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SPOTLIGHT: Sweeping Culture Daily

“Mad Men”: An Obsessive’s Guide to Cultural References (Season 6, Ep. 6)

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By Craig Hubert | If you haven’t figured out by now, we’re obsessive watchers of “Mad Men.” So obsessive, in fact, that we end up doing research every week just to decode all the references in each episode. So far, we’ve seen Bing Crosby’s “Just a Gigolo,” the Electric Circus, “Planet of the Apes,” and so much more. This week, in the most plot-heavy episode of the season so far, we saw a buried rock ‘n’ roll classic from Michigan, a possibly doomed car, and more references to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Bonwit Teller

Just one of the symbols of decay in this episode, Megan and her mother are seen with bags from Bonwit Teller, an upscale department store founded in 1895. By this time, the once great store was undergoing the first of a long series of ownership changes before declaring bankruptcy.

Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels –  ”Baby Jane”

The Bob Dylan-like “Baby Jane,” by Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, played during the scene where Don and Ted, now business partners, secured the deal to work with Chevy on their new project. Aside from “Baby Jane” being a jumpy, uplifting track, perfect for the scene, it was also shares an automobile connection: Ryder is a Michigan native, his Detroit, and car manufacturing, roots made clear in the name of his band.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

During Peggy’s fantasy involving her boss, Ted Chaough, he is seen, in addition to his nifty turtleneck and a smoking jacket, reading “Something” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. While it’s hilarious that this is Peggy’s idea of what a sophisticated partner reads, it also makes a connection to Peggy’s interview with Ted, where he said he saw something akin to Emerson in her work, invoking the writer’s notion of becoming a “transparent eyeball.” It was pretentious, and more than a little ridiculous, at that moment, but it’s obvious the mention of Emerson has stayed with Peggy.

Chevy Vega

Was Don Draper landing the top-secret Chevy project, after firing the slimy Jaguar representative, actually a sly joke on the part of the “Mad Men” writers? The internet seems to be leaning toward the project being the Chevy Vega, which, apparently, was disastrous. “The ambitious product, which went to market as the Chevy Vega, was initially received with much praise and hype,” reports Fast Company. “The gold-plated sheen of hype soon decayed into rust, however, when it was revealed that the insufficiently protected body of the car did the same rather easily.” Could the Chevy Vega also be a grand metaphor for the firm, which arrived with much hype and appears to be in the beginning stages of falling apart?

Image: Michael Yarish/AMC

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