Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Decline of CNN

“What’s wrong at CNN?” reads a headline on (June 26, 2012).  Once the dominant cable news network, Ted Turner’s creation has fallen behind its rivals in the Nielsen ratings.  Outflanked by the Internet and opinion-driven journalism, CNN’s decline tracks the evolution of the American media over the last quarter-century.

Started by Turner in 1980, CNN gradually grew in importance as the decade progressed.  As more and more Americans subscribed to cable, a larger audience began to watch the original 24-hour news network.  Most CNN programs aired straight news, though the network also pioneered the shouting matches that dominate cable today, with debate shows like “Crossfire” and “The Capital Gang.”

The 1990-91 Persian Gulf War gave the network its biggest boost into the mainstream.  CNN’s reporters stayed in Iraq when the Allied air campaign began, as lead anchor Bernard Shaw and his colleagues reported the start of the conflict from the Al Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad.  While contemporaries called Vietnam the “living room war,” the Gulf War was the first 24-hour television war, as Americans could watch the entire campaign all day and all night.  No longer did viewers have to wait for the anchors at ABC, NBC, and CBS to deliver the news at the dinner hour.

While CNN’s coverage of the war was an impressive journalistic achievement, the network’s coverage of the O.J. Simpson case in 1994-95 boosted its audience in a less edifying manner.  From the infamous white Bronco chase in June 1994 to the jury’s controversial not guilty verdict in October 1995, CNN documented every aspect of the case.  Though CNBC and the major networks also covered the case, it was CNN that led the way.

Though no one could have anticipated it, the seeds of CNN’s decline were laid at that time.  The commercial success of the trial coverage showed that a channel could get an audience to follow one story for an extended time with high ratings.  It seems like more than mere coincidence that MSNBC and Fox News debuted a mere year after the trial in 1996.  Furthermore, the Internet started to become a staple of homes and offices in the mid-1990s, with more Americans receiving their news online.

In retrospect, CNN’s fall from its perch at the top of cable news came very quickly.  Fox appealed to conservatives who had been distrustful of the “mainstream media” since the Nixon Administration’s attacks on liberal press bias during the Vietnam era.  Indeed, some Republicans took to calling CNN “Clinton News Network” during the 1990s.  By 2002, Fox surpassed CNN as the #1 cable news network.

MSNBC’s climb was more difficult as it struggled to find its identity for its first decade.  It may be hard to believe today, but conservatives such as Alan Keyes and (gulp) Michael Savage once hosted programs on the network, as the corporate hierarchy tried to figure out its niche.  Led by Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” and Chris Matthews' return to liberalism on “Hardball,” MSNBC redefined itself as a voice for progressives during George W. Bush’s second term.  Today, its prime-time ratings often exceed CNN’s, particularly among the all-important younger watchers.

While MSNBC and Fox News might seem completely different in every respect, they are both products of the rise of the Internet.  Most news-consuming Americans know the major events of the day by the time they get home and have little need to watch the network evening news or cable for such basic information.  Instead, viewers want to see pundits debating the issues of the time in an entertaining way and the newer networks have cornered that market.  Ironic given that CNN helped pioneer this format with “Crossfire.”  Now it is simply all “Crossfire,” all the time.

Though CNN’s ratings have fallen to their lowest ebb since its Gulf War breakout, the network still garners a huge boost during major news events like the Japanese tsunami or Egyptian revolution.  It had the highest audience of any cable network on election night 2008 (“What’s wrong at CNN?”).  Nevertheless, CNN has yet to find a way to consistently prosper in the 21st century and is rapidly becoming as irrelevant as the evening news.

Sources: “What’s wrong at CNN,”, Dylan Byers, June 26, 2012.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom"

I just finished watching Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series “The Newsroom” and all I can do is paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen,  “I knew the West Wing…The West Wing was a great show…The Newsroom, you’re no “West Wing.”  Despite is glaring weaknesses, notably the rather hoary nature of the dialogue, “The Newsroom” reveals important issues regarding the nature of television news and the media today.

Jeff Daniels plays Will McAvoy, a news anchor successfully appealing to a mass audience, an increasingly difficult prospect in a media age where people consume news through sources aimed at ideological niches.  To do so, however, his show is extremely careful not to offend, and he is twice mocked for being the newsman equivalent of Jay Leno.  Paired with a typical liberal and conservative at a college discussion panel reminiscent of so many cable programs today, he first tries to avoid making any comments that would draw any controversy.  After being pushed by a moderator to answer a student who asked, “Why is America the greatest country in the world? “  McAvoy lists all the ways the U.S. is behind other countries in various indices, declaring that we are no longer the greatest nation on the planet, even though we were at one point, listing all of the country’s previous accomplishments.  Many reviewers have compared this speech to Howard Beale’s famous meltdown in “Network,” (1976) where Beale declares “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” To me, however, it was more reminiscent of similar progressive calls to arms by Sorkin characters such as Michael Douglas’ President Andrew Shepard in “The American President” (1995) and Martin Sheen’s President Jed Bartlett in the “West Wing” (1999-2006).

After taking a vacation following his outburst, McAvoy’s boss (Sam Waterston) hires a new producer for his show, who also happens to be his ex-girlfriend.  When she tells McAvoy they can deliver a high quality program that will attain strong ratings even though “people choose the news they want now,” McAvoy disagrees, responding that “people choose the facts they want now,” citing studies suggesting the country is as divided as it has been since the Civil War.  She imagines a broadcast that doesn’t aim for a “demographic sweet spot,” but is instead “a place where we all come together,” reflecting nostalgia for the time when the Big Three networks dominated the landscape.

Of course, the two of them are discussing the rise of partisan media in recent years, notably MSNBC and Fox News.  No doubt the emergence of these networks reflects and sustains some of the political divisions in our society, as many Americans have their views reinforced rather than challenged.  But this is not the first time in our history that we have faced this situation.  In fact, our era is very similar to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, when Americans read party newspapers rather than independent journalism.  This period, like our own, was also marked by strong partisan attachments and a series of close elections between Democrats and Republicans, including 1888, when incumbent Grover Cleveland won the popular vote but lost the Electoral College and the presidency to Benjamin Harrison (sound familiar?) Incidentally, there was also a yawning gap between rich and poor during this time as well.

The show glorifies a bygone age of television journalism, starting with images of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite during the opening credits.  One of the few delights of “The Newsroom” is Waterston’s performance (nice to see him in something besides “Law and Order”!).   In one of several long soliloquies during the show, Waterston sermonizes, ”Anchors having an opinion isn’t a new phenomenon.  Murrow had one and that was the end of McCarthy. Cronkite had one and that was the end of Vietnam.”  I realize Sorkin is not aiming for historical accuracy, but this exaggerates the media’s role in history.  Murrow’s “See It Now“ programs on McCarthy came as “Tailgunner Joe’s” influence was already on the wane while Cronkite’s editorial against Vietnam reflected declining public support for the war rather than precipitating a turn against the conflict.  See

The pilot takes place during the 2010 BP oil spill and McAvoy’s new staff does a heroic job of exposing the inadequate government regulation that created the conditions for the disaster.  Similar to a scene from “Broadcast News” (1987) where William Hurt’s character adroitly covers breaking news with help from producer Holly Hunter, McAvoy explains the spill to the country with help from his ex.  In this sense, “The Newsroom” comes across as a bit anachronistic.  The move to opinion programing has come because the audience already knows what happened by the time the evening news airs. As David Carr wrote in today’s New York Times (6-25-2102), this is a primary reason for CNN’s declining ratings.

Perhaps the show will improve in the coming episodes, but the premiere was very weak.  I usually enjoy Sorkin’s highly intelligent dialogue, but it seemed extremely forced in this episode.  Unlike the great chemistry between the actors on the “West Wing,” the interactions among the “The Newsroom” cast appear awkward.  I’m afraid that’s the way it is.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Preview of "Mad Men," Season 6

As we begin the wait for the next “Mad Men” season, I have a few thoughts regarding the events that will shape it.  Though Matt Weiner has frequently noted that the show is not a history lesson, it is very likely that season six will take place in 1968, as it would be surprising to produce a show about the 1960s and omit its most eventful year.  While we can’t anticipate the personal challenges that await Don Draper and the other characters, we do know the major historical events that are to follow.

Vietnam took center stage at the outset of the fateful year.  Throughout the fall of 1967, the Johnson Administration repeatedly suggested the U.S. military was making progress against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army and that the nation could see “the light at the end of the tunnel.”  The communist allies, however, punctured this optimism when they launched a massive attack in January 1968 called the Tet Offensive.  Though the U.S. military eventually repelled it, the communists’ ability to launch a nationwide attack weakened public support for the war and destroyed Johnson’s remaining credibility.

In the aftermath of Tet, Senator Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota garnered 42 percent of the vote running as an anti-war candidate against Johnson in the New Hampshire primary.  Though McCarthy lost, his strong performance revealed how much the war had weakened LBJ.  Robert Kennedy, who had been the first choice of the anti-war forces, then entered the race, setting off one of the most dramatic primary battles in American history.  With his popularity crumbling, Johnson announced that he would not seek re-election on March 31.

A week later, James Early Ray assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee.  King had been preparing for his Poor People’s Campaign, which was to include a march on Washington D.C. to demand greater funding for anti-poverty programs, which had been diminished by the diversion of resources to the war.  In accordance with his new emphasis on economic inequality, King accepted an invitation to support the sanitation strike in Memphis, where garbage workers were fighting for better pay and work conditions.  After his assassination, riots broke out in 125 cities across the country, adding to the national sense of disorder.

RFK and McCarthy continued to battle it out in the Democratic primaries.  Echoing the 2008 race between Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama, RFK’s support came largely from blue-collar whites while McCarthy’s backing came primarily from upscale constituencies.  Many viewed Kennedy as the only person who could still speak to both sides of the cultural divide in America, as he retained credibility with working-class whites as well as minorities.  After winning the crucial California primary over McCarthy on June 6, RFK was shot and killed by Sirhan Sirhan in Los Angeles.

Even if Kennedy had lived, he would have faced an uphill battle to win the Democratic nomination.  At this time, only a small number of delegates were allocated through primaries and caucuses, as party officials still controlled the nominating process.  Vice-President Hubert Humphrey, the choice of the establishment, was virtually certain to win the nomination.

With no real possibility of an anti-war nominee, the radical faction of the peace movement mobilized to protest at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago.  Mayor Richard Daley and the city government refused to provide marching permits and confrontations with the local police ensued.  Eventually, police and the protesters squared off outside the convention hall and a national television audience watched the cops use tear gas and violence against the militants.  Humphrey received the nomination inside, but it was clear the violence outside had seriously damaged his candidacy.

The fall campaign witnessed a presidential race between Humphrey, Republican nominee Richard Nixon, and the independent candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace.  Both Nixon and Wallace campaigned strongly on the theme of “law and order,” declaring they would clamp down on rising crime, urban riots, and anti-war demonstrators.  As I pointed out in a previous post, it is important to remember than many Americans disdained and resisted the social changes of the 1960s.  See

Well behind at the outset of the general election campaign, Humphrey began to gain traction in September after he made a speech calling for more aggressive action to achieve peace in Vietnam, distancing himself from the unpopular Johnson.  His campaign started to reduce Nixon’s lead, particularly as labor unions worked to move frustrated blue-collar voters away from supporting Wallace and back into their traditional home in the Democratic Party.  In the end, though, Nixon edged out Humphrey for a narrow victory in the November election.

The year ended on an upbeat note as Apollo 8, the first spacecraft to orbit the moon, sent back incredible images of Earth on Christmas Eve.  Nevertheless, 1968 was a turbulent and divisive year and its repercussions would echo for decades to come.  It will be interesting to see how Don, Peggy, Joan, and Roger navigate its travails.

Monday, June 18, 2012


After watching the first two “Alien” films again last week, I was very excited to see their prequel, “Prometheus.”  Unfortunately, the Ridley Scott-directed movie turned out to be a major disappointment, particularly after an engaging first hour (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW).

The film delves into the origins of the villainous “Company,” which manipulated the events that led to Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the Nostromo reaching the planet where the murderous alien is discovered in the original film.  In “Prometheus,” “Company” founder Peter Weyland bankrolls the voyage of two scientists who believe they have discovered the extraterrestrial origins of life on Earth.  Unlike the first two films, profit is not the company’s motive; instead, the dying Weyland hopes that finding humanity’s creators will help him extend his life.

The composition of the Prometheus’ crew reflects the growing openness of American society since the 1970s.  Whereas the original ship featured a multicultural crew with minorities and women in supporting roles, an African American man captains the Prometheus and Weyland’s daughter, Meredith Vickers, supervises him (a bizarrely underused Charlize Theron).  This evolution reflects the election of Barack Obama as well as the emergence of female leaders such as Madeleine Albright, Condi Rice and Hilary Clinton. The idea of an African-American president with a female Secretary of State would have seemed like science fiction in 1979, but is reality today.

Co-written by “Lost” show runner Damon Lindelof, the movie echoes the conflicts between faith and science that marked the show.  The lead female character, Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (a possible homage to a character from the original “Doctor Who”), struggles with reconciling her religion with the disastrous events on the planet.  Shaw is contrasted with the unemotional rationality of android David (a possible homage to “2001”), just as John Locke and Jack Shepard argued the same debate on “Lost.” “Prometheus,” like “Lost,” asks many questions without offering its audience clear answers, although the door for a sequel to wrap things up is left wide open. With “Prometheus’” open-ended conclusion, it is as if “Lost” had ended following the airing of its pilot.

Though the film had great promise, I can’t really recommend it.  Wait for cable or Redbox. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The History of the NBA

With dramatically higher television ratings over the past two seasons, the National Basketball Association (NBA) seems to have finally emerged from the stagnation of the post-Michael Jordan era.  After two decades of meteoric growth during the 1980s and 90s, the league’s popularity stalled in the first years of the 21st century.  A new group of players, including LeBron James and Kevin Durant, are now propelling basketball back to near the top of the sports universe.

During its infancy in the 1950s, the NBA represented a minor part of the sports landscape, largely based in small and medium-sized cities such as Syracuse and Fort Wayne.  By the 1960s, the rivalry between big men Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain moved the league to center stage.  The league stalled, however, in the 1970s, as a paucity of exciting players and an association with drugs damaged the NBA’s image.  As the Reagan era dawned, the networks aired the NBA finals on tape delay and many franchises faced serious financial trouble.

The entrance of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird into the league in 1979, along with the continued greatness of Julius “Dr. J” Erving, brought basketball back to life in the 1980s, as the rivalry between Magic’s Celtics and Bird’s Lakers produced tremendous drama and high fan interest.  By the end of the 1980s, the NBA was reaching parity with the NFL and major league baseball.

As Magic and Bird passed from the scene in the early ‘90s, the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan took the league to unprecedented heights.  A once in a generation draw, Jordan became an international star that transcended barriers in the U.S. and around the world.  He buoyed the entire sport as the excitement surrounding the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team,” a collection of the best professional players in the US, showed that the biggest individual stars in American sports were basketball players.  Due to his star power, the NBA finals finally achieved ratings higher than the World Series during MJ’s last appearance in 1998. 

Following Jordan’s second retirement that year, the league’s growth slowed.  No player emerged to fill the vacuum left by Jordan’s departure and ratings fell significantly.  Defense ruled and low-scoring games, while they might demonstrate skill, did not draw fans in the same numbers.  The next generation of stars, such as Philadelphia’s Allen Iverson, did not seem to resonate with casual fans, perhaps due to their association with the growing hip-hop culture.  The success of small-market franchises like the San Antonio Spurs, which won four titles in the post-MJ era, failed to stimulate the interest of the nation.  Even when the Spurs and their low-key star Tim Duncan played against “next Jordan” LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers in 2007 finals, the matchup drew all-time low ratings.

The last four years, though, have witnessed a renaissance for the league. The re-emergence of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry provided a boost, as the two teams faced off in the 2008 and 2010 Finals.  The Game 7 between the two historic franchises in 2010 drew the highest ratings for any game since Jordan’s last NBA Finals game in 1998.

The real break for the league, however, came when LeBron James announced his intention to leave Cleveland for Miami to join fellow stars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in a highly publicized ESPN broadcast.  The resulting backlash against the primetime program, “The Decision,” as well as the self-congratulatory celebration the “Big Three” held upon arriving in Miami, have made the Heat a nonstop reality show worthy of “American Idol“ for the last two seasons.

The “Heatles” became the most hated team in professional sports, buoying the league in general, with the NBA experiencing a huge increase in television ratings during the 2010-11 campaign.  Despite the lockout, the league has sustained the momentum through this season as the Eastern Conference Finals matchup between Boston and Miami featured the three highest rated NBA games ever on ESPN.  Game 1 of the NBA Finals between the Heat and Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder drew the highest ratings for an opening game in at least a decade.

Though no player will likely ever equal Jordan’s star power, it’s possible that a James-Durant rivalry could match the Bird-Magic battles of the 1980s.  After a decade of middling success, the NBA is in the midst of another boom period.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The "Alien" Franchise

With “Prometheus,” the prequel to the “Alien” franchise, debuting in theatres last week, I decided to watch the first two films again.  Having not seen the original in many years, I was struck by how well Ridley Scott’s original film has aged.  James Cameron’s sequel “Aliens” holds up as well, though I might be inclined to see the first as the superior film now.

Released in 1979, “Alien” is clearly influenced by the zeitgeist of 70s cinema.  Premiering two years after “Star Wars,” the movie taps into the Apollo-era interest in space exploration(  Unlike its sequel, “Aliens,” (1986) which was more of a traditional action film, the original is a “Jaws,”-like suspense movie, as we rarely have a clear view of the monster, just as we rarely got a full view of the shark.

A post-civil rights era film, the crew of the Nostromo, the space freighter in the movie, reflects the diversity of the period with its mix of whites, blacks, and women.  After the emergence of a vibrant woman’s movement in the 1970s, sci-fi/fantasy films featured feminist heroines like “Star Wars’” Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), “Superman’s” Lois Lane (Margot Kidder), and “Raiders of the Lost Ark’s” Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen).  These characters seemed a bit forced, often exhibiting an aggressiveness that sometimes bordered on excessive to demonstrate their strength.  Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, the lead character in “Alien,” is the most subtle and layered of these characters.   “Alien” launched Weaver’s career and Ripley became the lead in the three sequels, making it the first film franchise headlined by a woman.

In the aftermath of Vietnam, Watergate, and the exposure of the misdeeds of American intelligence agencies, distrust of government grew and conspiracies became a central element of 1970s movies such as “The Conversation (1974),” “The Parallax View (1974),” and of course, “All The President’s Men (1976).”   “Alien” is no exception, as the amorphous “Company” sends the Nostromo to investigate a mysterious signal on another planet, using the crew as as bait to find the dangerous alien, with hopes to bringing it back for its weapon division.  “The Company” deemed the Ripley and her comrades  “expendable” and its chicanery would continue into the sequels.  It represents nefarious corporate interests and/or the CIA (often referred to as the “Company”), whose excesses were exposed by the media and the congressional Church Committee in the mid-1970s.

Though “Aliens” maintains some of the claustrophobic horror of the original, it is more of a conventional action movie.  After drifting in suspended animation in space for 57 years, Ripley is revived and accompanies a group of futuristic Marines back to the planet.  Opening at the same time as 1980s action franchises like “Rambo,” Reagan-era Ripley becomes a full-scale action hero by the end of the film, fighting the aliens with high-tech weaponry, as opposed to simply evading them as she did in the original.  Directed by James Cameron, “Aliens” is very similar to his “Avatar,” (2009) with the alien/military backdrop and insatiable corporate demands for profit.  Grace Augustine, the scientist played by Weaver in “Avatar,” strikes me as an older version of Ellen Ripley.

Given the mediocrity of the last two films, “Alien 3” (1992) and “Alien Resurrection,”(1997) the franchise has been somewhat forgotten.  As a result, the ads for “Prometheus” made the film sound like something fresh and new, rather than linking it to the older movies.  I’ll try to catch “Prometheus” this weekend and report back.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Return of "Dallas"

“Dallas” returns to television this week on TNT, another reminder of the passing of the power of the Big 3 networks.  Back in the late 70s and early 80s, the story of the Ewing clan dominated primetime as millions of people turned in to CBS every week to find what happened to J.R., Sue Ellen, Bobby, and a bunch of other characters I can’t remember.  In an era before VCRs, DVDs, and DVRs, viewers had to watch every episode in real time.

After the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, gas prices skyrocketed and lines at the pump became one of the iconic images of the Me Decade.  As a result, domestic drilling increased and money flowed into Texas, particularly to Houston and Dallas.  Debuting in 1978, the soap opera about the fictional Ewings and their oil company became the most popular program on television.  Airing on Fridays, a night the networks have long since abandoned, “Dallas” became the #1 show in the ratings by the early 1980s.

The show achieved its greatest prominence in 1980, when “Dallas” featured the most talked about cliffhanger in the history of television.  In the season finale, an unknown assailant shot J.R. Ewing (Larry Hagman), the program’s iconic lead (and villain) and the nation debated “Who shot J.R.?” all summer.  Before cable, this question consumed the country in a way no television mystery has since, including ”Who killed Laura Palmer?” (“Twin Peaks”) or “Will Picard remain a Borg?”(“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) or any one of the season finales of “Lost.”  The fourth episode of the next season, where everyone discovered that J.R.’s secretary was the culprit, became the most watched program in television history at the time, as 76 percent of televisions in use tuned in (record was later surpassed by the final episode of “M.A.S.H.”)

The show spawned a series of prime-time soaps that dotted the TV landscape, including its spinoff “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest.” “Dynasty” emerged as the most successful of the imitators, battling “Dallas” for the #1 Nielsen spot during the mid-1980s.  Like its rival, “Dynasty” focused on a family in the oil business, the Carringtons, based in Denver.

Ironically, “Dallas” began to show its age at the same time oil prices collapsed in the mid-80s.  When Patrick Duffy, who played J.R’s good guy brother Bobby, wanted to leave the show in season seven, his character was killed off in a car crash.  Unhappy with the direction of the show during the next season, Hagman wanted to bring Duffy back.  To accomplish this end, the show runners decided to make the previous season a dream, with Bobby’s wife Pam waking up to see Bobby emerge from the shower in the season eight finale.  Depending on your perspective, it was either a classic or infamous television moment and I dare say an audience would not accept such a scenario today. (one of the print ads for the revived “Dallas,” which includes some of the old cast, pays homage to the twist)  

Gradually, the other soaps aged as well.  “Dynasty” was never the same after a spectacular season finale where terrorists attacked a wedding, riddling the Carringtons and their guests with bullets, only to have virtually everyone survive unharmed the next fall.  Meanwhile, the broadcast networks revived the sitcom, which had been proclaimed dead in the early 1980s, with  “The Cosby Show,” “Cheers,” and other shows leading the Nielsen standings.  “Dallas” and “Dynasty” limped on, remaining on the air until the early 1990s, albeit with lower ratings than during their respective primes.

While the prime-time soaps disappeared, they left a significant legacy.  With their multiple plots within episodes and across seasons, they laid the groundwork for the serialized shows that have dominated the landscape in recent years, such as  “ER,” “24,” and “Mad Men.”   Though several of the original actors, including Hagman and Duffy, are returning in significant roles, the revived “Dallas” will never match the success of the original network version; audiences simply have too many entertainment options today.  Nevertheless, it is remarkable that J.R. Ewing is still alive and kicking three decades after his shooting gripped the nation.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Mad Men," Season Five, Episode 13, "The Phantom"

The final episode of season five, which occurred in 1966-67, brought together major themes from the previous episodes as well as the first four seasons, with each character alternatively frustrated by and/or challenging the barriers in America in the 1960s.  By the end of “The Phantom,” “Mad Men” seems to be preparing the audience for the turmoil to follow in 1968.

As I noted in my post on episode five, ”Signal 30,” Pete is extremely depressed by his new suburban lifestyle in Connecticut.  His only solace comes from a brief affair with the spouse of a fellow commuter.  When his wife, Trudy, shows him the drawing of the suburban swimming pool she is planning for their home’s backyard, it only fills him with more dread about the permanence of his move out of New York City.  After coming home injured following a fight on the train with the husband of his “mistress,” he tells Trudy that he crashed his car.  Fearful for his safety, she succumbs to his earlier demand for a supplemental apartment in Manhattan.  Desperate for any return to the urban lifestyle, Pete represents the stereotypical unhappy suburbanite of the postwar migration out of the cities.

Megan’s disgust with Don’s persistent lack of support for her acting dreams reaches fruition when he refuses to help her get an audition for a client’s commercial, even though she tells him she would still “be home by dinner.”  After engaging in Don-like drinking exploits, she tells him that he just wants her to be waiting for him at the end of the day.  Just as he could not accept Betty’s modeling, Draper remains hard-pressed to accept a relationship with a career woman, clearly frightened by the possibility of female independence.  Despite his occasional chivalry, such as his emphatic rejection of the idea of using Joan to acquire an account in “The Other Woman,” he still clings to a traditional, pre-second wave feminist view of a women’s place in the world.

This dynamic could also be viewed in Don’s random encounter with Peggy at a movie theater.  Though he claims to be proud of her success, Don has a hard time reconciling her moving forward professionally without him.  “That’s what happens when you help someone, they succeed and move on,” he says to her wistfully, clearly afraid the same will happen if Megan achieves her ambitions.

Meanwhile, Peggy’s progress continues to symbolize the journey of American women into the workplace in the postwar period.  Having begun as a secretary in the show’s pilot, she became a copywriter in season one and now has supervisory authority of her own at the new firm.  She seems almost-Don like at her new position, dressing down her charges for weak work.

As the season concludes, Don yields to Megan’s request and she wins the role.  While we see her and others in bright colors on the set of the commercial, Draper still remains the “Man in the Grey Flannel Suit,” walking away in dark colors, symbolizing his distance from the evolving America of the 1960s.  It appears his holiday from philandering may be at an end, just as one of the most divisive and eventful years in American history is about to start.  Can’t wait for season six.