Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mad Men 3.10: The Faintest Ink, The Strongest Television

A memorably media-savvy episode 3.10 of Mad Men tonight - come to think of it, just about every episode is - which quotes the Chinese proverb that is the basis of the invention and flourishing of writing ... "the faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory."

Actually, Kinsey paraphrases the proverb - "the faintest ink is better than the greatest memory" and then "better than the best memory" a second time - but, whew, the media intelligence in Mad Men would have made McLuhan happy, and sure has that effect on me. I taught my "Intro to Communications and Media Studies" class at Fordham that very lesson last month, without mentioning the proverb. From now on, I will.

Kinsey's thoughts on this matter are occasioned by Sterling Cooper's work for Western Union Telegraph, in the early 1960s fighting a desperate rear-guard action in a hopelessly losing battle against the telephone. Ironic, since, as I detail in The Soft Edge, William Henry Orton, President of Western Union in 1881, advised his good friend Chauncey Depew not to invest in the nascent Bell Telephone Company, since Orton thought the phone would never be more than a "scientific toy." In 1881, Orton was the equivalent of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. But by 1901, there were already 10 phone calls made for every telegram sent. As Ken Cosgrove put it tonight on Mad Men, "I love getting telegrams, but I never send them." It was fun to get something so rare and so vanishing.

The written word and its durability also turns out to be undermining Don tonight, as Betty finally discovers his true identity paperwork. Her opening of that Pandora's box may be the most significant few moments in the entire series so far.

But I've got to say that I still can't see how Betty would not have already found out about Don and Sally's former teacher, Suzanne Farrell. Don says he's working. Ok. Presumably at the office - but Betty would not have even called him there once?

On the other hand, I like Suzanne (Abigail Spencer) better than any of Don's other flings.

But the clock of heartbreak and worse is ticking ... for Don and Betty, Don and Suzanne, and everyone in that fateful Fall of 1963. Before November is over, there will be an indelible event on television, a permanent searing of everyone alive then, far stronger than any ink...

6-min podcast review of Mad Men
See also: Mad Men Back for 3 and 3.2: Carvel, Penn Station, and Diet Soda and 3.3: Gibbon, Blackface, and Eliot and 3.4: Caned Seats and a Multiple Choice about Sal's Patio Furniture and 3.5: Admiral TV, MLK, and a Baby Boy and 3.6: A Saving John Deere and 3.7: Brutal Edges ... August Flights in 3.8 ... Unlucky Strikes and To the Moon Don in 3.9

And from Season Two: Mad Men Returns with a Xerox and a Call Girl ... 2.2: The Advertising Devil and the Deep Blue Sea ... 2.3 Double-Barreled Power ... 2.4: Betty and Don's Son ... 2.5: Best Montage Since Hitchcock ... 2.6: Jackie, Marilyn, and Liberty Valance ... 2.7: Double Dons ... 2.8: Did Don Get What He Deserved? ... 2.9: Don and Roger ... 2.10: Between Ray Bradbury and Telstar ... 2.11: Welcome to the Hotel California ... 2.12 The Day the Earth Stood Still on Mad Men ... 2.13 Saving the Best for Last on Mad Men

And from Season One: Mad Men Debuts on AMC: Cigarette Companies and Nixon ... Mad Men 2: Smoke and Television ... Mad Men 3: Hot 1960 Kiss ... Mad Men 4 and 5: Double Mad Men ... Mad Men 6: The Medium is the Message! ... Mad Men 7: Revenge of the Mollusk ... Mad Men 8: Weed, Twist, Hobo ... Mad Man 9: Betty Grace Kelly ... Mad men 10: Life, Death, and Politics ... Mad Men 11: Heat! ... Mad Men 12: Admirable Don ... Mad 13: Double-Endings, Lascaux, and Holes

20-minute interview with Rich Sommer (Harry Crane) at Light On Light Through

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