Monday, June 03, 2013

Pete Campbell's Magical Mystery Tour

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

If you haven't watched last night's episode of Mad Men, then this is your disclaimer and stop right now to avoid any spoilers.

I thought last night's episode of Mad Men (titled A Tale of Two Cities) would focus on NYC (where the series is set) and Chicago (the scene of the 1968 Democratic National Convention). Rather, the two cities involved were NYC and Los Angeles. I could spend hours and hours writing about the differences of my hometown and the city on the Left Coast where I currently reside, but if I gave all of that stuff away for free, then you wouldn't buy the (eventual) novel. Besides, I wrote extensively about my struggles as a New Yorker living in LA at great lengths many times before (like in Whiskey and Ice Cream). Anyway, A Tale of Two Cities is about the eventual shift in power from the East Coast to the West Coast after the decline of crime-ridden and graffiti-strewn NYC in the 1970s and the rise of sunny Los Angeles as the epicenter of new-found wealth (aerospace, computers, and the rising influence of television, the music industry, and Hollywood). I could write an entire post about that, but it's not as interesting as writing about drugs.

Last night's episode of Mad Men was another drug-induced episode. I wrote about previous episodes in which drugs were prevalent like LSD (Roger in the Sky with Diamonds) and amphetamines (Speed Men). This week's episode included experimentation with marijuana and hashish -- both labeled soft drugs by today's standards and considered relatively tame drugs compared to mind-bending psychedelics or high-grade pharmaceutical speed.

Pete Campbell (an Ivy League-educated rich prick who is one of the most high-strung characters on the show, but who has shown the greatest resistance to change) smoked marijuana for the first time, while the serious alcoholic main character Don Draper, nearly drowned after smoking too much hashish at a party in the Hollywood Hills.

In the case of Pete smoking weed for the first time... he desperately needed it badly. I see so many people in real life that are so insanely stressed out that I really think that if they just took one drag off a doobie, they'd be so much more relaxed and wouldn't get stressed out about the littlest things. Of course, too much marijuana turns you into an unmotivated space cadet, but like anything in life, moderation is the key.

At the start of the 1960s, it was very common for ad men to drink at their desks. By the end of the 60s, booze was passe and marijuana became more and more prevalent in writers rooms in ad agencies all over the country. Doesn't matter if it was Hollywood or Madison Avenue, in the 60s and 70s, anything remotely related to the "creative process" in a work environment was accompanied with the familiar aroma of recently smoked herbs. A few seasons ago (in Mad Men's timeline it was the early 60s), a couple of characters went to great lengths to hide the fact they were smoking a joint to help writer's block over a deadline (ironically for a rum company), but in the current timeline (1968), writers openly toke joints in the office.

A despondent Pete Campbell, wrought with personal problems (senile mother and a marriage on the rocks) and struggling with work (trying to stay relevant in a firm that doubled in size) was so far at the end of his rope that he finally said, "Fuck it." He took a long toke while Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart played in the background

The episode ended right there. We have no idea if Pete passed out, or he got the munchies, or if he ran out and bought a copy of Pet Sounds, or if he wigged out and hid underneath his desk until the weed wore off. I guess we'll have to find out for next week's episode.

If you believe the anti-drug fear mongers (the ones who profit off the war on drugs)... then you know that marijuana is labeled a gateway drug... and considered an evil stepping stone to harder drugs. I don't believe that assertion, rather, it's not drugs... it's the person. If you have emotional problems it is inevitable that you will turn to some form of self-destructive behavior whether it be developing an addiction to booze, pills, street drugs, sex, food, or hoarding. The war on drugs was a failure because our leaders and politicians outlawed substances when they should focus on mental health issues and how to fix broken people.

Some people don't get high the first time they smoke weed. Sometimes, it's the opposite and newbies get super-super-super high and are not prepared for the intense buzz and sensory overload. That happens when you all of a sudden activate dormant parts of your mind you never knew were there. It was like turning on a switch, but sometimes flipping that switch is too much to handle. People who freak out smoking weed the first time describe the harrowing effects of similar to dropping acid for the first time. I'm envious of people who get THAT FUCKED UP on a couple hits off a joint. I guess I've built up a huge tolerance that I just get a stoney buzz most of the time. Shit, I'd love to smoke a doobie and feel like I'm in Alice in Fucking Wonderland.

Pete Campbell took baby steps. I hope the weed helps him become less of a dick. I'm glad he didn't dive into the deep end of the pool and gobble up a bunch of LSD as his first act of rebellion against the establishment. Could you imagine someone as high-strung as Pete Campbell walking around with a head full of acid? He's the type of guy who would take off all his clothes and jump out a window. Hmmmm.... maybe that's how Pete Campbell dies? He loses his shit on LSD and jumps off the roof. That would finally explain the "falling man" in the open credits of Mad Men.

Entire Reddit threads are devoted to the falling man theory, along with other insane Mad Men-related conspiracy theories (Bob Benson is a G-man, Don Draper's illegitimate son, or time-traveling Bobby Draper), or other well-crafted ideas about the fate/future of characters (like the Megan Draper is really Sharon Tate and will be murdered by a hippie cult).

Mad Men is a complex show with tons of subtext, so it gives their fans plenty of fodder to masticate on in the days following a new episode. You really have to watch each episode more than once, and approach it like a film student the second time around. Sometimes Nicky and I get into long discussions about the most subtle things like what song is playing on the radio or record player in a scene (last night it was "Found Love" by the Fly-bi-Nites) or what is going in the background (I have an entire post rattling around my head about how the art on the walls -- either in a character's office or their home -- give you a deeper insight into what's really inside that character's head).

Falling man aside, Pete may or may not be the next character to get killed off, or commit suicide. But Pete is trying something different to escape instead of crawling into a bottle. Booze makes you belligerent, aggressive, and mean-spirited. Marijuana helps you find serenity and focus on the donut and not go berserk over the hole.

Drugs were an integral part of the 1960s. Old hippie friends of mine love to joke, "If you remember the 60s, you weren't actually there."

The latter part of the 60s were a whirlwind blur of psychedelia if you took part in counter culture. I think about how square my parents were and how they stood on the sidelines and the safety of shore during the 60s as a massive tidal wave of potential revolution crashed ashore and perished... dead on arrival. Hunter S. Thompson nailed that sentiment in his infamous "wave speech" near the end of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Watch it here:

Lazy critics dismiss Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as a drug book, but they missed the point completely because Hunter was writing an obituary about the demise of America and the death of the American Dream. Hunter witnessed the extermination of democracy by jack-boot thugs and how the entire country's leaders were co-opted and public policy hijacked by corporations and the military-industrial-entertainment complex.

The older I get and the crazier America gets, the more I find myself writing gushy content about how awesome the 90s were. I'm starting to realize that the free-loving days of the 90s were Generation X's version of the 60s. Much like Baby Boomers are nostalgic for the 60s, us Gen Xers long for the halcyon days of the 90s, when the music was edgier, and movies were not watered-down sequels, and social situations seemed much easier to navigate and you had meaningful relationships with real-life people instead of superficial connections via social media, and you could show up at an airport ten minutes before your flight took off. The 90s were my 60s. I feel bad for Gen Y and millennials because they grew up in post 9/11 world dominated by the Police State and the dividing lines were not generational but rather politically divided into a bogus right/left paradigm.

Mad Men is a series about how America changed (or died) over the course of the 1960s, but it achieves that by telling the story about the men and women who write the ads for powerful corporations involved with the military-industrial-entertainment complex (as one of the conservative partners explained to one of his left-leaning copy writers: "I hate hypocrites, like hippies who cash checks from Dow Chemical and General Motors.")

 In the middle of 1968, you were either a cog in the establishment or part of counterculture movement. That division was essentially a generational divide (but you had people over 30 who were anti-war or against the current system that was in place and they knew only a revolution could begin to address all of the current problems with inequality). At the same time, many confused teenagers in the late 60s did not know which path to take. Do they tune in and drop out? Or do they adhere to their parents' social mores and join the rank and file of the establishment as members of Richard Nixon's silent majority?

Drugs, especially powerful psychotropic drugs, fractured the fabricated reality set forth by advertising and the media, and for the first time in a lot of people's lives, people were able to see through the bullshit. This is the main reason why the government outlawed LSD. They didn't want the entire populace to find a doorway that led to enlightenment (the jarring realization that the people in power were corrupt and ruthless motherfuckers and that the exploited have-nots vastly outnumbered the haves), so the government made LSD illegal because they were scared shitless to have any more people walk through that door.

If the masses had easy access to LSD over the last couple of decades, I can guarantee you that the Kardashians would not dominate the news cycle. Alas, the rise of the Kardashians are the ultimate result of the government boarding up the doors of perception.

Today, it's a lot easier for the government to indoctrinate children through compulsory education and control teenagers by funneling them toward a life of gross consumerism. Instead of tuning into to spiritual awakenings, teens are busy struggling to live dual lives -- obsessing over their real lives and their internet lives (a virtual projection of what society told them was cool). In 2013, the establishment is not worried about being overthrown because college kids are not marching en masse, shutting down campuses, or inciting a revolution. Instead, our current generation of teens and 20-somethings are pre-occupied with more vapid and vain pursuits like Facebook likes, or desiring to be on a reality show, or doing their best imitation mimicking the psychotic, promiscuous behavior of their favorite Jersey Shore cast members.

Don Draper went to Los Angeles on a business trip and ended up at a wild party in the Hollywood Hills. He's a man still caught up in the 1950s and humors conventional trends of the 60s because he needs to understand them in order to be a better ad man. He smoked marijuana plenty of times before, but often treated it as an alternative way to self-medicate. Then again, if he didn't like it, he wouldn't keep doing it. Anyway, Draper was looking for the bathroom and stumbled upon a group of hippies smoking out of a hookah. Draper toked some killer hash and promptly got lost in a hallucination (these moments remind you that Mad Men creator Matt Weiner used to write for The Sopranos, because these druggy dream sequences remind me of some of the best episodes of The Sopranos like the time Tony ate peyote). Somewhere during his break from reality, Draper fell into the pool. Hey, it's not a real party in the Hills until some schwasted fucktard falls into the pool, right? At least he didn't climb onto the roof and proclaim "I am a golden God!" before jumping into the pool.

Shit, Draper had mad hallucinations on a couple hits of hashish? I wish that happened to me when I smoked hash. In fact, I smoked some right after breakfast and I feel somewhat... normal.... which is why I won't face plant into a pool and almost drown.

Draper's hash incident gave the writers an excuse to flush out Draper's inner demons but in visual form. It's not every day you can engage a pregnant hippie doppelganger of your wife or talk to a solider who died in Vietnam. Draper's run-in with hash was probably a one-and-done experience. I'm sure he'll never touch the stuff again, not because he almost drowned, but rather because the hash made him confront serious unresolved issues about identity and self. What should have been a mellow moment transformed into a M. Night Shyamalan nightmare-twist in which Draper saw dead people. Draper had previously used booze and sex to quell his demons and block out his most painful memories, whereas hash thrust him face-to-face with his own shortcomings and the fact that he switched identities (dog tags) after he nearly died in the Korean War. No wonder Draper barely resisted when he got back from L.A., and the partners agreed to change the name of their firm (shorting it to Sterling Cooper & Partners, utilizing only two of the seven partners' surnames instead of a mouthful of SCDPCGC).

Before I bail, let's return to Pete Campbell and his magical mystery tour. The future of Pete Campbell is interesting and I have four questions that I would love to find out answers....
Will Pete continue down the path toward enlightenment, embrace counterculture, and help incite a revolution by fucking up stuff from the inside? 
Will Pete fall in love with the merits of marijuana, quit his job at Sterling Cooper & Mooks, migrate to Northern California, start a commune, impregnate a lover named Astral, and become a pot farmer?

Will Pete enjoy weed too much and become one of those shut-in stoners who smokes fourteen joints a work day, hides out in his office, make his secretary fetch him 40 White Castle hamburgers for lunch, and he watches the Zapruder film over and over and over again in the dark while researching his six-book series on the JFK and RFK assassinations?

Or is Pete's stoner phase just a phase and a minor mid-life crisis and this foray into mary jane is just a temporary vacation from reality before he returns to his psychotic, self-loathing self-involved self?
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If you dig Mad Men, I wrote a couple other posts including Speed Men and Roger in the Sky with Diamonds.


  1. Thank you for posting intelligent and well-written content

  2. pete: