Elisabeth Bronfen: National Hauntings
National Hauntings
(p. 127 – 146)

The Continuation of war in workplace

Elisabeth Bronfen

National Hauntings

in: Mad Men, Death and the American Dream, p. 127 – 146

The myth of America, if it persists at all, has always rested on a precarious foundation. It is precisely its fragility, not its audacity — the perpetual worry of its believers, not its arrogance — that has made it something different (dare we say better?) than just another version of nationalist pomp.

Jim Cullen

Whenever Roger Sterling wants to remind others of the fact that he was on a destroyer in the Pacific during the Second World War, he usually does so in the form of seemingly jocular remarks. A visit to an elegant restaurant with Don and their respective wives, for example, can quickly induce him to make a witty reference to past wars. In order to get another round of drinks, he asks the waiter, “Tell the lieutenant, please, that things are getting a little dry around Hill 29.” He is immensely pleased at Don’s clever repartee: “All clear in No Man’s Land” (MM 1.2). Like Don, Roger is also haunted by his experiences at the frontline, only he positively boasts about a past that he does not, under any circumstances, want to forget. At the same time, in their shared war experience, these two men are also shown to bond. During a dinner in her own home, Betty asks Roger to tell a true war story and he unhesitatingly describes how his father, with a bayonet in his hand, successfully killed a German soldier who was lying only a few feet away from him in the trenches. Her own husband, in response to Betty’s complaint that Don hardly speaks about the war, defends himself by objecting to his work buddy: “Not much to say, you boys used up all the glory.” Roger, in turn, immediately takes up the challenge, and explains: “My old man will always have one on me with that bayonet” (MM 1.7). War memories, however, not only serve to forge an affective connection between the two figural brothers in arms, Roger and Don. War, as the event that different generations of Americans share, also brings to the fore the difficulties the sons have when it comes to measuring up to their fathers. For precisely this reason, Roger proceeds at once to recount the mission for which he was decorated. In his witty rendition, shooting down a Japanese reconnaissance plane transforms into a gleeful adventure in the South China Sea. 

That Roger takes these war anecdotes quite seriously, however, becomes clear...

  • télévision
  • trauma
  • Amérique

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Elisabeth Bronfen

est professeure d’études anglaises et américaines à l’Université de Zurich et Global Distinguished Professor à la New York University depuis 2007. Elle est titulaire d’un doctorat (Université de Munich) consacré à l’espace littéraire dans le roman-fleuve Pilgrimage de Dorothy M. Richardson et, cinq ans plus tard, elle a rédigé son habilitation à diriger des recherches sur les représentations de la féminité et la mort. Spécialiste de la littérature des XIXe et XXe siècles, elle est également l’auteure d’articles et ouvrages dans des domaines aussi variés que les études de genre, la psychanalyse, le cinéma, la théorie culturelle et la culture visuelle. En sa qualité d’experte de la culture et de la politique américaine, elle intervient régulièrement dans la presse et dans des émissions, tant nationales qu’internationales.
Autres textes de Elisabeth Bronfen parus chez DIAPHANES
Elisabeth Bronfen: Mad Men, Death and the American Dream

Matthew Weiner’s series Mad Men is more than a resonant time capsule. Elisabeth Bronfen’s claim is that the show not only thrives on a significant double voicing, reviving the literature, film, music and fashion of the past within and for the cultural concerns of the present. With Don Draper an embodiment of the prototypical con man, his precarious journey from poverty to fame and prosperity can also be seen as a continuation of the moral perfectionism so key to the American tradition. His fall and spiritual recovery is as much an individual story as a comment on the state of the nation. Mad Men reflects on the role television has come to play in this work of the cultural imaginary, both fragile and fruitful. We identify and sympathize with the people in this series not despite but because they are fictional representations, different yet also a mirror of ourselves.