Mark: Hello everybody, and welcome to this week’s edition of TV Talk, brought to you by the Ayn Rand Center UK. My name is Mark Pellegrino. I’m here with my amazing co-hosts Jacqueline Schumann and Jennifer Bouani, the authors of The Strike, which is one of the best renditions of Atlas Shrugged I have ever read. And I will keep saying that every single episode. I don’t care what anybody thinks. And this is a show where we talk about television from the objectivist perspective and make a few comparisons with Atlas Shrugged and The Strike, and then get your creative input on how the show The Strike should go. We’re also joined today by the Lord Emperor himself Razi Ginsburg is here. What’s up, Razi.
Razi: Hey Mark, hey Jax, hey Jennifer. As I told you guys when we were talking about doing this show, we had a list of a few shows that you guys wanted to discuss, and I said I’ve only seen one of them so far, which is Mad Men, but I’ve watched it three times, so I’m very happy to be here to discuss one of my favourite shows ever.
Mark: So Razi is here as the resident expert on Mad Men, which is the show we will be reviewing today. It was a drama created by Matthew Weiner of Sopranos fame for anybody who wants to know those little tidbits. I love those little tidbits of trivia; I don’t know about you guys. It ran for seven seasons on AMC. It won 16 Primetime Emmys and garnered over 200 more nominations of various other awards. The show starred the great Jon Hamm as the anti-hero, Don Draper. A little piece of trivia; I worked with Jon Hamm on a show called Beirut. Good movie; check it out if you can. Vincent Kartheiser, I hope I’m pronouncing that name right, as his nemesis Pete Campbell. Christina Hendricks as the queen of the office Joan Harris. Elizabeth Moss as the wide-eyed Peggy Olsen and January Jones as Betty Draper, the infamous Don Draper’s wife. Also, John Slattery as the partner Roger Sterling and Robert Morse as Bertram Cooper, the other partner in this crazy advertising firm called Sterling, Cooper and partners. Do we have a poll announcement?
Jennifer: Yes, we have poll results from last week.
Jennifer: Stay tuned to the end of the show, and we will have a new Mad Men related poll. And spoiler alerts for Mad Men and Atlas Shrugged!
Mark: Even though we’re dealing with only the first season, we’re going to ruin the entire first season for you probably, so if you don’t want spoilers, just plug your ears and read our lips. But stay tuned. I’m just going to give you the basic point of what I think the main plot is that all the other action hangs on. The show follows the ups and downs of our anti-hero Don Draper as he advances through the corporate jungle that is the advertising firm of Sterling Cooper and Partners. Would you say that accurately reflects pretty much most of what goes on there? that’s the spine of the piece
Jax: I would say. I would say he’s extremely conflicted. Razi, what do you think?
Razi: It does follow Don Draper’s life. I don’t necessarily agree that he’s an anti-hero. He’s definitely not an Ayn Rand hero in the full sense, but he’s one of the closest I think that I’ve seen on television. And I will elaborate throughout the episode why some of the downs are not as bad as they might seem, and the positives about Don Draper are admirable qualities.
Mark: Okay, this is interesting. Matthew Weiner himself considered Don Draper to be an anti-hero, so why would you consider him to be more heroic in nature as opposed to anti-heroic?
Razi: So first of all, I think the fact that he loves what he does for a living and is so good at it. It’s important for him to be good at it; that is something we can appreciate from an objectivist point of view. That is the main point I think with him, and the main thing about the character. The downsides we can get to either now or later. He cheats on his wife, that is one of the clearest problems with his behaviour. Even there, I would say, first of all, there’s a question regarding why he got married in the first place. Maybe back then, people would get married because at a certain point you have to get married, and you have to have kids, and you just find [someone] who is going to make the perfect housewife/mother. When he has affairs, they are emotional connections. He actually is interested in the women he is with. He rejects women that he doesn’t have an emotional connection with. We see that with Peggy at the very beginning. We see that later with the twins. Unlike the other men who would basically take what they can get, he is not like that.
Mark: There definitely seems to be a similar characteristic that the women he actually goes for possess. And I think that in the case of the first girl, who’s sort of a bohemian artist, who’s delving into that world that will become the mid to late 60s hippie and yippee movement that so affected the culture at the time. She’s a very detached person, and she doesn’t like connections or attachments in the same way that he doesn’t, and so that gives her a sense of independence and strength that you don’t see in Betty Draper. And likewise, when he goes for the heiress to that department store fortune, she’s also a very strong independent woman who goes into it with her eyes wide open knowing exactly what she’s doing, exactly what she’s pursuing, and why. And so the women themselves I think are better than him. not necessarily the artist who I think is a bit of a mess, and an interesting sort of example of culture clash, but certainly the CEO, the heiress is a very interesting woman that I would consider to be on the level of an Ayn Rand heroic type of character. It’s interesting, but it seems like some of these women are more escape valves than value pursuits. He wants to go away with them, but each time he wants to go away, he’s running away from something in his own life. I think you can characterize Don by one characteristic that makes him anti-heroic, and that is evasion. Massive evasion on lots of levels.
Jax: The interesting thing to me about this series is that it is all about identity. At least the first season is about Don hiding his true identity from everybody around him. All the women he chooses to have affairs and deliberate connections with have a strong sense of their own identity. They’re all very, very confident, and that’s something that Don, even though he exudes that on the outside, he’s really missing that on the inside. so the act of him going out and finding these women who are confident in their own skin and have excellent identity. It’s a real interesting inverse in the women that he chooses. If you remember what Ayn Rand said about, ‘show me the woman that a man sleeps with, and I will tell you what all of his values are’. He’s not sleeping with prostitutes or having one night stands.
Jennifer: The women he’s sleeping with are very different from each other. It’s like he’s exploring his own identity by finding new women. I have not seen the entire series, but I am at season four, so I’m in a weird place here. I do think that he’s got this hole in his heart. We see this horrible back story of how he grew up. His mother, he didn’t know at all, a prostitute. His father is a terrible man that the hobo code they write is that he’s a dishonest man. His stepmother is mean. So he’s really never experienced love. And if you’re a child and you’ve never experienced love, how can you love as an adult? You don’t know what it looks like, and it’s almost like he’s exploring it with these different women trying to figure it out, and he medicates with that hole in his heart with each one. But they’re very different. But you’re right; they are. That’s an interesting point, Jax, that they are very sure of who they are, and that’s attractive to him.
Razi: I defended his affairs; now I’ll defend the fact that he basically stole somebody else’s identity. He had a terrible upbringing; he chose to enlist in the army and go to war, knowing there’s a chance he won’t come back. The guy he was with there died, and he was about to be released, so in that situation, this was his chance at having a decent life, starting over from a situation which really you can understand why somebody wouldn’t want to go back to the life that he had previously.
Jax: But you also have to note the cowardly way he stole the guy’s identity. So the real Don Draper was a brave soldier, and Dick Whitman was supposed to be helping him set some kind of bomb or dynamite or whatever. He failed in it, and the implication was that it was Don’s or Dick Whitman’s ineptitude or lack of courage that got Don Draper killed.
Mark: I thought that just happened because there was the firefight, they got attacked, and some canister of flammable fluid was leaking. Neither of them knew that that was the case, and he lit the cigarette, and that’s what happened.
Jax: The implication is supposed to be that it was by his own incompetence that the fire started and got Don Draper killed. It instilled in him, I think, a level of guilt for having done that.
Mark: Razi, did you notice that was his incompetence that was responsible? I mean, he clearly does something that’s an accident, and it sets the thing off, but…
Razi: I only noticed the accident, and it is that is his fault he did drop the lighter and then and then they blew up. Having said that, the real Don Draper is then dead so
Mark: But then the family is deprived of the real ability to mourn this guy. They think he’s just disappeared off the face of the earth. This brings me to something Bertram Cooper says later on where he’s like, look, I see me in you. You’re a guy that sort of goes after what you want. You have to read Atlas Shrugged because you’re gonna see something in there that’s like you. What do we see in Don Draper, and what’s established throughout the thing, is he’s a guy who follows his impulses and does whatever the fuck he wants — at the expense of the people around him who are invested in him who love him. And stealing that man’s identity is one way in which you could say, wow, is this the way objectivists think? I’m gonna go for what I want irrespective of the fallout to other people, because hey, I won’t be affected by that fallout. It’s Draper’s family, and I will never see them. They’re an abstraction to me, so who the fuck cares, right? I would say that is a malignantly narcissistic thing to do even though it’s inspired by the heroic desire to leave a terrible situation and start over. What do you say to that?
Is Don Draper heroic?
Razi: I definitely don’t think that’s a heroic moment, but all things considered, it’s understandable. This was his way to escape his past life, so again I’m half defending it in the way I half defend his affairs. I would say there is some evasion, as there usually is with the characters who have not been written by Ayn Rand, but overall I think the good far outweighs the bad in Don Draper.
Jax: Something very interesting that I was just watching another interview with Matthew Weiner and how Jon Hamm got the role. He said that Jon Hamm was the only person who auditioned who exuded a man with a conscience without having to say a word. That was critical for him. From that, we know that the creator is creating a character who needs to have a conscience. Unlike Walter White from Breaking Bad, who starts out as seemingly a good guy and turns into something horrific. Don Draper starts out as, I mean, we see all of his flaws, and we see that he’s having affairs and hiding things, but Don only has upwards to go. He’s gonna have to hit rock bottom first, and but he’s got a way to go to be a better man, and I respect that. So even though Weiner said he was an anti-hero, I’m kind of with Razi on this that I think he’s more heroic than not.
Mark: What I like about this style of writing that I sometimes find missing in Rand, you guys could disagree with me if you want, is that I think people can identify with a guy like Don Draper much more easily in a sense than they can with a Francisco Danconia or a John Galt or even a Howard Roark because the character is accessible through his flaws. You see a guy who acts out because of his broken heart in ways we would consider self-destructive, but there’s also this tremendous push and ambition in him and a sense of standards for what he does that makes him good in his job. I see this a lot in the business, flawed people personally whose personal lives are in shambles, but who’s whose professional lives are where they put their focus in a sense, or where they put their conscious effort. And in a way, don’t you think that’s touchable? When I read about Peter Keating and Howard Roark, I saw no bridge between the two of them. The bridge could be a Don Draper. The bridge is a guy who’s fractured and messed up but has enough heroic tendencies to pull him out of the nosedive one hopes. And that’s what could make him potentially very heroic, is if he’s able to turn it all around. If those good elements that are good in certain areas could bleed into the other ones. what’s say, you guys?
Jax: I think that’s why everybody loves Hank Rearden. Hank Rearden is the one I identified the most with, but I also did identify with Peter Keating.
Mark: Hank Rearden seems fiercely moral. Would you call Don Draper fiercely moral?
Jax: I don’t think Don Draper knows what morality is.
Razi: I don’t think Hank Rearden really cares about morality that much either to begin with. At the beginning, he is focused on his work, which is why he is conflicted when it comes to his life at home. I think the same is definitely true about Don Draper.
Mark: Don’t you think Hank Rearden had a fierce morality to him? It just wasn’t expressed in the way I think most people would consider morality to be expressed. I think that sense of morality extended to what he thought his relationship with other people should be, his relationship with Lilian, and I don’t get that sense with Draper at all. I get the sense that he’s passionately narcissistic in every aspect of his life. Most of that, except for his job, is extremely self-destructive passionate narcissism.
Razi: I think with Rearden at the beginning, it definitely wasn’t explicitly stated in his mind at least, and he sort of discovered it as he goes along. With Don Draper, he clearly didn’t take a $1.99 out of that $2,500 bonus and get a copy of Atlas Shrugged, which is what’s missing.
Jax: With Hank, I think he’s implicitly moral, but he lacks the ability to define it, and that’s what Francisco provides to him. Jennifer, what do you think about Don Draper as a moral person, or whether he knows?
Jennifer: I don’t think he knows. I think he’s a complex character. On a business level, he’s moral, he’s productive, he’s a creative genius, and he’s got a good work ethic. On a personal level, he’s a complete mess, and he is evading. He’s living a different life, he does not live a life of integrity, and he’s experiencing pain from that. But he doesn’t have the luxury of a Francisco in his life to point the way. He’s got to figure it out on his own, he does have somebody’s pointing out a book he could read, but he hasn’t read it yet. He’s still figuring it out. I think that’s part of the draw as we’re tuning in every week to see what’s he going to do next. Is he going to learn is he going to hit rock bottom? Is he going to learn something from journaling? Is this the love that’s going to make a difference? Is he going to pull himself out of this and become a better man? and that’s why we tune in. We want to know. I love that. But he’s complex.
Mark: Given the fact that Atlas Shrugged is mentioned probably three or four times in season one, what do you think Weiner is trying to say by mentioning Shrugged shrug so often? Especially when you see it juxtaposed with this frat house atmosphere of the advertising company, with misogynistic, racist white men sort of running savagely over everyone in their path and also competing with each other rather unscrupulously? And all of it sort of topped off by the guy who says, ah, this is great you should read Atlas Shrugged, it’ll sort of promote what you already got going. I think Weiner seemed to mean that by setting this in the 60s. I just want to add this as a note, because I think it might be significant, that we look at the 60s with a sort of breathless nostalgia as if it was this great myriad. And he actually brings a definition to nostalgia which means it’s a remembrance of a wound. It’s actually much more raw and painful. Imperfect. It seemed like part of his mission in writing this, which may also be connected to the Atlas Shrugged promotion is to disillusion people about a time. There wasn’t a perfect time. There wasn’t this great innocence that existed in this period. In fact, people were just as fucked up as they are today. If not worse now. So what do you think of all this mishmash that I’m throwing out there? What do you think of this dropping of Atlas Shrugged so many times to make a deliberate point about the atmosphere and the ethics that they should be following, along with his desire to disillusion people about a certain period in time? Are they related?
Jax: I’d like to hear what Razi has to say because we had this conversation last night.
Razi: I think in terms of the way Atlas Shrugged and Rand’s ideas, in general, are treated in popular culture, if this was meant to make her look bad, I don’t think it works that much. We look at things like the gender dynamics in the workplace in Mad Men. It definitely looks like a very uncomfortable experience being a woman there. But we also should keep in mind there is a certain unquestionable cultural atmosphere that was accepted back then. We have a different unquestionable cultural atmosphere today that I don’t necessarily think it’s better in some ways. It’s probably worse in other ways. It’s during a shift; women before that would not even be in a workplace. At this point, they were.
Razi: There are a few great characters in the show, and one of them is definitely Peggy, who comes in as just a secretary and doesn’t really at the beginning think of herself as potentially any more, because that is what a woman does in an office like this. And then, she is recognized as a potential copywriter, and at the end of the season, she is actually promoted to being a copywriter. And we see even within this season, and we might see it in the next seasons, that she develops this confidence that that is real. It’s a real confidence because it’s a confidence that comes from being good at something and seeing that you’re good at something.
Mark: I think Peggy Olson’s character, you already see the massive arc happening within just those first 13 episodes. You could see it happening, a real shift in her character, which I loved. It’s a metamorphosis, for sure. She’s one of my favourites, as is Joan’s character, who’s very different than Peggy.
World-weary. Queen of the office. Really, really rules the roost, so to speak, and runs things. She’s the power behind the throne, with no illusions about herself or anyone else, but very much in command of herself. Very very self-aware, and a very interesting character in her own right. What did you think of Joan?
Jax: Joan is one of my favourite characters. I’ve seen Mad Men the whole series before, and I’m re-watching it now, and I’m at season six. Every time I see it, I appreciate her more and more. She’s so interesting; she has layers to her. she is both feared and respected in the office by everybody. Nobody tries to really come on to Joan, whereas anytime a new pretty secretary comes on, all the guys are around their desks. She takes shit from no one, but she also recognizes that she is in a time where women don’t have the same opportunities that men do. She is one of these people who, she uses what she has most definitely. She doesn’t flaunt it.
Mark: I feel like that might be accidental. I was listening to an interview with Weiner. He said that they didn’t have dresses that showed cleavage back then. I get the sense that she might, in a different time, have shown cleavage. I think he had the idea of the women being sort of packages that you unwrapped.
Jax: She’s always got bows. There is one scene, though, where a new secretary comes on. She’s, of course, a pretty secretary, and she purposely unbuttons the top button of her blouse to start showing some cleavage, and Joan goes right up to her and tells her to button her blouse. She’s like, I know what you’re doing and don’t do that here. This isn’t the place for it. So that implied that even if she had the ability to do it, I don’t think that she would.
Jennifer: In the very first pilot with Peggy, doesn’t she talk about her ankles or something, like she’s telling Peggy to dress a little bit…
Mark: And to show off her legs that she thinks are an asset. She knows how to work the system, and I think in a different time, she would have worked it in a different way. She’s definitely a courtesan and a very good one.
Weiner tried to make this a bit of an expose on the 60s. Do you think he did a good job of that? I don’t look back at the 60s with any nostalgia, and maybe that’s unique to objectivists. We don’t look at the 60s as a time of change. I look at it as a time of regression. I did this film called An American Affair that was based on a book called a very private woman about the woman who founded the dc school of art. she was close to Kennedy. There were rumours that she would go to the White House and was having an affair with him and got him into pot and LSD and all that stuff. Which is terrifying when you think of how close we came to nuclear war at the time. But even worse, everybody in Washington was doing drugs and alcohol or psychoanalysis, as Betty is in this show. And I think the show reminded me of that kind of pervasive neurosis everywhere. And I think of the 60s, and I think of pervasive neurosis everywhere. Do you guys have the same sense, or is this shocking you? Did you at one time think the 60s were sort of pre-Eden or a beautiful innocent time of spiritual growth and change?
Jennifer: I never thought of the 60s like that.
Jax: I always thought of the 50s like that, not the 60s. The 60s to me was civil rights. It was Martin Luther King Jr. It was a time of communism versus fascism. Music and hippies and weed. Atlas Shrugged was published in 1957, and the world of Atlas Shrugged, just the settings and stuff, is so very different from Mad Men. They’re not that far apart, but the world in the settings and scenarios in Mad Men was very different from what you see in Atlas Shrugged. I will say, one of the things that we like about what we’re doing with The Strike — and it’s something that I think Mad Men did really well — is to bring in more of the politics of the world and more of the culture. That’s why we love setting it the day after tomorrow. There’s just so much great stuff to draw from, and so much insane diversity, and all these different cultures. You didn’t have that much of an option in the 50s. You didn’t see black women running businesses. The fact that Dagny was effectively running a business was shocking on its own.
Mark: Which Rand doesn’t get enough credit for. Rand doesn’t get enough credit for creating female heroes. Everybody acts as if the present day is the age of the woman, which it is, and where people are starting to mass accept women as superheroes and heroic leads in films. Which they weren’t before. But Rand was the first, in my view, to really see women as equal to men, or better, depending on what their values were. So she was well ahead of her time, and it’s sort of ironic that Hollywood knocks her when she was she was ahead of her time.
Razi: When I was re-watching episode one, I was a little bit bothered. I had in my mind the whole time Rand’s definition of art as a selective recreation of reality according to the artist’s metaphysical value judgment. And I was thinking they are very clearly picking out the worst elements of the culture back then as judged by today’s today’s culture. But when I thought about it a little bit more, I think that’s because they want to show over the entire period of the show how things do change — and quite rapidly during the 60s.
Making a statement
Mark: I know that Weiner and his sister seem to support the occupy wall street movement, which makes me wonder about how much they like someone like Rand and makes me suspicious about why they keep dropping Rand’s name in this sort of jungle world. But if you really look at both the cultures when they collide, when Draper goes over to the artist’s house, and you have the beatniks over there who don’t do anything except do drugs and pontificate all day long. We’re given two worlds that are equally horrible, aren’t we? We’re given the savage jungle world of Don Draper, and we’re given this ridiculous sort of anti-world of the other side. Of the rising youth that doesn’t hold the same values and, in fact, is sort of seeing Don Draper accurately as a hypocrite. What do you think about that?
Razi: Nikos often mentions that scene where Don is with his artist lover and her hippie friends smoking weed. He wants to exit the apartment and leave. One of the hippies says to him, you can’t go out there because there are cops, and he says, no you can’t. Because I’m clearly a successful well-dressed man, and you’re a smelly hippie sitting here with an open shirt smoking weed.
Mark: Or I’m part of the establishment. I’m part of this power establishment, and I’m in the dominant hierarchy, and you aren’t. You’re the out group.
Razi: Earlier in that situation, when they were complaining to Don about what he does for a living, and he says to them, make something of yourselves, and they sort of perk up angrily. I think that hit home. Even if you have criticism for the advertising world, which I think you shouldn’t unless there are specifically bad ads, the idea of living the life that they were living isn’t necessarily a positive alternative.
Jax: I’m with you on that Razi because I think it’s less a sign of his being part of the establishment and more showing like Don is a non-conformist. These kids that are in their apartment smoking weed and doing nothing, they’d like to think that they’re non-conformist, but they’re conforming to non-conformity. Don is a person who, if he were confronted with a situation where he had to go up against the cops, he would. If it was something that he truly felt was the right and ethical thing to do.
Working with Jon Hamm
Super Chat: Mark, you worked with Jon Hamm. What did you learn from him?
Mark: I learned how to drink and smoke in Morocco. I often work with actors who are older than me who, for me, take on a bit of a mentor status. Every once in a while, I work with somebody my age who I feel is just beyond superior, and I sort of put them in that vein, like Philip Seymour Hoffman. But with Jon, I didn’t put him in on that level. I know I knew him to be good at what he did, and I and I always enjoy studying actors who are good at what they do, but I didn’t seek to learn from him the way I would from a Philip Seymour Hoffman or Chris Cooper or anybody else I was around for any length of time that I thought had been doing this for so long it was in their blood in a way that they could teach me something that I didn’t already know. Every actor has a different style and a different approach to the way they do their work. His is very light and easy, which I like. Jon was just an easy, simple guy to talk to, but I didn’t learn anything from him that somehow changed my life. Like I could say with Jeff Bridges or Jeff Goldblum or any other people I’ve had relationships with that have taught me a lot, broken through my resistance and taught me a lot. He’s a good guy, though, so far that as I know on that level.
Mark: I want to know if we missed anything because I’m sort of dying in my sauna here.
Jax: Where do we find ourselves at the end of season one, just to tee this up for people who want to come back and watch our next episode. At the end of season one, what has happened to Don, what’s happened to Peggy, what’s happened to Betty.
Razi: Before we get to that, can I go on a little rant about one of the characters who we haven’t really spoken about? I didn’t read any of the interviews with the creator, so my thought was this was actually based on an Ayn Rand character. I get that that is not the case, but Pete Campbell is Peter Keating. First of all, it’s the same name, but in episode one, he’s introduced as a guy who basically wants Don’s job. And it’s not clear if he wants it because he thinks he could be better at it, or that’s what he wants to do, or because somebody else has it. But then later on, his colleague Ken Cosgrove gets a short story published in The Atlantic, and all of a sudden, we see that Pete is very envious of him. And so he brings out some story that he wrote at some point that he now has now remembered because somebody created something and he didn’t. And he goes to his wife and asks her to contact an old boyfriend of hers so that she gets him published. So we hear in this story that he was upset with her at some point because this old boyfriend was her first, so that also is kind of weird. Before she met him, she was with somebody else, and he is upset over that. But then we see that he basically is upset with her because she didn’t sleep with this guy to get him published in as big a magazine as his colleague. So season one Pete Campbell is very much a Peter Keating, and some of the stories are almost identical to the actual Peter Keating.
Mark: Indeed. And towards the end of the episode, he tries to blackmail Don Draper into giving him the position that he wants. He’s a real evil son of a bitch, and I’m very anxious to see where that goes because I mean they had the confrontation. Don won round one. He’s won every round so far, but I’m wondering what the final confrontation is going to be like. It’s going to have to happen somewhere.
Jax: What I love about watching this time through is that the first time I watched Mad Men, I had a different day job. I was in high tech, but I was doing more technical IT stuff, and this time around, I actually switched over in my career to Marketing and creative and content development. When you’re working for any company, there’s sales, and there’s Marketing. I didn’t get the first time watching Mad Men that Don is Marketing, he’s creative, and Pete is sales. And it’s so like spot on, like the sales guys they’re always lying. They don’t have their own identity; they will tell you whatever the hell you want to hear. And that’s just a perfect Peter Keating Pete Campbell position to have. He’s like, that dude’s sales. He doesn’t have creativity on his own. He has to go borrow it and hijack it from somebody else, which I thought was real.
Mark: A very despicable character. I can’t wait to see what his arc is. I hope it’s a big crash and burn somewhere. Razi’s smiling, so maybe it’s very sad. Anyway, guys, if I don’t get out of here soon, I’m going to melt, so should we conclude with the poll?
Which Mad Men theme should we explore further in The Strike?
Which format for TV Talk would you prefer going forward?
This is a cleanup and edit of an automatic transcript. There may still be errors — let me know and I’ll fix them.
Next week: Mad Men Season 2.