What’s in a Nipple?



MAD MEN REVIEW: Season 7 Episode 5 — Could there be a more gruesomely horrifying image than Ginsberg (Ben Feldman) presenting his severed and bloodied nipple in a box as a gift to Peggy? As the paramedics are carting him off, he yells: “Get out while you can!” What’s gotten into Ginsberg? The new computer isn’t what’s really driving him crazy. But, his fantasies about it are certainly a place to start.

In Ginsberg’s mind, the computer is imbued with special humanoid qualities; anthropomorphized, we could say. The computer is making people do things. For example – trying to make men turn homosexual and away from women. What’s been cooking inside Ginsberg to push him over the edge into this kind of paranoid breakdown?

Freud was a hot commodity in the 60’s and 70’s and, well, Freud said that the root of paranoia is homosexual anxiety. That seems about right on one level. Ginsberg has fantasies about Stan’s arms. He tries to make a baby with Peggy to allay his anxieties. Ginsberg is certainly confused about his sexuality. Then again, he’s confused about everything.

Sorry Freud. You were brilliant, but I must beg to differ in Ginsberg’s case. His paranoia is much more complex than anxiety about homosexuality. There’s the nipple, after all – the valve that let’s things flow through him. What is this pressure that’s driving Ginsberg crazy, the pressure that must be released? And, what does the nipple have to do with it?

The problem is there’s been no nipple in Ginsberg’s life. Born in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, he lost his mother as an infant. That’s a trauma a child never gets over. Lou Avery (Alan Havey) is about the least nurturing person anyone could encounter. In fact, he’s all about making everyone else feel small to make himself feel big. His cruel demeaning jibes are meant to bring other people down. The atmosphere is dehumanizing at SCP. Everyone is stressed out, but not everyone is breaking down like Ginsberg is.

Some people manage workplace mistreatment, like Lou Avery’s abuse, without extreme or serious consequences. But, people with histories of trauma often can’t because the stress re-creates the original trauma. There’s the computer, after all, with its humming drone. In Ginsberg’s mind, the woman who works it is not even human – just like the mother he never knew, the mother who never sang to him. Ginsberg is a lost and lonely boy, a boy who’s never had any woman. That computer is his unconscious mind, the pressure of his unmet emotional needs (and I don’t mean sexual) – and it’s having a huge effect. He wants to get out of a world with no mother as fast as he can. Lou Avery, well – he’s the straw that broke the camel’s back.

What about that nipple? Yes, the missing nipple may very well be the missing mother. But, what does a motherless child do to take off the pressure of all his unmet needs? He pretends he doesn’t have any. Then, there’s Peggy. Ginsberg starts to have feelings for her. His longings get stirred up. A terrible mistake, he must angrily feel, when she rejects him. So, Peggy is the one who gets the gift.

What might Ginsberg’s unconscious mind be saying as he hands Peggy the bloody present? “See, Peggy? I don’t need you. I don’t need any nipple. I never have and never will (although that’s not the real truth at all). If I make myself as unfeeling as a computer (or a Martian), then I won’t feel any longing or sadness at all. I’m getting out of here while I can. Out of a world with feeling and need. See, Peggy. I’m fine now. You, however, are the one who is crying …”

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