Mad Men: it's back!

Series five, episode one: Megan's dance, Don's soul and what on earth has happened to Harry Crane?

Never before has there been such hysterical excitement about the first episode of the fifth series of a long-running American television show. Televisions were self-immolating from anticipation. But this is Mad Men, and the rules are different, and they made us - the dribbling, adoring, devoted fans - wait for so unbelievably long after a plot twist at the end of the last series that saw Don Draper propose to his secretary. Those of us who care more than is healthy or right about this show have been stewing over this proposal for 18 months. I hope Matthew Wiener knows he is responsible for stomach ulcers across the land.

Anyway, here we are. It happened. And that strange first scene showing a bunch of unknown (to us) ad agency workers water-bombing a civil rights march made us panic - what have they done with the cast? The office? What have they done with Peggy? Luckily, this was not Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, the beloved agency we left on the brink of collapse, but a rival. And we were soon back in Roger's inner sanctum, a parody-of-sixties-design (must be Jane's doing), watching him pretend to be useful. No one is hopeless as charmingly as Roger.

There, too, were Don and Megan (The Secretary) and, woah, there's Megan giving a sexy dance and singing a French song which sounds like elaborate baby talk at a surprise party for Don in their vast apartment which looks straight out of an overpriced Stoke Newington vintage furniture store. (Line of the episode goes to Lane Pryce describing Don watching his new, young wife cavort in front of the assorted lecherous guests: "I saw his soul leave his body".)

On the lechery point: what has happened to Harry Crane? I always liked Harry - the kind of character who eats in every scene and sweetly bolted from the boardroom in guilty tears after Don's Kodak Carousel presentation, so moved was he by the (ingeniously contrived) depiction of family life after he'd had it off with Pete Campbell's secretary. (Whatever happened to the humourless Hildy? I hope she returns as Duck's improbable mistress when he tries to drunkenly stage a hostile takeover of the company, before being lamped by Don, desperate to make up for that embarrassing empty swing in the last series. One thing Mad Men has taught us: anything is possible.) But now Harry is a horror - even more pervy and bigoted and dumb. He is also universally loathed. But this isn't the Harry we knew and loved. Moral of the story: LA does bad things to people.

And finally - our favourites - Peggy and Pete. I know, Pete isn't the popular choice but there is something so lovable about someone as socially awkward and keen on antique etiquette as Pete Campbell (also: I have been smitten since he and Trudy did That Dance at Roger and Jane's party). If that wasn't enough, the sight of Pete launching a comically furious campaign for a larger office - one, preferably, without a support pillar - is enough to melt the hardest heart. This is what ambition smells like. And Peggy? Still the soul of the piece, of course, plus Megan's boss (intriguing dynamic). When left holding Joan's baby for a brief moment, she looks - poignantly - as though she has been handed a goblin. Joan, meanwhile, is single-handedly carrying the "challenges of working motherhood" storyline - sound the Social Theme klaxon!

Still it was great, wasn't it? It felt like being reunited with dear friends you haven't seen for months. I wanted to note every change in clothing and expression and mood. Such is Weiner's militant attention to detail, you could feel the weight of history in a lampshade. But the best thing was that there were no tricks, no shock revelations - things had moved on exactly as you might have predicted they had moved on, and yet of course you hadn't predicted it quite right, because the glory of this show is that it is as entirely and beautifully unpredictable as an English spring.

Christina Hendricks: Joan in Mad Men. Credit: Getty Images

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

Show Hide image

Do the abusive messages sent to One Direction members reveal a darker side to fandom?

Incidents like this are often used to characterise all young female fans, but this isn’t about fandom. It’s harassment. 

One Direction’s Niall Horan is the internet’s favourite innocent blond goofball. He spends his days tweeting platitudes about golf and the weather, Snapchatting his reactions to whatever is on his TV, and thanking his fans for everything they’ve done for him. His social media presence is generally one of cheerful bemusement.

So, last night, the web went into maternal #ProtectNiall mode when he took to Twitter to highlight the darker side to fame.

A group of “fans” got hold of Niall’s number, and started frantically texting, WhatsApping and calling him. After two weeks of constant abusive messaging, despite requests to stop, Niall tries to use his platform to get them to stop.

Around the same time, screenshots of the supposed messages started to circle online. (I certainly can’t prove whether they’re real or not, but they first surfaced before Niall’s tweets and feel genuine.) The pattern that emerges seems to be one of frantic, attention-seeking messaging, extreme shock and surprise when he writes back, and, when Niall only requests that they stop messaging him and respect his privacy, the really nasty stuff starts. Messages range from “You invented cancer” to “If [your nephew] was my kid I’d sell it”; from “You’re so stupid and r*tarded” to “I hope your house blows up”.

Niall’s responses are extremely Niall in their politeness. “Why do I deserve to have a bad day?” he asks one. “You guys are bullies,” he tells them. “Go away please.”

As soon as the screenshots emerged, so did suspicions about the identity of the individuals in question. A set of five or six Twitter handles were circled by fan accounts, encouraging people to block and report the usernames to Twitter. Some of the owners of these accounts themselves claim to have been part of the conversations in question, to varying degrees. These account owners are seemingly women, under the age of 18, who have supposedly been involved in other recent One Direction harassment incidents.

One of those incidents came just days before Niall’s tweets. A person suspected to be a member of this group of “fans” got hold of another band member’s phone number: Louis Tomlinson’s. You can listen to a recording of the phone conversation between them that leaked online. After telling him her Twitter handle, Tomlinson asks the caller how she got his number. “You’re a fucking bitch and I hope your baby dies,” she says. Louis responds with a variation on the ancient proverb, “Lawyer up, asshole.” He seemingly tweeted about the incident later that day – and Niall retweeted him.

Fan accounts insist that the same Twitter users were also involved in hacking the iCloud of Anne Twist, Harry Styles’s mother, and leaking hundreds of photos of her son online.

The whole situation is a complicated mess. Parts of the messages feel as though they have been influenced by the style of accounts desperately trying to get the attention of celebrities on Twitter. If you look at the top reply to any tweet from a celebrity with millions of Twitter followers, the responses are calculated to shock the most in an attempt to get noticed. Maybe it’s a weird combination of sexual and violent imagery, or a sexist or racist slur. This is harassment itself, but its ubiquitousness can make it seem less offensive or extreme. Perhaps this kind of behaviour is easier to ignore on Twitter or Instagram – if you have millions of followers, you presumably can’t be notified every time one of them interacts with you online. When it moves into your private sphere, I can image it becomes more terrifying than annoying. Maybe these girls were simply swept up in the cultural moment, and failed to grasp the consquences of their behaviour.

Is it a damning indictment of the hysteria of teenage girls? The scary state of twenty-first century fandom? The problems of anonymity offered by the internet? It’s true that the internet has offered new ways for fans and celebrities to have a more direct connection with one another: for the most part, a mutually beneficial arrangement.

But the revelation of the internet has also been that it is a tool through which fundamentally human behaviours are expressed. Over the last few decades, we have learned that aggressive behaviour online is not limited to largely non-existent stereotypes of spotty virgins in their mothers’ basements, or teenage girls developing “dangerous” sexuality. Grown men and women, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons all do it. It’s also not a behaviour that is inherently connected to online spaces: children and teenagers might experiment with moral boundaries through cyberbullying, but they also might do it via anonymous notes in lockers or whispers in school corridors. People of all ages, professions and genders harass others.

The real problem is not celebrity culture or the concept of teenage fandom or social media. As Louis Tomlinson rightly identifies, it’s that our laws have failed to catch up. If we continue to treat harassment as harassment, in all spaces and by all perpetrators, we’ll have a better chance of minimising it.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.