The H Word

 Posted by on November 19, 2014 at 5:53 am  Mad Men, Season 2, Season 5
Nov 192014

There have been a few discussions of gay people on Mad Men, and the discussions usually get pretty derogatory.

“So Kurt is a pervert.”—Harry in Season Two, The Jet Set.
“I knew queers existed, I just don’t want to work with them.”—Ken in Season Two (same episode).
“You people.”—Don (talking to Sal) in Season Three, Wee Small Hours.

Smitty criticized Ken and Harry for their discomfort and disparaging remarks about Kurt, saying, “What, you’ve never met a homo in advertising before?”  He implied that their attitude was ridiculous because they probably have met plenty of gay men in the industry already (including Sal, although Harry and Ken were seemingly oblivious to Sal’s sexual orientation).  However, although the term “homo” was used in the 1960s, it’s not used much today.  Articles have been written about why “gay people” sounds much better  than “homosexuals.”

I recently watched Signal 30 (Season Five) again. It’s a great episode, and one I’ve written about before. It’s one of those episodes where I get something different out of it every time I watch it.

When Lane gets word that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce has lost the chance at Jaguar, he is furious with his colleagues. (Roger, Don, and Pete took the client, Edwin, to a place where he could meet prostitutes, and Edwin’s wife found out.) Lane rages at the men, wondering why they would have done something like that, and Pete says, “Edwin didn’t ask you to go along because he thinks you’re a homo*.”

That’s the last straw. Lane, already enraged, loses it and calls Pete “an oily pimp” and challenges him to a fist fight.

It’s the “homo” insult that does it. Lane was already angry at Pete and the others—it’s likely that nothing they had said would have pacified him—but Pete’s remark pushes Lane over the edge. Take out his new friend/potential client and cause a scandal? That’s bad enough. Insult his manhood? Now Pete has really done it, as far as Lane is concerned.

Not only do they fight, but Lane tells Pete that he shouldn’t expect to ever get any more help or advice from Lane in the future.

Remember Paul, in Season Three (My Old Kentucky Home), getting mad at his friend who insulted his singing?  Paul told Jeffrey: “Take it back.”

I wonder if Pete had a moment of wishing he could “take it back,” given how quickly the whole thing escalated.


*note: I didn’t have the exact quote in front of me, so I am paraphrasing here. Pete definitely said that Edwin thought Lane was “a homo.”



  26 Responses to “The H Word”

  1. Ken also used the H word in the Kurt-outs-himself episode – Don (I think it’s Don) comes in and asks something like “Did I miss anything?” The button on the whole scene is Ken replying, “Kurt’s a homo.”

    I thought when it aired, and still think, it would be rare to the point of anachronism for Kurt to verbally self-identify as a gay man so calmly, in the early 60s, at the conservative agency for which he’s an easily-let-go-of freelancer. He may be a free spirit with Bob Dylan tickets who can give Peggy a less-square haircut, but still. Plenty of people in 2014 would opt not to make such a revelation under those circumstances. Made for a great scene though.

    • At the time, I wondered if Kurt’s being European made him less inhibited about discussing his sexual preference.

      • My thought too.

        • He sounds a bit Scandinavian to me; the Swedes were on the cutting edge of the sexual revolution in the 50’s and 60’s.

        • Yes, after Kurt leaves the room (Harry and Ken in shock), Harry asks Smitty, “Did you know about this?”

          Smitty says, “He’s from Europe, it’s different there.” (and then he adds, “More for me,” with a flirtatious look towards Joan—LOL.)

      • Certainly possible – wish I knew more, it’s fascinating.

      • i think most europeans think the americans are much more liberal on these things. but if he were someone from behind the iron curtain, i wouldn’t necessarily be surprised by his forwardness. Being fired from your job wouldn’t be anything compared to what could happen in east germany. (i thought german from the name Kurt – the actor’s bosnian, so maybe he’s a yugoslavian?)

        • I thought he was German too. I thought of East Germany, but the attitudes toward homosexuality (gayness?) behind the Iron Curtain (as in Cuba today) remained archaic and punitive, I believe. Also, if he were from East Germany it would be hard to explain what he would be doing living and working in America (unless he came through Berlin before the wall).
          On European attitudes toward America, in one of the Soviet dissident Aksyonov’s novels, The Island of Crimea , “American girls” is a concept like that of “Swedish girls” in America in the 1970s — virtually by definition promiscuous ,”easy” and sexually wild.

    • Ken also used the H word in the Kurt-outs-himself episode – Don (I think it’s Don) comes in and asks something like “Did I miss anything?”

      I watched it recently. It was Pete who had just come in, not Don.

      Pete has just come back from California and notices Peggy looks different (new haircut—Kurt cut it for her). As Pete and Peggy are talking, Ken says, “Kurt’s a homo.”

  2. I’ve often referred to Signal 30 as the Emasculation of Peter Dykeman Campbell Episode.
    To think that on top of everything else that happened to him (that visit from Don the plumber, just miniaturized him on the spot), Pete gets his ass handed to him by a guy who might be confused for a homosexual, (the horror!) , and an older one at that.
    Maybe the reason that Sal has not been followed up on, is that the Benson has taken over the gay ‘angle’ on MM, and further exploration of the subject would be overkill.
    On a side note; I’m wondering what year was it that homosexual it was re-classified from being a psych illness by the AMA. 1972?

    • The American Psychiatric Association (APA) declassified homosexuality as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973.

    • Pete’s definitely sustained the most ass-kickings of any character on Mad Men. By Lane in the conference room and by both Beth’s husband and the Conductor on that commuter train. And in each case he had it coming. Poor guy.

  3. Oops.
    Homosexuality was re-classified.

    • For a while the concept of “ego-dystonic homosexuality” was preserved, meaning that it was an “illness” if, and only if, one was upset about it. This was dropped after a few years.

  4. No mention of Joyce, or Joan’s college roommate?

    • Or, for that matter, Lee Garner Jr.

      • Forgot about Peggy’s friend Joyce. She’s very confident in her sexuality. I vaguely remember Joan’s college roommate, but it’s been a while since I’ve watched her episodes.

        Lee Garner was an interesting character but because he wasn’t out to any of the other characters (except for Sal), he didn’t risk being criticized or ostracized.

        Still wish Sal could have gotten together with Elliot from Belle Jolie.

        • people generally have a different view of lesbians though to gay men. And Joyce’s counter-cultureness probably gave a vibe too of ‘whatever, she’ll grow out of it’ to some.

          lee garner was someone who you expect to be exposed one day in a men’s toilet.

    • Roommate’s name was Carol, played by Kate Norby.

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