Does success always involve a pact with the devil? Go on. Think back. All those little deals and compromises justified in order to move up the corporate ladder, to get the bigger house, the faster car, the hot guy, the beautiful woman… What wouldn’t we do to get what we want?
What if it’s to protect ourselves and our families? Do we stay in a relationship without love, to preserve the illusion?
Are those different deals than the ones that seem more self-serving – the newer car, the expensive vacation, the power that comes with wealth and influence? And whatever it takes to achieve that kind of success?
Selling our souls
Yes – this is my weekly musing on AMC TV’s Mad Men! But the ethical issues so smoothly presented are those that every adult wrestles at some point. Is there really any escape from selling off our dreams, our integrity, or our values in order to succeed? Do we chalk it up to growing up, and necessary compromise?
Don and Betty
This week’s Mad Men presented several variations on this theme: Don is “persuaded” to sign an employment contract, giving up his freedom, and tying himself to the company in order to get the Hilton deal.
Meanwhile, Betty is playing with fire, as she finesses an attractive politician on behalf of the Junior League. At least, it’s a handy excuse. She’s restless, she’s desirous, and she’s drawn to him. Oh, the subtlety of his gesture as he shields her eyes from the sun! Hot, hot, hot! No wonder she needed a fainting couch…
Ambition, Money, Stability
Has anything really changed in 45 years? We all trade off pieces of ourselves for money, recognition, stability, love, comfort. Out of desperation, even boredom.
As for the “Don Hancock” on the employment contract, there’s no question that Sterling Cooper’s founders used a bit of blackmail to nudge their Creative Director into signing. But our protagonist is driven by ambition, as well as his demons. Will it be a pact with the devil?
Cooper may have the goatee, but Hilton’s likely to wield the pitchfork. As for Don, he’s already descending into a hell of his own making.
And our Grace Kelly-like Betty? She’s the pretty bird in the gilded cage, a smart, sexy woman who accepts (reluctantly) a philandering husband, his disappearances, his lack of communication. After all – he’s a good provider, and they both live the picture perfect life promoted in the 60s: social status, security, plenty of comforts, home and family.
As her situation grows more stifling, I expect she’ll break out more often, as she did with her encounter in the backroom of a bar, early in her pregnancy.
Drink in hand, Don takes off in the Caddy after a fight with his wife, picks up a pair of hitchhikers, and winds up the next morning in a motel room, beaten and rolled. In his foggy state the night before, he converses with his bastard of a dead father, who says: “You’re a bum. Look at you. What do you do? What do you make? You grow bullshit!”
Is this just part of the price he pays for success, and his secrets?
Good girl miscalculates, or strategic move?
Peggy and Duck hot and heavy in the sack? That’s a pact with the devil I didn’t expect to see! Now I’m wondering which of these two is the predator, or are they both maneuvering? Whatever the motivation – what’s not to love in this exchange between the ambitious young woman, and the manipulative older man?
Peggy: What do you want from me?
Duck: I want to take you in that bedroom, lock the door, take your clothes off with my teeth, throw you on the bed, and give you a go ’round like you’ve never had…”
What a line! I’d fall for that one, myself!!
Stability, money, passion, protecting our children, just trying to get by – do we all sell a little bit of our souls to get what we want, or need?
I look back on jobs I’ve held – years of 80-hour work weeks in a dog-eat-dog environment. Personal life? There was none. That was the price I paid.
And relationships? What about the situations we accept in a marriage, because we believe it may be better for the children? Or we see no way out, financially? Are these contracts with the devil, or with ourselves?
What we sacrifice
Part of Mad Men‘s appeal is the relevance of its life lessons. These characters take dangerous paths we may have traveled, or side-stepped. Sometimes they know why. Sometimes, just like us, they have no idea.
So we watch, fascinated, occasionally catching a glimpse in our own mirrors, and wondering about pay-up time when the devil comes to collect his due.
This episode was cleverly titled 723, the date Don scribbles on his contract. In exactly four months (the planned wedding date for Roger Sterling’s daughter – November 23), the President will be Lyndon Baines Johnson.