Monday, August 31, 2009

Mad Men "My Old Kentucky Home": Foreshadowing

"Just wait... all hell's gonna break loose."
- Gene to Sally

So far this season has been dripping with historical foreshadowing, hinting at both the impending assassination of Kennedy and the generational rift that's about to bust loose. So the comment from a very lucid Gene to Sally (in the context of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) takes on extra weight. Edward Gibbon's book (from 1776) argues that Rome's demise began, in part, by the men becoming effeminate -- metrosexual, if you will. Something Im sure Gene sees going on in Babylon Manhattan.

"This is the way the world ends...not with a bang but a whimper." - Kinsey reciting TS Elliott's poem "The Hollow Men"
"We got it, you're education." - Smitty in response.

This episode had more literary references than the first two combined, like Gibbons and TS Elliott. And then there's the music. First song that plays at Roger's Kentucky Derby themed party was "Swing Low Sweet Chariot", which is an interesting choice in that by this time, folk artists had started to use it as a sort of theme song for the civil rights movement, climaxing with Joan Baez singing it at Woodstock in 1969. Looking at it with that in mind, it's just more foreshadowing.

Just how wrong was it that Roger sang the title song in blackface? Let me count the ways. Obviously, it's an offensive act, something Roger's class and generation wouldn't wise up to until later, but there's other things going on than just Roger being oblivious to the world changing around him. There's also the song itself. In the first episode, "My Old Kentucky Home" played in the background during Don's birth fantasies, helping to evoke his poor beginnings. Juxtapose that with Roger turning the song into a kind of joke, and it's easy to see why Don was disgusted (blackface doing the trick as well).

Of interest is that one of the theories of the song's origins has Stephen Foster writing "My Old Kentucky Home" inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, that belief based in part by the song's original title of "Poor Uncle Tom, Good Night."

More to come...

Playlist: Mad Men - Episode 3.03
1. "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" (Glenn Miller Orchestra) - Roger & Jane's party
2. "My Old Kentucky Home" (Stephen Ford) - Roger sings in blackface
3. "Hello My Baby" (The Barbershop Singers) - Kinsey sings
4. "C'est Magnifique" (Cole Porter) - Joan sings
5. "Five Foot Two, Eyes Of Blue" (Art Landry and his orchestra): The Campbells dance!

Previously: "Love Among the Ruins": Demolition Men (Episode 3.02)

1 comment:

Onadrought said...

Thanks so much for your blog. Fell in love with Mad Men when it came to Australia this year on free to air - I know we are so far behind. We have only had season 1 so far, but I went out and got the dvds for both season 1 and 2 and will get season 3 when it's possible - here we're looking years away. And so when I look at all the wonderful blogs on MM it's a bit of a spoiler situation for me, but can't resist the great blogs.

When I started watching MM I became obsessed in wanting to know about and obtain all the cultural references, the films, books and music, and thanks to you, can work on my MM record collection.