Live-Blogging Mad Men: The Nixon Men

According to the previews, tonight’s episode brings the Nixon account to the fore at Sterling Cooper – the account being the 1960 presidential campaign of Richard Milhous Nixon, the bright young Vice-President from California. Widely viewed as the first mass media election in U.S. history, the Kennedy-Nixon race was fought on television and on a national scale, filled with advertising and slogans and images.

Nixon’s crew had some Mad Men in it, most notably the driven advance man H.R. Haldeman, a World War II vet and Californian who worked for J. Walter Thompson for 20 years. He failed Dick Nixon in 1960 but was widely credited for pushing Nixon over the top eight years later – and he later did 18 months in Federal prison for his role in Watergate.

A model for our man Don Draper? Perhaps, but Haldeman had moregoing for him than the dour and strange Draper. He had ambition, he had plans, he had moxie – even if he was a famed Republican felon in the end. The stiffs in Mad Men have none of it. They’re old men before their time, slumping through their days on booze and pathetic jokes.

That’s what’s so wrong about the period piece perfection of Mad Men – the sets look okay, the clothes are great, but the vibe is way off. This was a go-go time of fear and ambition, technicolor brilliance and the space race. Instead, we have a rotting Weimer-like New York of sad, failed ambition (except for predator Pete) and defeated dreams – at exactly the moment when the American consumer movement and its fuel of high-test advertising was taking off for outer space. It’s just off.

Still, we watch and comment. I’m curious as to the Nixon plotline (though that may be overstating it) – perhaps we’ll get to see some actual work, some creative juice.

Back in a few, kids! [Meanwhile, thanks to the American Museum of the Moving Image, here are some Nixon ads from 1960.]

Oh, did I neglect to mention in the lead-in – this episode is also about sex and sexual roles. It just didn’t seem as interesting the “darkness of Nixonian America” theme. Judging by the first six episodes, the passion on Madison Avenue in 1960 was only modestly warm and clearly conventional.

Smoking as a weakness, oh, the irony. Still, Morse has the delivery goods to get away with it.

A pre-Bloomberg bar. I remember those.

This doesn’t ring true, folks – again with the poor suburban research. Sterling’s going to drive Draper to Ossining? Does he live nearby? After the bar? Nah, it doesn’t happen – unless, like Tate and Stevens, they live in the same nabe. Highly unlikely in the vast New York suburban jungle.

War stories – no fear in WWII, tons in Korea. You boys had all the glory.

Oh crap, Roger’s another predator – a monster. A sloppy move in the kitchen. And sloppy writing, notes Claire in comments – just imagine the worst of each character, and there it is.

From the official AMC blog (way more real fans over there) a theory about Draper’s “true identity”:

Dick Whitman aka Don Draper has clearly taken the identity of a deceased war-time acquaintance / buddy. The purple heart embossed with Don Drapers name is kept in the bottom drawer of his desk. He pulls it out to reinforce his identity. One of the most interesting things about when Adam showed up was the look on Don’s face. It’s as though he has so completely lost himself in his assumed identity, that it IS his reality. And the reminder of his real past took a minute to sink in. . . he almost looked confused. Dick Whitman died and Don Draper lives on. Don is separate from society by the secret he keeps. He is exiled from his real past. . . even if it is self-exile.

Jim Wolcott says it’s more simple than that – he’s Jewish.

Ah, politics. LBJ. Kennedy, Tricky Dick. “It’s going to be Nixon,” says Morse. Communism, taxes, health care – ah, the brilliance. In the end, Nixon’s ad agency had him standing at a studio desk and talking about his experience – see the clips linked above.

Nice fantasy life, Pete has. Like from one of those specialty mags that came out a few year, ahem, later. And this made Peggy, ah, hungry? Oh brother. Freshman year creative writing.

“That John Kennedy, I hate him!” Yeah, it’s all of a piece, honey. Divorce, wacked out kids, bird-dogging psychiatrists, cropping your blonde hair as a strange sexual totem for children, wine in the afternoon and that damned John Kennedy. What’s the world coming to. (And if you “love to be looked at that way,” well JFK was your man, eh?)

Whew, payback’s a bitch.