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Wednesday, 28 of October of 2020

Mad Men – Peggy and the Artists (from “The Rejected”)

“That IS writing.”

Common in the threads of Mad Men are counter-culture characters who embody the changing tide of the 1960s, specifically toward the well-oiled advertising infrastructure. From episode 1, we see a whiff of hostility toward what Don Draper does, from the affair he opens the series with to the college-aged kid he fails at seducing while visiting Anna. Generally, these threads are aimed at Don, the tailored-suit-armored embodiment of that super-structure, as they try to challenge him. The counter-culture characters are generally amazed when they come face-to-face with a man in advertising, as if they’re seen a “g-man” in the flesh; the concept is bandied about so much and so elevated that any tangible evidence almost feels unrealistic. “Really? You’re in advertising?” And then come the disparaging comments representing the movement. Don quells them with firmness but charm and they either decide they are at impasse or move on to something else.

Kinsey’s party (where we meet his girlfriend) also has a bit counter-culture in it (Kinsey being an interesting figure as a member of the culture while working in advertising) but, now that the show is into the mid-60s, specifically post-Warhol, it’s interesting to see how they maintain this thread. Sure, last week they had Stephanie clumsily represent but she lacked bite and true hostility. So why not see what happens when you deeply embed Draper-by-proxy into the anti-commercial artists’ culture.

Fight my battle, Peggy.

Let’s start with a little background for the party. Peggy meets a woman on the elevator, Joyce, who works for LIFE magazine who is friends with an artist that wants to sell nude photos. Joyce is representing sexual freedom in this instance, specifically girls that like girls, since the camera makes it obvious several times that she’s into Peggy. I say sexual freedom since their treatment of Joyce is far less harsh than their treatment of homosexuality and Sal’s desperation for a connection from inside the closet. Joyce doesn’t seem to be punished as much as Sal was. But maybe this is an indication of a different time in a different caste.

Peggy likes the nude photos and suddenly falls in with Joyce’s crowd. She invites our young copywriter to a party of artist-types and Peggy gleefully accepts. This is a truncated version, of course, especially given all the other stuff going on in Peggy’s life. The major set-up: Peggy is going to attend a party held by an artist for other artists.

Peggy stands out from the Bohemian throngs in the warehouse party but, in her own way, manages to fit in, smoking dope and not batting an eye when Joyce licks her face. Her stoicism in the face of counter-culture is different from Don’s but is essentially a root-derivative.

The most interesting part of her evening comes when she meets the artist. David, shirtless but be-jacketed, talks to Peggy briefly about his film showing on a projector behind them. The film features numerous negative images positioned in montage next to known words and phrases, hoping to create a synthesis of provocation. “Do you like it?” David asks just after the words “Holy Eucharist” appear on the screen. “I’m Catholic,” she replies. “I don’t think I’m supposed to.” Peggy, now having seen his photos and his film work, pretty much offers him a job, saying her firm is always looking for photographers. In a different show, Scrubs perhaps, you would’ve heard the sound of a record needle ripping off the vinyl.

Why on earth would I do that? This is where Peggy and Don diverge. Don understands the culture that opposes him. He understands they all believe he is selling souls to the devil Materialism and the only way to counter the spirit-draining, magic-eating industry is through provocation in art and about art. Basically, Don enters every conversation with a radical by reducing the debate to an impasse as quickly as possible. Peggy, on the other hand, has no idea why someone that likes to do something wouldn’t want to do it for a living. She loves copywriting. If you love to do something and you can get paid to do that thing forever, what is the problem? When the people around her at the party ask her what she’s writing other than the copy she composes for advertising, she’s confused. That is writing. She’s a writer just like anyone else in the room that puts words to the page. Why does she need to work in another medium to validate her art?

A phrase David drops is “post-Warhol” as in how can Peggy reconcile what she does in a post-Warhol period. With his work, Warhol equally celebrated commercialism and pulled the curtain on the artistic cost of mechanical reproduction while demonzing the advertising industry for creating such easily-replicated works of artistic fabrication. David sees Peggy as an agent of that industry, recruiting. Peggy sees her work as honest attempts at reaching people.

And this is where Don and Peggy converge again. While Don may be more manipulative, his goal is to connect to people deeply, not necessarily just cater to a superficial desire. This is why she defends Peggy’s Pond’s campaign to Dr Miller when she suggests Freddie’s is the right fit. The difference between Freddie’s campaign being about getting married and Peggy’s campaign being about ritual and feeling beautiful is stark. Freddie is only about the superficial, conventional, stereotypical desire of a woman within the social structure of the time: all women are interested in themselves only through the male gaze. Peggy’s is not only more transformative but also more forward-thinking, especially with our knowledge of the future of women’s liberation and the future of advertising becoming more personal. Don’s campaigns are the original to Peggy’s mirror. Consider the Kodak “Carousel” campaign or even the Glo-Coat campaign. While I think Peggy’s motivations are more pure than Don’s, they aim at the same heart.

Lastly, we have to consider the elevator scene with the last look between Pete and Peggy. Peggy heads to lunch with her new counter-culture friends while Pete heads to lunch with some business associates. Peggy floats on the bleeding edge for their time. As she discovers herself and runs with a crowd trying to revolutionize conventional thinking, she witnesses the changing times. Pete is still mired in old-fashioned business (albeit with a cutthroat guerrilla style) and, while they both ascend, they are finding themselves in different places on the cultural spectrum. Peggy’s acceptance of youth and her ability to question the things she should be doing, particularly settling down (slipping on Dr Miller’s wedding ring feels less like hopeful pretending and more like careful meditation), not only positions her differently in her industry but also diametrically-opposed to Pete. They always have been different, Peggy in Creative and Pete in Account Management but never have they been put at such a distance before within the same space.

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