Wednesday, 13 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...
One year later, it's still the greatest novel in the English language. At 8 a.m. on the morning of 16 June 1904, two men woke up. One shaved for class and breakfasted with his usurper and an anti-Semite. The other, a Jew, purchased a pork kidney, ate it, then stared at his wife in the same bed in which she cuckolded him. He left to pick up a letter from his secret sweetheart and chatted with the people he met on his way to the baths. Once clean, he attended a funeral and saw a mysterious man. After the funeral, he tried to place an advertisement in a local newspaper but decided more research was required, so he scooted off to the library where, unbeknown to him, the first of our two men was disquisiting on Shakespeare. Many people walked around, including our Jew, who decided to follow his morning kidney with an afternoon liver. He ogled the barmaids and thought about his wife who, if his suspicions were correct, would soon be cuckholding him again. So he exited the bar with the pretty reminders of his pain and entered another full of anti-Semites. Fists and cans were thrown. Troubled by thoughts of wife and ancient grievances, he wandered seaside way and publicly co-masturbated with a cripple. He later attended the birth of a child and the English language before following our first man into the red-light district. He caught up with him, himself, himself-in-drag, his dead grandfather, Nobodaddy, a giant green crab, a talking hat-stand and ducked out when the police arrived. Chastened, the two men entered a dive and met a drunken sailor. They absconded to the home of the Jew and bonded while urinating under the stars. As 16 June 1904 came to a close, the Jew returned to his troubled marital bed and asked his wife to serve him breakfast in it tomorrow. She considered his request but never decided one way or the other. (Happy Bloomsday, sorry about the spoilers, and I'll return to my regularly scheduled posting about popular culture shortly.)

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