3. Power Roles in Mad Men

May 8, 2009

There is an episode in season one of Mad Men where Pete Campbell asks his parents for a “loan” of money so he can put a down payment on a new apartment. (I could not find a YouTube clip for this episode.) He needs to acquire money from his father, but his father replies, “No, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

Pete’s father has a combination of power, according to our textbook. Chapter 8 cites different kinds of familial power, such as reward power, “the ability to give you a valued resource,” and legitimate power, “formal position to exert influence,” (p. 206). Pete understands that his father has the ability to give him a valued resource, which is what gives him the most power, but it is also because they are father and son that he has legitimate power.

Pete, however, is extremely uncomfortable asking his parents for money (and even lies about it to his wife later), because Pete is autonomous: “independent and self governing,” (p. 208). The text cites that boys “learn to focus on independence and achievement, concentrate on doing things rather than on communicating in the traditional sense, and come to feel ‘at home’ when maintaining more distance between themselves and other people” (p. 208-209). Pete desires to be independent, but he can’t be because he needs his father’s money. He feels uncomfortable being around his parents and it is humiliating for him to ask for money.

His father humiliates him further–and exerts his reward/legitimate power–when he does not accept Pete’s request. The interaction between Pete and his father demonstrates Pete’s autonomy and his father’s power roles, but the episode accounts for the discomfort of power exertion that the text does not.

SOURCES: Gamble, T. K., & Gamble, M. W. (2003). The Gender Communication Connection. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Mad Men [Television program]. (2007). American Movie Classics. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2Lw7iS21rs

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