Friday, September 07, 2007

Mad Men: "The Hobo Code" - Hobohemian Rhapsody

This week's Mad Men was so full of rich cultural subtext, that you could seriously write a small book on the subject (but I will try and keep it brief just the same.) In less then an hour, we're met with overt references to cultural touchstones such as Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain and the 'hobo code;' and less obvious nods to Jack Kerouac's On the Road and Albert Camus' The Stranger. But first, as always, the campaign and client that Sterling Cooper are working on help tie together the episode, and this week it's Belle Jolie lipstick with the slogan "Mark Your Man."

Peggy's first stab at copy is being presented today, so she's in early, as is the insecure Pete, who uses the opportunity to rekindle their awkward affair (and give the morning janitor some suggestive silhouettes to shake his head at.) They're connection is still a bit of a mystery to me... it's almost Welcome to the Dollhouse-like in the emotional immaturity they display together. Meanwhile, Peggy's clothes have been getting tighter each episode, suggesting a weight gain. Looks like Pete may have marked her before the pill did in that first episode. We'll just have to watch that story as it 'develops.'

Bert Cooper may have missed the Pete/Peggy tryst, but he's still in early as well and has a surprise for Don when he finally strolls in. A nice fat bonus - for being, like him, "unsentimental about all the people who depend on their hard work." Cooper sees through Don and knows that under all his charm he's just a self-interested prick like himself (and John Galt, the hero of Atlas Shrugged, a book he recommends to Don.) In hindsight, the book just had to make an appearance sometime, as with all the 'who is Don Draper?' back story to Mad Men, it's hard now not to think of Atlas' phrase of futility "who is John Galt?" Don is visibly taken aback by Cooper's observation, perhaps recognizing some truth. He's the literal self-made man - almost the perfect embodiment of Rand's objectivism.

As if to underscore Cooper's accuracy, Don utilizes one of the book's credos in their ad pitch to the Belle Jolie client. When the client balks at the presentation ("I only see one color,") much like Galt, Don pulls back their work, telling the client that if he can't appreciate that Sterling Cooper could be saving his company from remaining a second tier cosmetic line, then perhaps he should take his business elsewhere (which they don't.) Afterwards, Don likens this strategy to the art of romance. "At a certain point, seduction is over and force is actually being requested." My how times have changed.

With his bonus check of objectivism in hand, Don heads over to Midge's, thinking he could whisk her away on a whim to Paris. There he's met by a meeting of her Village beatnik friends, who are going to "spend the night getting high and listening to Miles." It all sounds so groovy daddy-o, until you realize that it's Davis' Sketches in Spain, which is the squarest of all his albums (some might even call it classical.) It's a great album, rich with Gil Evans' finest arrangements, but it underscores the hallowness of the hipster bohemians, who are even bunny-hopping to it at one point. Don drags on a spliff and is sent back in time to his youth, where he remembers a traveling hobo (played by Paul Schulze, aka Father Phil from The Sopranos) who's principled path through life is wonderfully contrasted against the beatniks' faux hobo existence. It's kind of a stretch, but one can't help but blame (or credit) On the Road for linking the two lifestyles. And when the faux-bos get bored with Miles' classical music, they try to criticize Don's life's work as an Ad man ("you're part of the big lie,") he shoots them down with a little Meursault from Camus' The Stranger: "There is no system... the universe is indifferent." Is Don just using Philosophy for Dummies as a weapon, or does he truly believe his own words? If he does, and we further draw a parallel to Meursault, could Lt Don Draper be Dick Whitman's arab? Just throwing it out there.

Bringing it back to the campaign, in Don/Dick's flashback, the hobo shows Don/Dick how hobos communicate with one another, using chalk to mark a code with which fellow travellers can know what to expect from . This homeless man who stays one night says more about who Don becomes then any family member ("whore child" or not.) One can't help but imagine that he's taken on the hobo's former life in New York and even incorporated the hobo code into a job (communicating with symbols in the advertising world.) When he leaves, Don/Dick goes to the signpost to see if he left a mark, and the camera focuses on a heavy indentation of the mark of a dishonest man, that had obviously been left prior. Later, when we're back at the office, the camera ends on Don's name emblazoned on his door, suggesting it's also the mark of dishonest man.

Episode 108: 'The Hobo Code'
1. "Concierto De Aranjuez (Adagio)" - Miles Davis
2. "Cha Cha Choo Choo" - Rinky Dink and the Crystal Set
3. "The Twist" - Chubby Checker
4. "Old Time Religion" - Woody Guthrie

More: Poor closeted Salvatore's story here needs it's own post, and many have done so already more eloquently than I could. The Star Ledger's Alan Sepinwall has a probably the best take on the subject.

Previously: Men Without Hats (Episode 107)

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dansj30 said...

drake - interesting that you would comment that the "dishonest man lives here" symbol on the post was left previously.

this has been discussed at length on some other blogs, and my opinion has always been that it was put there by the hobo we just met (father phil). otherwise, why would he have decided to stop and stay at the whitman's farm? he would have known better, wouldn't he?

drake leLane said...

Welcome Dan...

My thought is that Don (Dick) had to push back some brush to see it, so it could've easily been missed... and likewise, wouldn't you think the father phil hobo would've put it in a more visible spot?

Fridolin said...

I wonder if "Old time religion" is really from Woody Guthrie, can't find it anywhere.