard [58] tells us that “Trudy” is:

Originally a pet form of Gertrude (spear maiden) …. Derived from the Old High German Geretrudis, a compound name composed of the elements ger (spear) and trut (maiden, dear) or þruþ (strength).[46] [59]

Trudy’s presence, as a contributor if not entirely an equal partner, is a modern touch but also consistent with Germanic or Northern European customs,[47] [60] as the Wagnerian allusions I’ve highlighted are intended to show; another factor, as we’ve already noted, is the lack of physical violence in the modern context.[48] [61]

While in the parallel story arc (that I’m ignoring here) Don’s marriage finally falls apart, Pete and Trudy seem an ideal team; which is good, because on his own, Pete is, as Roger says, just “a little shit.”[49] [62] Trudy’s subtle presence here prepares us for Dons’ visit to Peggy.

Peggy Olsen (another Scandinavian) will be the penultimate member of this mid-century modern Männerbund. She was actually the first to be approached but turned down Don’s rather preemptory approach.

You were right.

I’ve taken you for granted and I’ve been hard on you, but only because I think I see you as an extension of myself.

And you’re not.

– Well, thank you for stopping by.

A chastened Don switches to a suitably humble variation on the episode’s leitmotiv:

– Please.
Sit down.

Don is on the sofa, and Peggy’s chair, together with her rigid posture, place her above Don, a position of dominance.[50] [63] Peggy, who started as a floating secretary in the typing pool, wants, like Pete, both independence and acknowledgement of her advertising talent.

Do you know why I don’t want to go to McCann?
-Because you can’t work for anyone else.
No.
Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me, and something happened.
Something terrible.
And the way that they saw themselves is gone.[51] [64]
And nobody understands that.
But you do.
And that’s very valuable.[52] [65]

Is it?

With you or without you [66], I’m moving on.
And I don’t know if I can do it alone.
Will you help me?
-What if I say no? You’ll never speak to me again.

No.
I will spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.

As the conspirators gather at the Sterling Cooper offices for an all-night session of white-collar larceny, they quickly realize that they need someone who actually knows how the office is run. Just as Don brought in Peggy, Roger places a call and ropes in Joan, the former office manager, who directs them to what needs to be stolen (and already arranged for movers while on the way over).[53] [67]

If the estrogen count seems to be getting a bit high for a Männerbund, Don re-establishes the manliness factor. Since no one has a key to the Art Department door, Don has a Zen-like moment of unpremeditated action: he simply kicks it in [68], which I imagine was very emotionally cathartic after the weekend’s tense events (remember, his marriage has also collapsed).[54] [69]

This liminal event — breaking open the door and crossing over to steal the treasures — recalls the first outing of the newly formed Untouchables, where cross the street and Malone uses a fire axe to break down a door at the post office, behind which is one of Capone’s storerooms.[55] [70] As the mutineers leave the office we have another callback to Malone as Pete shoulders his rifle.

As Don bends down to lock the glass front door, Roger speaks the last criminal comment: “Don’t bother.” Cut to later Monday morning, as Don’s secretary opens his office: the heist is discovered, too late. “We’ve been robbed!”

Pryce arrives to receive the long-anticipated call from London, as if he were Fletcher Christian being upbraided by the owners of the Bounty.

He’s waiting on the line.
It’s his third attempt.
St. John, how are you?

What in God’s name is going on over there?

I think at this point it should be very clear.

You’re fired.
You’re fired for costing this company millions of pounds.
You’re fired for insubordination! You’re fired for lack of character!

Very good.
Happy Christmas.

Mr. Hooker, I’ve been sacked.
Please have my office and things put in storage at this address.

What’s happened?
You’re a sharp boy.
You’ll figure it out.

This is a dish of vengeance served at a properly seasonal temperature. Why does Lane say “Happy Christmas”? Christmas — birth, salvation; New Year — well, the new year. The two holidays have been combined and, indeed, come early — Monday, December 16th. This sort of time shifting is a shamanic power typically wielded by the Männerbund. We saw this before at the climax of The Untouchables:

Ness has achieved his shamanic purpose… and even turned back time. We are back at the beginning of the movie. … Capone, who we first met telling us that there was no violence in Chicago, at least “not by me,” is now swinging punches wildly, like a common juvenile delinquent.[56] [71]

[72]

You can buy James O’Meara’s book The Eldritch Evola here. [73]

These holidays are holy days as well, and a [Fletcher] Christian is sounded. Rather than crime boss Capone, it is Lane’s boss exploding with rage, “firing” wildly as he tries to reassert authority, but that boat has already sailed. His name is St. John (cloaked by the British pronunciation “sinjin”) which ties in with the Christmas motif. His explosive “God” recalls how Roger “explodes” with both “Jesus” and “Christ,” while Don greets his realization that Lane can set them free (redeem them) from their contracts, with “Jesus,” the Gnostic “alien God” who frees us from the debt of sin. The coup takes place over a weekend, from Friday to Monday morning, when the empty offices (the empty tomb) are discovered, which brings in Easter as well.

“Shut the Door, Have a Seat” was immensely popular with fans at the time, received the 2010 Emmy for “Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series [74]“ (along with the show itself as “Outstanding Drama Series”) and continues to appear high [75] on lists of favorite episodes [76]. Partly, this is due to large amounts of fan service.[57] [77] But that wouldn’t be enough to explain its continued popularity. A deeper explanation, I argue, lies in its use — unconsciously, no doubt — of profound Aryan archetypes, thanks to which it is able to present a deeply satisfying narrative.

Joseph Campbell says somewhere that rituals are the contents of the unconscious pushed out into the world, and by participating in them we re-access them for ourselves. The same may apply to an episode of a TV series.

Here we can usefully contrast the rather unpopular series finale of Game of Thrones [78]. Tom Luongo’s diagnosis [79] deserves to be quoted in our context at some length:

Game of Thrones was a story built on classic archetypal, mytho-poetic storytelling ideas. But with the goal of undercutting them, of taking a more post-modernist approach, to just show chaos without structure and purpose, no ending could ever be satisfying.

And what makes the series finale such a failure was the unwillingness of the writers to at the last moment embrace some traditional storytelling conventions and anchor the chaos of Westeros in a lesson that can be passed from generation to generation.

Heroic storytelling requires heroes to rise to their pivotal moments and, through their actions, create the opportunity for radical change. They are born out of and rise above the chaos of their times to make the hard choices and sacrifices necessary to preserve the world and build the foundation for the next one.

That is exactly what did not happen at the end of Game of Thrones.

Stories are our way of encoding deep knowledge about how to survive in a world hostile to our presence in it. They exist outside of a person’s time and place to teach us the things that our previous generations learned and passed down to us.

And the conventions of these stories are encoded in our DNA. You don’t have to have spent a lifetime studying stories to know why Game of Thrones’ ending was unsatisfying. You know it because it’s a part of you.

The hero of a story like Game of Thrones is meant to see the chaos for what it is; the failure of the old institutional order to be sufficient to act as a brake on humanity’s worst impulses.

And the hero’s job is to overcome whatever is thrown in front of him to bring about the end of that old order and create the foundation for a new one.

Game of Thrones didn’t do that. In fact, it did the exact opposite. It put the living embodiment of the old institutional order on the throne, Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven and agent of the Old Gods who created this conflict in the first place.[58] [80] By fundamentally mishandling the very characters at the heart of its story Weiss and Benioff made them pathetic. All of them. And in the end we’re left with a bunch of people to whom a bunch of terrible things happened. But no lessons. No validation. No transformation into something bigger. Just a temporary halt in the absurd cycle of chaos. Welcome to Shitlib Screenwriting 101, friend-citizen.

But, most importantly, Game of Thrones is a warning to what’s coming next for us. It is truly a reflection of the fall of our society. It shows that many of our artists have lost the plot of humanity’s struggle.

That post-modern Marxism is so thoroughly ingrained in the next generation of writers and producers that they will now continue their assault on the institutions of culture in the name of political correctness and toxic egalitarianism.

Or, as a commenter at Unz.com suggests [81],

It’s the new woke paradigm, to “subvert expectations.” Basically to destroy every story world and replace it with supposedly shocking new ideas, but they are mostly just predictable SJW orthodoxies.

I’ve discussed elsewhere the ways the creators of Mad Men have indeed pursued “their assault on the institutions of culture in the name of political correctness and toxic egalitarianism.”[59] [82] Here, for once, the better angels of their nature have taken charge, resulting in a nearly perfect hour of television:[60] [83] spiritually uplifting, emotionally moving, and a lot of fun.[61] [84]

One might add that it may serve to dispute the popular trope among elements of the Right, of drawing a Manichean contrast between what might be called the warrior and the businessman — mapped on relations between classes within a nation or even relations between nations themselves (as in “The English are the Jews of Europe”) — with all the supposed attributes of “real men” or a “healthy society” found in the former.[62] [85]

Don is no warrior (as his Korean backstory proves) but he is a creator, not a mere money-grubber:

“Who the hell is in charge? A bunch of accountants trying to make $1 into $1.10?[63] [86] I want to work. I want to build something of my own.”

One might in this regard compare this episode of Mad Men with Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, itself modeled, as Mann stated on the Scandinavian “commercial novel” tradition. Nations, families, and businesses have periods of peace and war, and it is how they handle each that is a sign of health or degeneracy. Degeneracy is only incipient in Thomas Buddenbrook, grandson of the founder, as he reflects on his career:

He remembered the impression that the catastrophe of ‘66 [Mad Men!] had made on him, and he called to mind the overwhelming, unspeakable emotional pain. He had lost a great deal of money — but that was not what was so unbearable. For the first time in his life he had been forced to experience personally and completely just how cruel and brutal business can be, had watched as all his better, gentler and kinder sentiments had slunk away before the raw, naked, absolute instinct of self-preservation,[64] [87] had seen his friends, his best friends, respond to his misfortune not with sympathy, not with compassion, but with suspicion — cold, dismissive suspicion. (p. 461)

As his already degenerate brother (interestingly named “Christian”) sneers, “Every businessman is basically a swindler.” (p. 464). Perhaps “buccaneer” would be more accurate. No less an authority on the Hero, and critic of industrial society as Carlyle could still see “the Captain of Industry as the new hero of the age. True, this hero is as yet a naked egoist and an unashamed buccaneer, but he can perhaps be socialized.”[65] [88]

Carlyle’s hero worship forces him to have a hero at all costs. And in the modern world, the world of capitalistic industry, he can find no on more capable… Tamed and reformed, that buccaneer can perhaps become the proper leader of a middle class solely devoted to the pursuit of profit. But is this enough?[66] [89]

As Carlyle himself concludes, “‘The proper Epic of this world is not now ‘Arms and the Man’ … no, it is now ‘Tools and the Man.’”[67] [90]

The valorizing of the warrior might have made sense in the days of Nietzsche or Werner Sombart, but after the racial and civilizational disasters of the American Civil War and World War I and II (called by some the European Civil War)[68] [91] one might be excused from wondering if the same archetypes of masculinity could be instantiated in less sanguinary pursuits.

*  *  *

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Notes

[1] [92] Prejudices, First Series. This episode abounds with piratical tropes., as we’ll see.

[2] [93] Wikipedia says [94] “We Gotta Get out of This Place,” occasionally written “We’ve Gotta Get out of This Place,” is a rock song written by Barry Mann [95] and Cynthia Weil [96] and recorded as a 1965 hit single by The Animals [97]. It has become an iconic song of its type and was immensely popular with United States Armed Forces GIs during the Vietnam War.” A fan has set this episode of Mad Men to the tune, here [98].

[3] [99] See the essays posted here at Counter-Currents; the earliest are reprinted in my collection End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility [2] (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015).

[4] [100] Mad Men, Episode S03E13: “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”. Written by Matthew Weiner & Erin Levy; Directed by Matthew Weiner.

[5] [101] See “‘God, I’m with a heathen.’ The Rebirth of the Männerbund in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables [102],” reprinted in my collection The Homo & the Negro: Masculinist Meditations on Politics and Popular Culture; [25] edited by Greg Johnson (Second, Embiggened Edition, San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2017).

[6] [103] Yes, that guy. In 2001, a mid-century modern imagining of the future, Kubrick posits a Hilton on the way to the moon [104]; better known today for his great-grandchildren: Paris Hilton, Nicky Hilton Rothschild, Conrad Hughes Hilton, Barron Hilton II, you get it.

[7] [105] Sterling Cooper is Don’s fictional ad agency, which earlier was acquired by the London agency Putnam Powell & Lowell; McCann Erickson [106] is a real firm, dominant in the industry and symbolic of bland corporate mediocrity. In “‘This is a shirtsleeve operation’: Judaic Crypsis in the Final Season of Mad Men [107]” I suggest that McCann, several times alluded to as being full of Irish Catholics, is used by the Jewish writers as a misdirection for the Jewish takeover of the advertising industry.

[8] [108] Confused; Don’s call and Betty’s takeoff to Reno close the episode.

[9] [109] From Tom of Finland XXL, collected works, ed. Dian Hanson (Taschen, 2009); reprinted in Provocations: Collected Essays (New York: Random House, 2018).

[10] [110] “Season three takes place six months after the conclusion of the second season (roughly April/May 1963) and ends in December 1963. It chronicles the end of the “Camelot era [111]“ as the characters go through immense change in their professional and personal lives.” — Wikipedia. I’ll point out a few oblique allusions to the events of November 23rd, as it may not be clear to the viewer what they are referring to.

[11] [112] See my review, cited above. The men must separate from family life, even though their mission is ultimately to protect it. Ness insists “I don’t want any married men,” although he himself is already married with a child, and indeed they are threatened by Capone and must go underground.

[12] [113] As the opening montage of Zach Snyder’s Watchmen ends, we briefly see a Keene Act rioter waving a placard reading “Badges not Masks,” expressing a preference for the established forces of order over the “masked vigilantes.” We also see a graffito asking “Who watches the Watchmen;” traditionally, this supports vigilantes who are ordinary citizens, fed up with lax or corrupt cops, but since in this film there really are Watchmen (though never called as such) it can imply the same skepticism. The original Watchmen, “The Minutemen,” were cops who decided to fight crime using the weapons, such as masks, used by criminals themselves. Even their name recalls the liminality of the vigilante: the men who took up arms to destroy one government in order to set up another (“a more perfect union”). To this day, “conservatives” insist it was a “War of Independance” not a (horrors!) “Revolutionary War,” the way Southern partisans insist on a “War Between the States.” The Tea Party was also supposed to suggest the same return to “conservative” values as symbolized by terrorists disguised as Indians.

[13] [114] Hilton tells Don that Bert “Cooper will definitely be put on an ice floe.”
Elderly and apparently flush with “old money,” eccentrically dressed and habitually shoeless in the office, Bert is increasingly remote from daily activities at the firm, eventually having no office and just sitting around in the lobby. In the last season he will die while watching the Apollo landing, but periodically reappears to Don in visions to provide guidance; here [115] Robert Morse teaches the Taoist lesson that “the best things in life are free” in posthumous song and dance..

[14] [116] Throughout Season 2’s “Meditations in an Emergency,” set during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Don is reading the titular poetry collection by Frank O’Hara. One might compare this text to E. E. Cummings [117].

[15] [118] What a line! I may use that as the title of my autobiography, or perhaps my epitaph.

[16] [119] Worthy of Gertrude Stein [120]!

[17] [121] 24 million 1963 dollars!

[18] [122] See, for example, George H. Jensen, “Introduction to the Puer/Puella Archetype [123]”: “[James] Hillman goes so far as to claim the polarities of puer and senex ‘provide the psychological foundation of the problem of history.’ Or, to paraphrase, to say that history repeats itself is to say that history is an expression of human nature. I would add that the polarity is foundational to personal development. In the simplest terms, puer is potential and senex is experience, or the wisdom that should come with experience. In terms of personal development, the key is to gain wisdom without losing potential. At a broader societal level, puer is the element of chance and the embrace of change; senex is the accumulated wisdom of a culture as embodied in its institutions and laws.” Given his service in Korea, Don is only relatively a puer to Bert (although one could argue that it was in Korea that “Don Draper” assumed this false identity, making him a teenager!) Peter is more naturally a puer and indeed, as we’ve seen and will see again, his relationship with Don has moved from trying to eliminate him to ineptly emulating him. A fan has said that “Every man wants to be Don but admits to being just Pete.”

[19] [124] We’ll later see another liminal symbol as Don literally kicks down a door.

[20] [125] Most notably, in “Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish, Part One [126],” reprinted in my collection The End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility.

[21] [127] From a Reddit discussion [128] of the Wisdom of Bert Cooper: “Pete was an insufferable asshole who Don justifiably was about to fire twice, but Don held fast and got one of his greatest allies. That’s legit advice.”

[22] [129] Although he often says “my name is on the door,” Roger is second to Bert at Sterling Cooper because the titular Sterling was really his father; again, old vs. new.

[23] [130] Son of the other founding partner, Roger’s security is also rooted in his client, the colossal American Tobacco (Lucky Strike), which we’ll learn should provide almost all the funding for the new firm. Neither fact saves Roger from the reputation of being a drone, which he battles now and again. When PPL presented its reorganization of the firm after its acquisition, Roger was “accidentally” left off the revised organizational chart. [131] “You don’t value what I do any more than they do.”

[24] [132] Is Roger marrying another trollop?

[25] [133] Another piratical phrase.

[26] [134] Roger mocks Don, yet Roger earlier extolled the virtues of office drinking in a memorable riff on “what men do” during the episode where Don almost fires Pete: “I bet daily friendship with that bottle has attracts more people into advertising than any salary you could dream up.” (S1E4, “New Amsterdam”).

[27] [135] “God, I’m with a heathen!” Malone in The Untouchables.

[28] [136] A charming period touch, which makes the whole scheme possible.

[29] [137] Friday the 13th, of course, but also recalling the events of three weeks before in Dallas; another conspiracy?

[30] [138] “In Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, the eternal Ideas correspond to the natural modes of excitation of the will – its basic templates of striving – which, in turn, provide insights not the will’s essential properties.” Bernardo Kastrup, Decoding Schopenhauer’s Metaphysics (Winchester, UK: iff Books, 2020), p.98. Compare: “Archetypes … are primordial, a priori templates of psychic activity…. Our emotions, beliefs, thoughts and behaviors unfold according to patterns that mirror these inborn archetypal templates.” Kastrup, Decoding Jung’s Metaphysics (Winchester, UK: iff Books, 2021), p.33.

[31] [139] See “Mad Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish: In the Country of the Blind [140]“ in The End of An Era, op. cit.

[32] [141] Pryce and Wallace both wear spectacles, and Pryce will snap his in half before his first, unsuccessful suicide attempt; see The End of An Era, loc. cit.

[33] [142] Jack Donovan, The Way of Men (Portland, Or.: Dissonant Hum, 2012), Chapter 2.

[34] [143] “Lane Pryce finally growing a pair and turning on PPL (and dissing Moneypenny to boot… finally finding the courage in that little British tea cupboard of a heart. “Well, gentlemen [arches eyebrow], I suppose you’re fired.” James Poniewozik, “Mad Men: Buying the Farm [144].”

[35] [145] Note the phoneme “pirat” in “conspirator.”

[36] [146] Eventually, Pryce will become a corpse: he will commit suicide when Don sacks him after he forges a company check, to pay for the unexpected British taxes on his partnership equity. He may have been right about “nothing good ever comes from revenge.” Like Wallace, his death seems to be some kind of sacrifice to the gods.

[37] [147] When Don’s secretary arrives Monday morning, she finds his office ransacked and shouts “We’ve been robbed!”

[38] [148] Alan Sepinwall [149]: “‘Shut the Door. Have a Seat”‘ felt very much like a caper movie: the jazzy piano music, the intrigue, the plan unfolding perfectly as Lane walked in, got fired by St. John, and walked out happily, leaving a dumbfounded Moneypenny in his wake. Specifically, though, the episode felt like my favorite part of any caper (or other kind of ensemble adventure) movie: the gathering of the team. I have been, and always will be, a sucker for those sequences in movies like “Ocean’s Eleven,” “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Magnificent Seven” where the two leaders (there are always two guys at first, aren’t there?) travel around to assemble the perfect team of experts, explaining their value and using various tricks of persuasion along the way to get them on board.” Tom + Lorenzo also note [150] the caper vibe, as well as the charming lack of technology : “the fact that you could only set this story in this particular time period, when a message to London won’t even be read for 3 days, is what allows the entire caper to be successfully pulled off.”

[39] [151] Pryce, like Wallace, will later have his own Berserker moment when, in Season 5 Episode 5 he challenges Pete to settle a boardroom argument with bare fists (and wins [152]). Interestingly, Pete goes to far when he tells Pryce that the last good thing he did for them was when he fired “us”– as we’ll see, Pete’s memory is clouded: he was ready to quit for another agency before the people Pryce actually fired come to him first, making him a junior partner at best. “We’re not firing you.”

[40] [153] Gary Lachman, Aleister Crowley: Magick, Rock and Roll, and the Wickedest Man in the World (New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2014), p134.

[41] [154] In Season 1’s “Nixon vs. Kennedy,” Pete is almost fired by Don for promoting his own ideas to a client, but Bert countermands him, since Pete’s real job is to use his family’s society connections to attract clients and schmooze them when they need schoozing: fancy dinners, Broadway shows, hookers. As Pryce says before their fight: “You’re just a pimp.” In the earlier episode “New Amsterdam,” Pete’s new money father-in-law (Campbell’s Soup; a “mediocre product” Don sneers) mockingly says he has no idea what Pete’s job is, but it seems like “complaining and whoring.” Pete himself gives pretty good explanation [155] a few years later. It’s significant that Pete brings a “saddlebag” of real clients with him, and Don never even mentions the New York City social connections (the Dalton School, Century Club, “Gracie Mansion sometimes”) that Bert cited as the reason to keep Pete on.

[42] [156] Well, actually he accidentally killed the real Don Draper and stole his identity, but that was just good old American “can-do”.

[43] [157] From another angle, our first Irish Catholic president might be viewed as the scrappy outsider; here’s Frank Costello in The Departed: “Twenty years after an Irishman couldn’t get a fucking job, we had the presidency. May he rest in peace. That’s what the niggers don’t realize. If I got one thing against the black chappies, it’s this — no one gives it to you. You have to take it.”

[44] [158] In a later episode, Don’s new, young wife asks him to listen to “Tomorrow Never Knows” on the new Beatles LP, Revolver, but Don turns it off, perplexed by the sound [159]. It’s like that moment they wrote into the movie Goldfinger, where Bond says that drinking champagne at the wrong temperature is “like listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.” Oh, dad! The season 5 finale, “The ‘Phantom’,” closes with Don having a manly drink at a bar where Nancy Sinatra’s “You Only Live Twice” theme is on the jukebox [160]: a very appropriate song for the life-stealing Don. Earlier in the episode we hear Herb Alpert playing the title theme for the 1967 Casino Royale. A likely definitive guide to Matt Weiner’s use of music is here [161].

[45] [162] “Welcome aboard” says Don; another piratical phrase.

[46] [163] This links her to Breaking Bad’s loyal gunman, Mike Ehrmantraut : “Americanized spelling of German Ehrmanntraut, metronymic from a Germanic female personal name composed of the elements irmin ‘world’, ‘all-encompassing’ + trud ‘strength’.” — Dictionary of American Family Names (Oxford, 2013).

[47] [164] There’s already a hint of this, in The Untouchables, where the Scandinavian Ness is himself married, yet demands “no married men” on his team.

[48] [165] Is modernity Nordic or is the Nordic proto-modern? Is this an ethnic variation or a symptom of decline and degeneracy; a feature or a bug? This is one of many cultural antinomies that will likely remain unresolved until the Kant of the Dissident Right appears. It is also related to the businessman vs. warrior trope that we will eventually address.

[49] [166] Roger says that in “New Amsterdam,” agreeing with Don that Pete needs to be fired; Bert will overrule them. In that episode Trudy gives Pete the push he needs to take out a mortgage on a Manhattan apartment, even if he has to borrow the money from her parents. In Episode 3 of this season, Trudy and Pete do a surprisingly well-choreographed dance at Roger’s wedding reception; they do the Charleston, which is either ironically old fashioned or modern (i.e., the Jazz Age) – everything old is new again (origin unknown [167]), or as Marlene Dietrich says in Touch of Evil, “The customers go for it – it’s so old, it’s new.” It’s a contrast to Season One, where he refuses to dance The Twist with Peggy, who we’re about to meet.

[50] [168] Part Catholic school training, part the pre-Woodstock undergarments we’ve seen Peggy and the other women strapping themselves into; supposedly “confining and restricting” but, as we see here, somewhat “empowering,” like a dominatrix’ corset.

[51] [169] Again, the events of November 23rd.

[52] [170] “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” ― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

[53] [171] The women are treated as equals; Peggy refuses to get Roger a cup of coffee, while Joan will eventually become a junior partner (although only after agreeing to take one for the team by bedding a recalcitrant client).

[54] [172] Along with his episode-long frustration with his marriage and career, it nicely calls back the memory of his father being kicked to death by a horse which we saw earlier and which sparked his decision not to acquiesce in the sale of the firm. According to The Art of Manliness [173] website, Don uses the correct technique — kicking the side with the lock on it with your heel, rather than the uber-macho shoulder tackle — although it adds that while “today most doors are made of soft wood and are hollow [and so] should give way fairly easily…Older, completely solid doors will prove more resistant;” meaning that Don’s 1963 office door would likely require him to “ keep on kicking until the door gives way and [he] can save the day.”

[55] [174] See, of course, “‘God, I’m With a Heathen’,” op. cit. Why not bring back Sal Romano, the art director? Because Sal’s closeted gay character was outed and fired due to Matthew Wiener’s anger over the actor’s public statements mocking Wiener’s son’s performance as Don’s son. In End of An Era I point out that Sal’s character was ridiculous anyway, since ad agency art departments were well known to be havens for gay men: e.g., Andy Warhol [175], who later made famous use of Pete’s family’s “mediocre product.”

[56] [176] “God, I’m With a Heathen,” op. cit. As discussed in “Man Men Jumps the Gefilte Fish,” Lane will eventually be disgraced, fired, and then hang himself from his office door (“I want my name on the door”), like the Suffering Servant; like Odin, he will have only one working lens in his eyeglasses at that point. A similar fate awaits the “runt” from The Untouchables, knifed and then hung up in an elevator.

[57] [177]As I said [178], this episode was full of fan-service, stand-up-and-clap lines, but for some reason my favorites were Lane Pryce finally finding the courage in that little British tea cupboard of a heart. ‘Well, gentlemen [arches eyebrow], I suppose you’re fired’ … Not to mention [Bert] finally telling Roger how he really feels about his wedding: ‘You sold your birthright because you wanted to marry that trollop.’”

[58] [179] This would be analogous to Don taking Bert and Roger’s advice to just serve out his contract under the new owners.

[59] [180] End of An Era, passim. For example, as noted, while Lane plays a key role in the coup, he later becomes an embezzler, is fired, and commits suicide; Joan, equally important (just as Don asks Roger, rhetorically, if he knows how to do what Lane does, Lane later asks Joan “Can you read these? Do you know where this stuff is?”), is only offered a partnership after agreeing to prostitute herself with a client.

[60] [181] “A great episode of television, however, is where every single scene feels purposeful, and more importantly where there is no one type of scene which feels dominant. There can still be scenes designed to engage with nothing more than the viewer’s sense of humour, just as there will be scenes that feel like the culmination of two and a half seasons worth of interactions. In these episodes there is a balance between scenes which unearth feelings and emotions from the past that have been kept under wraps all season and scenes which create almost out of thin air entirely new scenarios that promise of an uncertain future.” Cultural Learnings, here [182].

[61] [183] “Remember that feeling so many of you had when watching Ep. 6: “Guy Walks Into An Advertising Agency” – as the John Deere mower came in contact with Guy’s foot, resulting in a bloody mess? For a lot of viewers, there was a palpable release because that episode seemed to cut out the vague, interpretive interior motivations and replaced them with, for “Mad Men,” uncommon, direct action. Well, the Season 3 finale, “Shut the door. Have a seat.” one-upped that with giddy abandon in arguably the best melding of plot-movement and existential crisis exploration of the entire season. I mean, come on — that was a gloriously fast-driven episode that brought both joy and emotional pay-off to everyone who has ground through the machinations of Don and Betty Draper this season. In fact, the finale was about as close to a full-on fist-pumper as any episode that “Mad Men” has ever aired. I can’t recall an episode in this series where I’ve paused the TV to let out a pent-up whoop of exaltation. This was a beautiful, rewarding mix of forward movement — Don, Roger, Bert and Lane conspiring to start their own agency as Sterling Cooper is sold out from underneath them — and the emotional angst of Don and Betty splitting in half.”

[62] [184] Thus, Guillaume Faye bemoans “the planetarization of the petty-bourgeois ideal, the disappearance of the figure of the hero in favor of that of the merchant.” Faye, Le Systeme a tuer les peuples, (Copernic, 1981) p. 169.

[63] [185] “You know how it is in the East. One day you notice that the boss’s button-down shirt has this sweet percale roll to it, while you own was obviously slapped together by some mass-production graph keepers who are saving an eighth of an inch of cloth per shirt, twelve inches per bolt or the like, and this starts eating at you.” Tom Wolfe, The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (New York: Bantam, 1999), p. 81.

[64] [186] You want manly violence? Don kicks in a door; Pete shoulders his rifle (why does he have a rifle in his office? It’s a long story [187]). Even elderly Bert threatens to lock Harry in the closet till Monday morning. In the domestic arc I ignored, Don slaps Betty when she brings up his adulteries.

[65] [188] L. J. Rather, The Dream of Self-Destruction: Wagner’s Ring and the Modern World (Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 1979), p. 8. As for the “naked egoist, in “The Hobo Code” (Season 1, Episode 8,) Bert recommends the recent bestseller Atlas Shrugged to Don, and offers to introduce him to her: “She’d like you.”

[66] [189] Loc. cit.

[67] [190] Past and Present, Chapter XII.

[68] [191] As Wilmot Robertson wrote, “The decline of the American Majority began with the political and military struggle between the North and the South.” Quoted from Morris Van de Kamp’s review [192] of How the West Was Won.