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21 Apr 19:30

Mad Men: When Pretending Is Your Job

by Jen Doll

Watching Mad Men feels a bit like refinishing a wooden chair, sometimes. You’re methodically working away with sandpaper at the arms and legs of this thing, which has been this way for as long as you can remember, and you’re up close and it seems like work, but it’s also strangely soothing, and suddenly you step back after an hour and the whole chair has a different appearance.

At least, that’s how I felt about it last night. Not all that much seemed to happen, because after all, it's Mad Men; with some surprises the pacing tends to be slow and steady. Yet, by the end of the episode everyone looked a bit different from how they started. We also got a return of Sally Draper (can I please have Kiernan Shipka’s eyebrows?), who’s at boarding school and grown up enough to attend the funerals of her friend’s mothers. And there was plenty of juicy intraoffice politics at Sterling Cooper Draper.

The first scenes of the episode, which is called “A Day’s Work”—yep, that’s a clue, or more of a hammer hitting a nail on its obvious head—involve Don. He’s in work limbo, waking at 7:30 a.m. only to fall back asleep until noon, hanging in his apartment in his pajamas watching TV, reading magazines, monitoring his liquor intake, watching bugs crawl along the floor. He is a mess. Until, suddenly, it’s time to start playing “work,” to put on a suit and tidy up and look like he’s got it together, because his secretary Dawn is coming over to give him the latest intel about the agency.

Dawn and Don clearly have an affinity for one another—he respects her, he needs her, now more than ever, for her connection to work and because she is human (I imagine days go by when he interacts with very few people; he’s lonely, he’s a bit lost, he is the '50s success story now heading into the vastly changed landscape of the '70s). Dawn likes Don because for all his flaws he’s never really been a shithead to her the way her new boss, Lou Avery, is. Don and Dawn have more than a very similar name, they have a connection, they have ambitions and they have secrets. So when he asks her to cover up for him with Megan, who still doesn’t know he’s on involuntary leave, Dawn does it; when he asks her to visit and give him agency dirt, she does. But she doesn’t want to take his money, even though she eventually does that, too, him pressing it into her palm like a dad giving his daughter cab fare. And she won’t get files from Peggy’s office for him. It’s funny: Don Draper can be so very shady, so sexually conniving, and yet with certain women, he is kind and gentle and openly needy. Or maybe that’s the new Don. Here, we see Dawn working for her boss, yes, but in a certain position of power, too—there are things she will and will not do.

At boarding school, someone’s mom has died, and Sally and her friends are planning a trip to the city for the funeral. No one seems all that distraught: “Jesus, Draper, is this your first funeral?” asks one of Sally’s friends, but Sally, the girl who grew up too fast, is upset. Her world has shifted yet again, and now people’s parents are dying? 

In the office, we learn it’s Valentine’s Day, and Peggy does not have a date, having recently bayoneted her last boyfriend. Ginsberg tells her her plans are “to masturbate gloomily”; Peggy is not amused. Then she notices she has roses waiting for her on her secretary Shirley’s desk. Of course they’re not Peggy’s flowers, they’re Shirley’s, but Peggy—so stuck she is in her narcissistic post-Ted-dumping-her stupor — thinks they’re from Ted, scoops them up, and carries them into her office, leaving Shirley to complain to her office pal Dawn and plot to get her roses back. It’s of note that Dawn tells Shirley, “Keep pretending, that’s your job.” It's also of note that they are both black, and within the established power structure at the agency and beyond, with white men at the top, they have to pretend more than anyone else. Which is perhaps why they jokingly call each other by the other one's name.

The over-the-topness of the rose theft—and their return, and what happens next—left me laughing/ cringing because it was so over the top, unusual in a Mad Men world. Peggy calls Ted’s secretary to pass along the coded message that “There’s nothing he can do. The business is gone.” This element of miscommunication, like a bad game of Telephone, carries through the rest of the episode and is especially evident when New York and L.A. try to have a conference call and it goes off the rails. But it’s true even when people are speaking face to face. “All in a Day’s Work” is not just about working. It’s about what we refuse to communicate and how we communicate wrong, and how this plays into the strange, taut ecosystems in which we spend quite a lot of time, even if maybe we don’t really like all those people we work with, or even our jobs, necessarily. At SCP, no one seems to like anyone else all that much—not Roger and Jim, not Ginsberg and Stan and Peggy, not even Pete, who seemed so happy in L.A. in the last episode, and Ted. Don may be lost without them, but they are lost in his absence, too.

When Sally, on the train in New York, realizes she’s missing her purse, she goes straight to her dad’s office, seeking comfort, perhaps, missing him. But he’s not there. In fact, he’s having a meeting with another ad man, again play-working, sort of interviewing and sort of not—as he says, “I’m just looking for love.” His office is now occupied by the soulless Lou Avery, who is not thrilled to see Don Draper’s daughter walk into his life. He eventually takes this out on Dawn, demanding his “own girl” whom he doesn’t have to share with the man whose job he now has. Dawn—who was out of the office buying perfume for Lou’s wife—stands up for herself; Joan is brought in to “fix things,” meaning she has to reorganize the entire secretary pool, something she’s less and less interested in, now that she has her own clients.

Sally makes her way to her dad’s house, and when he returns, they both lie to each other. He’s been lying this whole time, not telling her about his job; she lies and pretends she hasn’t been to his office. She knows he’s lying, and he eventually knows she’s lying, too, because Dawn calls to report that she’s been at SCP. “Sally, what should I say?” Don asks. “Just tell the truth,” she says. Just tell the truth. It should be so easy, but it's not; we are all pretending in some way or another. He ends up driving her back to school, and in the car, things are tense. Sally doesn’t trust her dad; Don compares her behavior to Betty’s (“so you just laid in wait like your mother,” he says, when he finds out she didn’t tell him everything). But when Sally confesses how afraid she was that in coming back to the apartment she’d run into Sylvia, the upstairs neighbor she walked in on him with months before, he apologizes.

The Peggy saga continues when after she returns the flowers to Shirley, she sees them again, a thorn in her side (ha), and demands that Shirley throw them away. Shirley finally admits they’re from her fiancé. And Peggy turns mean. “You have a ring on, we all know that you’re engaged, you did not have to embarrass me, grow up!” she says, stirring up further office secretary drama. She barges into Joan's office demanding Shirley no longer work for her; meanwhile, Bert Cooper is concerned that Dawn has been moved from her position as Lou’s secretary and is now the receptionist. "People can see her from the elevator," he says, and Joan must rearrange again, because what Bert says is what goes in this power structure in which they work.

I haven’t spent much time on L.A. in this recap, but I must mention Bonnie, Pete’s new girlfriend. Pete comes to her mid-day whining about his office issues, trying to get her to leave for a hotel tryst. She’s not having it, she’s going to sell a house—and sleep with him later. “I’m in sales, too. I’m not some housewife complaining about getting oatmeal stains out of the carpet,” she says. “Our fortunes are in other people’s hands, and we have to take them.” She represents a new kind of woman, and he thinks it’s the hottest thing he’s ever heard.

At the restaurant where Don and Sally stop to eat, they have a stilted conversation in which he finally admits what happened at work. That game of Telephone, the danger of miscommunication, is referenced: “I told the wrong things to the wrong people at the wrong time,” he says. Tragically, “I told the truth about myself but it wasn’t the right time. They made me take some time off. I was ashamed." When Sally asks what the truth is, he says it’s nothing she doesn’t know. And all of a sudden the two of them are having a conversation, almost a little bit like real people, with jokes and everything. When he drops her off at school, she surprises him with a, “Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you.” Sally, in contrast to Peggy, is growing up. Maybe Don is, too?

In the last scene of the episode, the office is in flux again. Everyone is moving, their file boxes full of their small possessions, their flowers in their arms, their office homes uprooted. Joan is heading upstairs, a spot offered by Jim Cutler, who may or may not be taking this moment not to be progressive but to undermine Roger (but if it makes Joan “an account man” as he puts it, and lets her stop working two jobs, so be it?). And Dawn is now in Joan’s old office, in charge of personnel. She smiles a little bit as she sinks into her new digs, because the power structure has shifted ever so slightly again. And this is when you step back and look at the chair (yes, this metaphor again) and see that everything looks a little bit different, and maybe some of that hard work has paid off.

 

Previously: Is This Where the Fire Starts?

Jen Doll is a regular contributor to The Hairpin and author of Save the Date. She'll be writing aboutMad Men all season and invites you to gossip in the comments.

The post Mad Men: When Pretending Is Your Job appeared first on The Awl.

17 Sep 17:00

A Guide To Our Golden Age Of Internet Newsletters

by Aleksander Chan
by Aleksander Chan

GOOP LOVES THINGSSomething has happened to my inbox. My weekly Goop, from the desk of the ever-radiant Gwyneth Paltrow, has taken on a newfound novelty. It feels special again.

Like many, I initially subscribed to the newsletter “ironically,” as in, “This is fun to laugh at myself laughing at how out-of-touch this celebrity is!” Sometimes I scroll through, most times I don’t. But the other week, she sent out a back-to-school shopping guide. I read (viewed?) it on my phone waiting in line at the grocery store. I thought the tape dispensers the Goop team thought I should buy the kids that I don’t have were sleek and pretty and certainly looked like something unnecessary I would buy, but I didn’t buy them. Then I deleted the email and that was that.

And what a summer for email! Just as the NSA has made us all surrender our deluded fantasy that our email was ever safe in the first place, Miranda July made it cool again to add your email address to a mailing list with her “We Think Alone” lit project, in which she doxxes semi-celebrity private emails. Email is slowly rediscovering its capacity to be special, even maybe right as it’s about to become nothing more than an app.

Yes, Americans overall spend too much of their lifetime sending, reading, and answering emails. But soon Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other social media will overtake email for the amount of time we lose to them. Because that’s the whole point.

Social media's entire conceit is for it to never end, ephemera ad infinitum. Email exists to end; to be cleared, filed away, archived, deleted.

And the email newsletter is the most special of all emails. At their best, they're a miniature rush: This isn't something I have to deal with. This is for me—to enjoy, to ignore, to save for later, and then to be completely done with. Even though we curate and polish our social media profile to project the person we want the world to see (or hope they see), those outfits deny us agency. Control is vaporous. With Miranda July's “We Think Alone,” I have reclaimed a small sense of digital self-ownership, NSA probes notwithstanding. I've read one of them. It was great. Kirsten Dunst really is killing it with her tart, blithe diction. But actually I've decided to save them all up and enjoy them all at once. Can you do that with tweets? Sure, you can stick them all into a Storify, but you have to read them. You have to know their contents and decode their subtext (and accompanying subtweets).

For all the shit we give email and all the hell it puts us through, more should be said for its passiveness. Because email also functions from a previous draft of the social contract that does not makes demands. When you have 5,000 unread emails, you in fact have options: They can be read, they can be replied to, they can be deleted. When the little red icon on your iPhone’s mail app reads “5,000,” or you have “35” apps that need updated or you have "notifications," that is a demand to be acknowledged. They demand to be engaged with, contextualized, understood. You can ignore all of it, but it would defeat the purpose of even having any of it.

There’s also something happening right now with Kindle Singles and writing on the Internet of various lengths, shapes, and forms. The Guardian calls them “bookeens," which is not a thing that will catch on. But I think we can include this new wave of newsletters as part of this wave of undemanding, hand-delivered, user-friendly storytelling. So if you’ve been reading and enjoying “We Think Alone” (or maybe you haven’t subscribed yet and need convincing), consider this passel of email newsletters to pick and choose from. They are sorted by frequency and all serve different purposes. Some of them are newsy. Some of them make you buy things. Some of them are funny—where else but Goop can you get luxury products sandwiched between spiritual advice? Some of them can be sad. Choose your own adventure.

WEEKLY

We Think Alone (subscribe)
Read it: Commuting, waiting for something to happen, when you should be doing something else.

Every week has a theme—“an email about money,” “an email that mentions Barack Obama,” “an email you decided not to send”—that July’s Rolodex of famous (kind of) friends sends in fitting the description. It’s like when your friend forgets to log out of their Gmail account on your computer and you accidentally read one of their emails, but if your friends were Lena Dunham, Kirsten Dunst, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


We LOL Together (subscribe)
Read it: On Friday at about 4:30 when you’re just pretending to work.

A riff on July’s project (“an email about someone famous,” “an email where you LOL”) by Lindsey Weber and Bobby Finger that actually feels more perceptive about human emailing behavior than “We Think Alone,” if only because those celebrities don’t seem to understand how email even works. And there’s plenty of actual LOL-ing in “We LOL Together” because of how casual its approach is—people send funny screenshots or single-sentence jokes or links to insane stories.


Ann Friedman (subscribe)
Read it: Saturday morning in your underwear with a cup of coffee or tea or whatever.

Sunday mornings are for the New York Times (and its associated magazines), doing laundry, and maybe brunch if you can stomach another frittata. Saturday mornings are for tracing the treasure map of links and fine reads curated by Hairpin chartmaker (and no pants wearer) Ann Friedman. Without her, I would have never known about this video of RuPaul trying to convince Henry Rollins to believe in love while driving in an old Volvo.

Warning! Ann uses TinyLetter, which has a maximum subscriber size, and they're now apparently working out how to add more people. So too with The Best of Journalism, Conor Friedersdorf's list of, you guessed it, which you should subscribe to, if you could, although it is $1.99. UPDATE: yay, this is fixed! JOIN AWAY! These are both great.



Harper’s Weekly Review (subscribe)
Read it: During your first email purge of the day.

Reminiscent of Slate’s late, great Summary Judgment and Today’s Papers columns, a rotating cast of Harper’s staffers streamline the week’s news into flavorful, bite-sized chunks. Each edition contains three paragraphs: whatever seemed to dominate the headlines, a smattering of national headlines, and a roundup of fascinating, often bizarre global stories (“Austrian molecular biologists successfully grew miniature human brains in a laboratory”). The Weekly Review’s best feature though, is how precisely it can pull a news thread along:

A remote-controlled-helicopter enthusiast decapitated himself in Brooklyn, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was revealed to have traveled by helicopter to last year’s Burning Man festival in Nevada in order to serve grilled-cheese sandwiches.




Letters of Note (subscribe)
Read it: To be transported to a time when your correspondence wasn't littered with emoticons.

Letters of Note is an irregular but kind of weekly "attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos," from Chekhov to E.B. White and other pillars of the white canon.



And more:

For reading delight, there's Longform, Longreads—which has been pioneering subscriber-only things to read, like first looks at unpublished writing—and Byliner used to have a newsletter but hmm. Also there is Daily Lit, which is basically books by email? And Tor does all this for those who love science fiction.



DAILY

Daily Digg (subscribe)
Read it: When you’re eating lunch at your desk or when you’re desperate for actionable blog content.

Remember Kevin Rose? I certainly don't. New Digg is great. Their newsletter is a digest of nerdy (“How to Survive Without Water”), tech-y (“The Strange Story of Skype”), and slightly off-kilter news links (“Can Math Predict War?”). It’s best experienced in reverse: when you read it, scroll immediately down to the bottom to see whatever wild wire image they’ve chosen to close out the email and then sort through the handful of links. Best of all: it comes at like 7:30 a.m.



Now I Know (subscribe)
Read it: Whenever you damn please.

This is like the daily featured Wikipedia article but with better fact-checking. Culled from the website of the same name, you get a heaping of random knowledge that you didn’t even know you cared about. Like, did you know about the history of collecting driving data, or why grass smells the way it does when you cut it, or that 18 college football players basically beat themselves to death in 1905? NOW YOU KNOW. (See?)



Muck Rack Daily (subscribe)
Read it: Immediately to see if you’re the day’s “featured journalist.”

Are you a member of The Media? Do you care and/or are interested in the internal gossip of The Industry? Is Mediabistro’s biweekly who’s hired and fired newsletter “Revolving Door” not fast enough for you? Do you crave validation from your peers as rendered in a pretty HTML email format instead of a mass of tweets? This is for you. But it’s also fun! They have daily trivia: Did you know Emily Blunt introduced Stanley Tucci to his wife?



MONTHLY

McSweeney’s (subscribe)
Read it: When you’re bored or the book you’re reading just isn’t working for you.

For the McSweeney’s family diehard, you get all your propaganda, direct marketing, and baity deals on subscriptions. All their new books, when they’re coming, how to buy—cha-ching, you’re done. (It’s also fun to pretend Dave Eggers writes all the promotional copy himself. Can you imagine?) But! There’s also excerpts and teasers from forthcoming issues of McSweeney’s and The Believer, and they’re usually pretty enticing, like Rashida Jones waxing on her childhood home: “And the soundtrack was always on point, because it was mostly my dad’s shit.”



Goodreads (subscribe)
Read it: When you’re about to go on vacation or when you need a little more to get free shipping on Amazon.

This is technically also an app (but what isn’t “also technically an app?”), and also it is Amazon, but I like this as someone who doesn’t read enough/has a desire to read more. It tells you about the new books that you should be reading but also some books you actually might want to read. There’s also monthly poems that seem to oscillate between plainspoken and inscrutable, but they’re written by the Goodreads community so you feel compelled to cheer for them like you do in public theater adaptations of Broadway shows. Bonus: this newsletter has the best banner ads.






Aleksander Chan is a writer and editor in Austin. He wrote this watching You've Got Mail. Special thanks to Ann Friedman and Veronica de Souza for recommendations.

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The post A Guide To Our Golden Age Of Internet Newsletters appeared first on The Awl.