The Orange Couch, Episode 5 of Mad Men: “Signal 30”
This Orange Couch is a little later than I usually like to get it up, but I’ve been running around trying to get my IDs replaced after losing them in a bus.
Last night’s episode cemented to me that this season of “Mad Men” is going to really focus on how chaotic the 60s actually felt for people at the time. Marc and I focus on three aspects of the episode: the overt examination of masculinity and male violence, the various ways that fantasy plays out in life, and the entire Pete situation. Marc and I are both from Austin, and so the Charles Whitman shootings loom larger in our imaginations than perhaps the rest of the country’s; knowing so many details about Whitman and his crime made it clear how much the show was drawing a direct line from Pete to Charles Whitman. Watch Orange Couch to hear our thoughts.
What I want to add is this: There’s a tendency with history for complexity to get mowed over as time passes. Now that we’re 5 decades past the 60s, it seems that people are beginning to forget that it was a time of great dread for the nation. We tend to look back and see it mostly through a political lens, which is appropriate because it was a political time: Hippies and anti-war? Check. Feminism and civil rights? Check. Reactionary responses to all of the above? Check. But what that tends to paper over is that it seems there was a lot of cultural change that’s harder to box in. It would be nice to say that the dread was simply the result of reactionary anger about changing social norms, and sure, there was a lot of that. But it was more existential than all that. This episode really managed to touch on a lot of cultural shifts that were optimistic and awesome, especially when it comes to Ken’s writing and the 60s explosion of highly imaginative genre fiction that is still with us today. (See: “Mad Men”‘s chatter competition, “Game of Thrones”.) I’d definitely put Don and Megan’s playful sexuality and just Megan’s overall life into that category. It was an era of embracing the possible, and that was good. Thus, the moon landing. But it was also an era where there was a definite sense that the old gods, as it were, were bubbling up and spilling blood. Thus, the Manson family murders less than a month after the moon landing. These things don’t fit into neat political boxes, but are more primal than that, about our greatest hopes and our worst nightmares. And this episode really dwelled on that. It built on last week’s episode, which was about a more banal kind of masculine violence.
I’m not sure what to make of all this. I think they’re going to go dark places, which is appropriate. “Mad Men” is at its best when mining the 60s for the complexities that most people forget about, and the growing fear of crime and the air of violence in the 60s is something that fits in that category, fading with time because it’s so hard to categorize or explain what it meant. I’m really curious to see what they do with these themes.
Here is a link to Charles Whitman’s suicide note. I realize it’s controversial to call what he did a “suicide”, but I believe he went up in that tower with no intention of ever coming down.