Monthly Archives: May 2015

Don Didn’t Learn Anything, And That’s The Point

don-draper-shrug

“Why Did Don Finally Stop Running?” a headline on Slate.com asked in the days following the final episode of Mad Men. The answer ultimately doesn’t matter, because the question is based on a false premise, one that arises naturally from the fact that show is ending and we want to believe that Don has found some measure of happiness on that cliff overlooking the Pacific ocean, chanting “om” with people who will soon be represented by avatars in a world famous Coke ad.

Here’s the thing: Don hasn’t stopped running, or, to be more accurate, he has simply called off the running for now. He reaches no new level of understanding, and his life is still, as he confesses to Peggy, broken. He just got an idea for an ad, a great one, by going on a road trip and plunging into the culture while straying far from his Manhattan ivory tower. Don didn’t gain any new insight into himself, he only obtained new insight into the consumer.

Don has no self, and never has. All his consternation about McCann, all his soul searching about finding something more than advertising, was, in the end, not part of a search for personal meaning, it was part of his creative process, which we finally realize are the same thing. “Don does this,” Stan reminds Peggy. Roger says virtually the same thing to Meredith. This is what Don does: he questions the meaning of everything, runs away from his life, seeks to find a connection with his past, and eventually comes back with a great idea for a commercial. It’s easy to assume that Don comes up with a great idea for a commercial because he has achieved some level of personal understanding, but this is reading Don’s journeys backwards. He calls off the search for understanding when he gets a good idea for an ad, having learned nothing new about himself, other than the fact that he’s still got it, which is enough to delay his existential crisis for a season or so.

It’s a great take on creativity and is more complicated than imagining that Don was only suffering from a lack of Yoga or unaligned chi. That stranger that Don hugs after a brutal monologue about failing to find love also goes so far as to imagine himself as a product in a refrigerator wanting to be selected. That might be the whole crux of the series right there, the integration of Don’s work as an ad man and his desire to be loved, the anthropomorphized Coke in the refrigerator crying out “pick me, pick me!” What this final episode says is not that Don’s professional aspirations mirror his personal desire to be loved (which is sort of what the series has implied), it’s that they are one: Don’s ability to come up with a new commercial satisfies his desire for real human connection and answers all his vague anxieties over emptiness and meaning, so much so that he can call off the search and head back to New York and create an all-time great commercial.

In the alternate reality where Mad Men continues, Don Draper will do this again. He will become disillusioned and unanchored, he will look to his past and the road for answers, he will feel terrible, and he will come up with a great idea. Rinse, wash, repeat. Don does this. This is a show that is wonderful for its ability to show how people adjusted over a tumultuous decade of rapid change, while ultimately staying the same. Joan becomes her own boss (she was always a boss), Peggy finds love (what she was looking for when she first joined Sterling Cooper) and Don is still an ad man with an empty life. He might have learned something about himself, about his desire to find connections and how that relates to his work. But in the end he’s the same as he was in 1960, an ad-man with no relationship with his children and a longing for a sense of self that doesn’t, and will never, exist.

What he gained, hopefully, was a little better understanding of his own creative process, which is ultimately, all he has. I can’t decide if that’s hopelessly sad or beautifully inspiring. I think it’s fair to say, like the series as a whole, it’s both.

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Pats Fans, Don’t Worry. I Figured Out Our Defense.

Look at this man. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

Look at this man. You all should be ashamed of yourselves.

 

As a lifelong Patriots fan, I feel that having a basic understanding of what has become known as “deflategate” is sort of my duty, even though any attempt by Roger Goodell or the NFL to investigate or adjudicate anything is almost categorically doomed from the start, especially something as silly and inconsequential as whether footballs were slightly deflated. I felt that, like Spygate, this was an inconsequential bit of reckless competitive exuberance, a violation that was made horrible not from the advantage it gave the perpetrators but for the ammunition it gave their detractors. We are now talking about Tom Brady’s Legacy like it’s a stock. How will this affect his legacy? Do you expect to see his legacy dip when the market opens tomorrow? Please. Four Super Bowls are immune to market fluctuations.

All that being said, the Wells report seems to be a serious investigation, so let’s take it seriously. Before we do, let’s establish what we already know.

  1. The balls the Patriots used in the AFC championship were under inflated at halftime, a violation of league rules. The Colts’ balls were not, which would seem to rule out environmental factors as the cause of said under-inflation.
  2. Each team is responsible for providing their own game balls, thanks to a 2006 rule change that Tom Brady was instrumental in bringing about.
  3. The pressure of the balls were measured before the game by officials and were deemed legal.
  4. Tom Brady likes his balls at the low end of the pressure spectrum.
  5. Tom Brady at the time said publicly that he didn’t know anything about why the balls were underinflated. So did Bill Belichick (although Belichick sort of weirdly deflected all questions to Brady).
  6. Roger Goodell has monumentally fucked up every investigation he’s been a part of.
  7. Both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are infallible.
  8. Indianapolis is super annoying, hates gay people, and stole Baltimore’s team.
  9. Science is still out on how air pressure works.

Proceeding from those unassailable presuppositions, let’s examine the Wells report and figure out how to serve justice based on its contents.

The Wells report reaches the conclusion, which it states near the beginning of the text (talk about starting with a conclusion and working backwards!) that:

“It is more probably than not that Jim McNally (the Officials Locker Room attendant for the Patriots) and John Jastremski (an equipment assistant for the Patriots) participated in a deliberate effort to release air from Patriots game balls after the balls were examined by the referee. Based on the evidence, it also is our view that it is more probable than not that Tom Brady (the quarterback for the Patriots) was at least generally aware of the inappropriate activities of McNally and Jastremski involving the release of air from Patriots game balls.”

First of all, let’s dissect some of the legalese here. “More probable than not” is a sort of sloppy and unscientific way of saying “we have zero proof of this.” “More probable than not” would never get you a conviction in a court of law, and anybody who thinks that Roger Goodell has the legal authority to suspend someone and take away millions of dollars in pay based on “more probable than not” is out of their fucking minds. Will he try it? Maybe, he sort of has to if he wants to keep this “defender of the shield” nonsense going. After attacking the livelihoods of so many (mostly black) players with impunity, it would hurt his credibility to turn a blind eye to a supposed infraction from a white player who just so happens to be the (beautiful) face of football. It would, anyway, if Goodell had any credibility left to hurt.

The “evidence” that implicates Brady is almost exclusively limited to the texts between McNally and Jastremski. Those texts seem to indicate that Tom was pressuring McNally to keep the balls deflated and that he was giving McNally sporting goods in exchange for his off-the-books secondary job as Tom Brady’s personal ball handler (you would think that job would be its own compensation, but alas, we live in crass times).

McNally seems generally pissed at Brady. “Fuck tom” he texts to Jastremski (the report doesn’t indicate whether he was immediately struck by lightning after this was sent). In his anger at Brady for being a professional and asking him to prepare the balls according to the preferences of a four time Super Bowl champion, he seems to threaten that he will over inflate the balls, promising “watermelons,” “rugby balls” and “balloons” as retaliation.

What is clear from the text exchanges between McNally, Jastremski and Brady himself is that Brady was very particular about how he liked his balls. We know he liked them with less pressure, which is why McNally is always threatening to over inflate them and why Jastremski calls him a “Spaz” for making the same joke/threat for what we have to assume is a really annoying number of times. What there is no evidence of, however, is that Tom asked either of them to do anything illegal or against the rules. It does not take any sort of leap of faith to read the shit that Tom was giving McNally about ball pressure as a desire to keep the balls at the lowest legal point of pressure. Tom could have been giving him shoes and signed jerseys specifically for that reason, because Tom knew it was outside of the scope of McNally’s normal responsibilities and because the Patriots wouldn’t put “Tom Brady’s personal ball handler” as a payroll expense on the budget.

The Wells report tries to use one particular exchange as evidence that McNally knew he was doing something illegal and was at least jokingly threatening to go to the media with information. He texted Jestermski “jimmy needs some kicks…lets make a deal…come on help the deflator” followed by “Chill buddy im just fuckin with you ….im not going to espn……yet.” This exchange could just as easily be read as a negotiation: the employee (McNally) is trying to negotiate a better perks package at his job by threatening to take an offer of employment from ESPN. Did the Wells report people think about asking if McNally had ever applied to ESPN? Of course not.

The AFC championship game is one of the most high pressure games of the year. Everyone in the organization feels that pressure to be perfect, from Tom Brady all the way down to one James McNally. Jim McNally’s job was to deliver the balls, but maybe he was worried that the balls were not as Tom liked. Even though he wasn’t supposed to, maybe he deflated them a bit, not to push them under the legal limit, but to ensure they weren’t overinflated. After all, we know that Jastremski texted McNally that “I checked some of the balls this morn… The refs fucked us…a few of then [sic] were almost at 16.” Was it possible that McNally saw how overinflated the game balls were, and, knowing that he would be the one to hear about it if Brady was displeased with the ball pressure, decided to deflate the balls to a lower legal amount? Maybe he went too far, but that is his fault, not Brady’s.

The Wells report also makes a big deal out of the fact that Brady had many phone calls and even a meeting with Jastremski after the story broke following the AFC championship game, and uses this as some sort of evidence to implicate Tom, which is totally unfair. If Brady knew he had been pressuring Jastremski to keep the balls inflated to the lowest legal limit, wouldn’t he want to talk to him after the controversy erupted and the sky darkened under a cloud of fiery hot takes? Wouldn’t he want to get to the bottom of it? He’s a good employer, and, caring about his employee, wanted to shield him from a media shitstorm, so of course the “timing and frequency of telephone communications” was related to the scandal. That’s why he gripped the podium in terror and lied when he was asked about his ball preference: because he was trying to keep his guys out of trouble. He’s loyal to his people, maybe loyal to a fault, which is why when the NFL asked him about McNally, he pretended to not even know who he was out of loyalty. We should all be so lucky to have friends like Tom Brady, who forget we exist when times get tough.

So what, then, should happen next? What should Roger Goodell do, besides take his millions and retire to some island where he can suspend human being for sport so we never have to await his misguided judgement on situations like this ever again?

There is only one rational answer: he should make Jim McNally apologize for swearing at Tom behind his back via text. The NFL really needs to crack down on that kind of thing.

 

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