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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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The Rush Blog said...

I don't think that Paul is a mediocre or untalented ad men. We don't really know if his idea was any good or not. He doesn't remember it, which means that we'll never know what it is. But if Paul could create something like the Maidenform ad from Season 2, this only tells me that he is a talented and imaginative ad man. He may not be at Don or Peggy's level, but I suspect that he has talent. If he ever learns to get over his pride and insecurities, he just might discover how talented he truly is.

I don't think I like Suzanne Farrell very much. For all her so-called honesty, there is something hypocritical about her that I cannot put my finger on.

I could also wax lyrical about how romantic Don is with Suzanne or that he might be falling in love with her. But my gut instinct tells me that if he ever ends up marrying Suzanne, she would would find herself in the same situation as Betty. After all, he had been in love with Betty when they first met. He thought he had managed to connect with her. What if this is how Don or Dick Whitman deals with the people in his life? Especially in his romantic life? What if he is one of those types who enjoy the illusion of new love, but cannot deal with maintaining an emotional connection with someone for over a long period of time?

Jim McNamra said...

Dr. Levinson – I enjoy your weekly reviews of one of favorite shows: Mad Men. Your entry “Mad Men 3.10: The Faintest Ink, The Strongest Television”, like the Mad Men episode itself, touched a nerve with me for a number of reasons. My career, after a short stint as a reporter with the Irish Echo newspaper and my studies with you and others at Fordham University, took me into Public Relations, not advertising and my dream of becoming Darren Stevens. My father, William McNamara (who passed away in March 2006) was a career Western Union man. I have cheery memories of accompanying him to work in the early 1960s when he took overtime Sunday shifts from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. I loved banging away at Western Union’s classic Underwood typewriter, an experience I think helped steer me in the direction of communications. Western Union not only misread the impact of telephones in 1881, the equipment I toyed with on the Sundays in the early 1960s - including loud spinning cylinders that transmitted typed messages from Syracuse, New York to my father’s office in Huntington, Long Island (according to my Dad),should have led Western Union to be the ones who invented fax machines and maybe even wireless internet. Perhaps, Mad Men will copy the real life Western Union of its 1963time period and recreate the actual ads the telegraph company was running back then: Don Wilson of Jack Benny fame pushing Western Union’s CandyGrams. -Jim McNamara