Alexandra Lange | Essays

Shiny and New

Three words I never thought I would hear on a dramatic television show: Ada Louise Huxtable. But there I was, watching Mad Men and the client they teased last week, Madison Square Garden, was in a meeting with Pete and Paul, asking for help fighting the crazies who want to SAVE PENN STATION. Paul flips through a folder of what I assume are accurate recreations of posters made by protestors and then begins to read a few lines from Ada Louise Huxtable’s protest piece of May 5, 1963. I didn’t have a pen, so I didn’t catch the exact quote, but this one will do.

“Anything new is categorically preferred to anything old, no matter how shoddy or undistinguished the new may be. And if the old is wanted occasionally, 'reproductions' are preferred to originals, because they are newer and cleaner.”

The client dismisses her as an “angry woman” (shades of Robert Moses, Jane Jacob, and the phrase “just a bunch of mothers”) just as Don Draper will later dismiss Peggy’s concerns about pitching a diet soda to men with Ann-Margaret jiggle rather than to the female customer as too artistic a concern for advertising. Sterling Cooper is in the business of new, and happy to reproduce art in the service of commerce. (For a take on the whole episode from this womanly p.o.v., click here.)

In a later scene, Don speaks for the development community, then and now. Penn Station is old and dirty, like the city. What the developers of Madison Square Garden are selling is what he saw in California, the shining city of the future, clean and bright. That this is perhaps a better description of the hopes for Lincoln Center, that acropolis of culture also under development in 1963, is no matter. Mad Men is playing on our divided loyalties across the ages, to Don v. Peggy, old v. new, preservation v. progress. Could he be right? At least he is showing us how so many intelligent people could have been so wrong. We all assumed the politics of Season 3 would revolve around the Kennedy assassination, but instead creator Matthew Weiner is tying the show more closely to parochial concerns, drawing other buildings in New York in as characters. I can only pray this is not the last we hear of Penn.

For more on ALH’s appearance, go to the excellent and new-to-me Footnotes of Mad Men.

Posted in: Architecture, Media

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