Mad Men: season 5, episode 9

Green-eyed monsters and the downfall of kings.


It's Thanksgiving. "Bring something sweet" to dinner, Megan tells her acting friend. The great irony of "Dark Shadows", we quickly learn, is everyone is sour; nobody is thankful. "The grass is always greener," Howard laughingly tells Pete. "Every man for himself," Roger defensively yells at Peggy. The title of episode nine comes from the 1966 American TV show, a series of gothic tales where the characters are werewolves, witches and vampires. This week Mad Men is populated by green-eyed monsters.

Betty's jealousy of Megan, and her life with Don, is the most rancorous of all. It's not enough that she surveys the new Draper home - spacious, light and lived in - that contrasts so obviously with her mortician's mansion, but Betty has to catch a lingering sight of Megan (strangely changing clothes at the end of the day), slim and pert in her brassiere. After seeing a sweet note written by Don to his new wife, Betty acts on her jealousy - vindictive, crunching on celery, she tries to use her daughter to plant a bitter seed. But Sally is now dependable for her feistiness and won't be duped. Though her criticisms of Megan are biting - "You're a phony. Guess what? You're not special . . . So why did he marry you?" - Sally has learned there are more artful ways to take control. In the knowing voice of an adult she later lies to her mother, saying Don and Megan "spoke very fondly of [Anna]". Megan can teach Sally how to cry on cue but her stepdaughter is at least as good an actress.

Beside the Drapers' is another apartment in the city where a poisonous ex-spouse has overstayed their welcome. With toxic smog in the air that morning, Roger leaves Jane's new place that he has "ruined'' by sleeping with her in it. Whether or not we believe his claim to feeling "terrible" about it (and with his dejected exit aren't we inclined to?), Jane is right: Roger has everything he wants and it's still not enough.

There's some clear and clever parallels, as we often find, between Roger and Don in this episode. Desperate to not be outdone by Pete, Roger commissions Ginsberg to work afterhours on new ideas - because "when a man hates a man very much . . . " he has to go behind his back and screw him over. But when he says "hate" he's speaking about Bert Cooper - Roger won't "devote the energy to hating people anymore". If Roger is the deceiving, undermining accounts man then Don is his creative equivalent: working on a Sunday, rifling through Michael's notes and dumping his Sno Ball pitch before selling his own to the clients. Don also claims he doesn't act out of hate; while Ginsberg "feel[s] bad for" Don, the elder doesn't "think about [him] at all". But is the Jew really Ozymandias, the king of kings, looking on his works ("ye mighty") and telling others to despair? Whose vanity - we look too at Roger and Pete - will be their downfall first?

Peggy, for her own reasons, takes satisfaction in Ginsberg's loss. Her New Yorker-style ad was not of interest to Don (perhaps it's the hip, new agency thinking that the New York Times was after?), and we must wonder if her exit from SCDP is imminent. Last week she flipped at Draper over Megan in the Cool Whip kitchen; now, in a moment of elevator drama (a common site for it), she tells Roger he has betrayed her: "You are not loyal. You only think about yourself." Earlier on when looking at the agency's recent output Don noted that "Peggy really got buried by Heinz". And albeit out of pride and spite, Don is finally wringing some creativity from himself. Will Peggy act on her pact with Ken Cosgrove and move on? Perhaps she should heed the jolly jingle that plays out the episode: "If you want happiness just help yourself to some".

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Betty Francis staring daggers in "Dark Shadows". Photo: AMC

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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In the age of podcasts, the era of communal listening is over

Where once the nation would listen to radio events together, now, it is the booming podcast market that commands our attention

It’s a moment so celebrated that no TV drama about the Second World War is complete without it. At 11.15am on 3 September 1939, Neville Chamberlain made a live radio broadcast from Downing Street announcing that “this country is now at war with Germany”. A silence fell over the nation as people rushed to the wireless to hear him. The whole country was listening, but crucially, it was listening together.

Nearly eight decades later, it is difficult to imagine a communal audio event like that ever happening again. The arrival of the Walkman in 1979, since superseded by the iPod and then the smartphone, turned listening into a personal, solitary pastime. It was no longer necessary for families to get a radio on a hire-purchase arrangement and gather round it in the sitting room. The technology that delivers audio to us is now small and cheap enough for each of us to have one in our pocket (with headphones tangled around it, of course).

At the same time, the method of delivery changed, too. “Radio” ceased to indicate simply “programming transmitted by electromagnetic waves” in the late 1990s, when conventional radio stations began to make their output available on the internet. Online-only radio stations sprang up, streaming their shows directly to computers. Free from any regulation and with the internet as a free distribution platform, these early stations echoed the tone of pirate radio stations in the 1960s.

The idea of “audioblogging” – making short voice recordings available for download online – has been around since the early 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the word “podcasting” was coined by the technology journalist Ben Hammersley in an article for the Guardian. He was looking for a name for the “new boom in amateur radio” that the internet had enabled.

Thanks to technological advances, by the early 2000s, a podcaster could record a sound clip and upload it to his or her feed, and it would arrive automatically on the computer of anyone who had subscribed. Apple began to include podcasts as a default option on iPods; in 2008 iPhones offered a podcast app as standard. The market boomed.

Apple is notoriously reluctant to provide data on its products, but in 2013 it announced that there had been more than a billion podcast subscriptions through its iTunes store, which carried over 250,000 podcasts in 100 languages. In 2016, Edison Research released a study suggesting that 21 per cent of all Americans over the age of 12 had listened to at least one podcast in the past month – roughly 57 million people. Audiobooks, too, are booming in this new age of listening; the New York Times reported that
although publishing revenue in the US was down overall in the first quarter of 2016, digital audio sales had risen by 35.3 per cent.

The vast share of this listening will be solitary. This is because audio is a secondary medium. For all the talk about the rise of “second screening”, it isn’t really possible to do much more than idly scroll through Twitter on your phone as you watch television, but you can easily get things done while you listen to a podcast. Put on a pair of headphones, and you can go for a run or clean out the oven in the company of your favourite show. In this sense, the medium has been a game-changer for commuters and those doing repetitive or manual work: there’s no longer any need to put up with sniffling on the train or your boss’s obsession with Magic FM.

Though podcasts are an internet phenomenon, they have managed to remain free from the culture of trolling and abuse found elsewhere. It is difficult to make audio go viral, because it’s tricky to isolate a single moment from it in a form that can be easily shared. That also deters casual haters. You can’t just copy and paste something a host said into an insulting tweet.

Our new and solitary way of listening is reflected in the subjects that most podcasts cover. While there is the occasional mega-hit – the American true crime podcast Serial attracted 3.4 million downloads per episode in 2014, the year it launched – most shows exist in a niche. A few hundred listeners who share the host’s passion for pens or for music from antique phonographs can be enough to sustain a series over hundreds of episodes (there are real podcasts on both of these topics).

This is also where the commercial opportunity lies. It costs relatively little to produce even high-quality podcasts, compared to TV or conventional radio, yet they can ­attract very high advertising rates (thanks to the dedication of regular listeners and the trust they have in the host). The US is far ahead of the UK in this regard, and podcast advertising revenue there is expected to grow 25 per cent year on year, reaching half a billion dollars in 2020. Where this was once a hobby for internet enthusiasts, it is now big business, with venture capitalists investing in new networks and production companies. The US network Gimlet attracted $6m in funding in 2015. However, in the UK, the BBC crowds out smaller, independent operations (the trade-off is that it makes undeniably outstanding programmes).

There is even a movement to make listening a communal activity again. The same hipsters responsible for the resurgence of vinyl sales are organising “listening parties” at trendy venues with high-quality sound systems. Live shows have become an important source of revenue for podcasters. Eleanor McDowall, a producer at the Falling Tree radio production company, organises subtitled “screenings” for podcasts in languages other than English. I even have a friend who is part of a “podcast club”, run on the same lines as a monthly book group, with a group of people coming together to discuss one show on a regular schedule.

The next big technological breakthrough for audio will be when cars can support internet-based shows as easily as conventional radio. We might never again gather around the wireless, but our family holidays could be much improved by a podcast.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times