Friday, 01 June 2012

Mad Men: Hands and hands and hands in "Commissions and Fees" (The complete collection of my visual rhetoric posts can be found here.) As with the previous Mad Men post, I'll begin here with the title ("Commissions and Fees") as it structures the underlying irony of the entire episode. As Lane Pryce explains to the partners early in the episode, the difference between commissions and fees boils down to be erratically paid fifteen percent based on a finished campaign (commissions) or regularly paid with the possibility of a one or two percent bump based on the success of the campaign (fee). The fee system fails to offer the potential rewards of the commission, but the steadiness of the payouts appeals to an orderly man like Pryce. That Campbell follows Pryce's explanation with the news that Dunlop contacted him and wants to work with Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce enhances the appeal of the fee system because it suggests the possibility of a synergistic structure: land the car company and the manufacturer of its tires follows. The neatness of this risk-averse business model entices Pryce because it provides for reliable growth in an industry predicated on the whims of a hypothetical entity Pryce is incapable of understanding: the American consumer. Put differently: a person who craves order in the world would prefer fees to commissions based on temperament alone; but a person who (1) works in an industry based on a muddy understanding of the psychological and sociological motivations of the American consumer and (2) relies on unpredictable flashes of insight from mercurial ciphers would consider fees to be a means of imposing order on the world. Which means that Pryce is as quick to encourage the adoption of a fee structure as Draper is to dismiss it. Director Christopher Manley captures their differences in a pair of medium shots designed to draw attention to their hands: As Pryce explains the difference between fees and commissions his hands are turned inward in a gesture reminiscent of an artist molding a block of clay. He is a gentleman gathering the messiness of the world and bringing order to it. But when Manley reverses to Draper rejecting the fee structure: The depth of feeling from which his dismissal originates is present both in the tone of his voice and his inversion of Pryce's gesture. Draper's hands tear apart and toss aside the orderly world Pryce just produced for the partners. These gestures represent in minature the manner in which the episode pits the risk-seeking, commission-loving Draper against the risk-averse, fee-loving Pryce. But there's another reason they're significant: They're made with hands. Bear with me here: If the firm had a fee-based structure it would've been able to pay out the Christmas bonuses; if the Christmas bonuses would've been paid out, Pryce wouldn't have had to forge Draper's signature on that $8,000 check; if Pryce hadn't had to forge Draper's signature on that $8,000, he would still be alive. Forging that check in "The Christmas Waltz" represents one of the few moments in which Pryce embraced...

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