For all of today’s hypermobility of every kind—from the ubiquitous air travel we take for granted to the iphone culture that lets us take it all with us—we are a comparatively earth-bound people. I don’t think our society’s collective thoughts and imagination fly, not the way they did at the dawn of the sixties.
The National Air and Space Museum tells us that Pan American ushered in the Jet Age in 1958 with the Boeing 707.
American Airlines set a new speed mark when it opened the first regularly scheduled transcontinental jet service in 1959.
On May 25, 1961, President Kennedy spoke to a special joint session of Congress with these fateful words:
"I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
And on February 20, 1962, six days after our Sterling Cooperite’s Valentine Day doings, John Glenn became the first American in orbit.
In this one little slice of time we see man’s first concerted efforts to lift his body into the firmament and suspend it there, for the length of a trip crosscountry or around the earth itself.
That’s quite a powerful parallel revolution to the forces afoot on the ground between the sexes and the generations. For some, I think it will help propel the spirit of the Age of the Aquarius---the light, heady feeling that leads to dancing in the park as we’ll see in Hair. The ideas of liberation that seized the imagination of various strata of society were fueled in part by the achievement of the commercialization of flight and the dawning of the space age. So much energy, so much hope and momentum all around.
Don Draper, however, is not flying to the stars. His body is weighing him down, as we see at the doctor’s, and he has come to some arrangement with his wife that tethers him home at night. (Although I didn’t get that plot point clearly until Matt Weiner explained it in the post-game session.) An arrangement that is making him feel leaden.
His feelings get some lift, some charge, when he reads Frank O’Hara. In the last scene we see him looking like a stodgy middle-aged man in his old-guard hat, enshrouded by the domesticity of walking the family dog, mailing a copy of O’Hara’s poems to someone. Midge? Rachel?
We’ll see. And we’ll see if Don takes flight of any sort— either to run away, or opening his spirit to the forces of the decade.
Come watch episode 2 of the new season with the newcritics, Sunday night at 10:00 pm ET. We love/hate the show in the very best way.
For another great perspective on what's going on with Mad Men, go see our own Lance Mannion and his experiment with The Naked City.
And as a bonus, it just so happens that Frank O’Hara wrote a poem called “Quiet Time” that speaks to the mystery of flight.
When music is far enough away
the eyelid does not often move
and objects are still as lavender
without breath or distant rejoinder.
The cloud is then so subtly dragged
away by the silver flying machine
that the thought of it alone echoes
unbelievably; the sound of the motor falls
like a coin toward the ocean's floor
and the eye does not flicker
as it does when in the loud sun a coin
rises and nicks the near air. Now,
slowly, the heart breathes to music
while the coins lie in wet yellow sand.
(Photo: The Douglas DC-8 was designed to replace the piston-engine DC-7 on long-distance routes. Credit: National Air and Space Museum Archive.)