Sunday, April 1, 2012

"Mad Men" Season 5, Episode 3, "Tea Leaves"

Last week, I suggested that the times were a-changin’, even at Sterling Cooper, and this week’s episode, “Tea Leaves,” provides further evidence.  The firm finally hires its first black employee, a new secretary for Don Draper (herself named Dawn).  Sterling Cooper also hires a Jewish copywriter and even Roger Sterling, who found a Jewish mailroom worker to bring as window dressing to a meeting with a potential Jewish client in the pilot, is supportive. “Turns out everyone has one now,” remarks Sterling.

Indeed, the growing diversity of the firm reveals the broader changes occurring in a society that is becoming more open.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had (barely) begun to open doors for blacks, with Title VII banning discrimination based on race, religion, and gender.  Furthermore, the institutional anti-Semitism that pervaded advertising and other white-collar industries before World War II was on its last legs.  At the same time, Roger Sterling’s diminishing role in the firm seems to reflect the weakening of the old WASP establishment

The firm courts Heinz, whose CEO wants Don to sign the Rolling Stones to do a jingle for their ads.  Don and Harry go to a Stones concert in Queens where they appear extremely out of place among the denizens of the youth culture, though Harry pauses to smoke a joint with some teenagers.  Reflecting the emerging generation gap, one teenage girl tells Don to relax, alleging, “None of you want any of us to have a good time just cause’ you never did.”  Don responds, “No. We’re worried about you.” 

The emerging counterculture of the Rolling Stones concert is contrasted with the staleness of Betty and Henry Francis’ life in the Westchester County suburbs.  Betty watches the “Andy Griffith Show” and “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet”, two successful television shows of the time, but programs that feature a traditional 1950s ethos.  Moreover, Henry goes (without Betty) to a meeting of the Junior League of New York.

Betty, who was absent from the season premiere, reappears and still seems very unhappy as a stay-at-home mom, avoiding social events because she is gaining weight.  Betty has a cancer scare in the episode and though the tumor turns out to be benign, she doesn’t seem too thrilled with her reprieve.

Henry is working for New York City Mayor John Lindsay, a liberal Republican elected in 1965 who appeared to be a rising political star and was compared to JFK.  While serving as a congressman from Manhattan’s affluent Upper East Side from 1959-1965, Lindsay voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and backed earlier versions of legislation that Lyndon Johnson would later pass as part of his Great Society programs, such as federal aid to education and Medicare.  Though the conservative supporters of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater outmuscled moderates like Lindsay and New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller to seize the nomination at the raucous 1964 Republican convention, the GOP was still in the midst of an ideological battle for control of the party.  As the 2012 Republican primary clearly demonstrates, the conservative forces eventually won the fight.

Echoes of the current campaign are heard when Henry tells someone on the phone that Lindsay won’t go to Michigan because “Romney’s a clown!” In historical terms, Francis is referring to Michigan Governor George Romney, another member of the GOP”s moderate-to-liberal wing and Mitt Romney’s father.  I’m going to go out on a limb, however, and surmise that “Mad Men” producer Matthew Weiner had a double meaning in mind when he inserted that line of dialogue.

After the first two episodes, the pace of “Mad Men” is faster than in previous seasons.  The social changes of the time are clearly visible not only in the references to historical events, but in the dress and day-to –day lives of Sterling Cooper and its employees.  Toward the end of the episode, Roger Sterling himself is moved to wonder, ““When is everything gonna get back to normal?”

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