Mad Men, Take 2

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Alright, I feel I kind of missed the mark with my last blog entry, so I’ma try again. I feel that one of the central themes of Mad Men is this disconnect between the public and the private, between the face you wear at home and the one you show at the office, to peers and colleagues. The emotional core of the show is the transgressions between the two, and the juggling act each character, but especially Don Draper, must perform to keep the two separate. Were his swinging city single lifestyle and his devoted country dad lifestyle to remain separate, the show would quickly devolve into a tedious back and forth of the two lives. What is interesting, then, is what happens to him as his two worlds slowly begin to collide, as his identities begin to merge.

Visually speaking, these transgressions are illustrated with the shadowy lighting already referenced by a number of people in the blog. When he is in public, in the workplace and amongst colleagues, the lighting is bright and brash, as he must be to protect his image. When he is in someplace private, however, on his own in a club, speaking with a black waiter, with his girlfriend, or at home with his wife and family, he is half-lit at best. I am reminded of Zizek, who illustrates Lacan’s theory of public law versus shadow law. He postulates that there is a shadowy, nightly law that is neither condoned nor acknowledged by the daytime, public law, but nonetheless exists below the surface, and in fact supports the public law. Without it, public law could not continue to exist, to hold power. This shadowy, nighttime government controls behavior, regulates social normalcy; it is the KKK, the Code Red of society, that does not punish crimes but social indiscretions.

Similarly, what Don Draper does at night, or in private, supports his daily life. As the show is shot, his private life is literally his shadow life; in the club at the opening, he is shrouded in shadow and smoke. With his mistress, the room is slightly darkened. When he is at home, with his children, he is literally sitting in the dark. He is literally getting darker and darker the farther he gets from his office life, the deeper he gets into his shadow life. Without it he could not be the slick mad man he is, or seems to be. However, a large part of Lacan/Zizek’s theory is that the nighttime rule must remain a secret. Its power depends on its notoriety. Can Don’s public persona survive if and when his two worlds merge?

I am interested to see where his relationship with Rachel Menken goes. She is the only character to see him literally in the light and in the dark, and is the only person from the light to recognize the presence of his shadowy double. As someone constantly on the outside, as a woman and a Jewish person, she recognizes the pressures both a personal shadow law and society’s shadow law can put on a person. Will she help Don Draper marry the two sides of his life, or will she rip them apart?

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