Meditations in Mad Men

As I try to think of a snappy title for this blog post that both alludes to a Mad Men episode title and a reflective piece that summarizes the brilliance of the show I'm left without the title from the Season 2 finale that brings a close to a novel titled "Meditations in an Emergency."

This piece is about the multi-faceted show of Mad Men.

To begin, this show was a reluctant start for me considering it's premise: rich, white dudes in the 60s showing how advertising was back then.  The young college me of 2007 was too skeptical to really put in to weight how genius the show was, but then again 2007 was before The Wire, Roots, Breaking Bad, Arrested Development and all the wonders of TV that I discovered in college and after.  As such, it was only recently that I decided to get on this Mad Men showcase as it was ending (similar to my interest in Breaking Bad and The Wire).  My current girlfriend said I should finally give it a shot and for most of the month of September it consumed my everything.

There are an infinite of places where I could begin my discussion of Mad Men, but I think I'll generalize my discussion to character, theme, setting and real-life connection. Sure I could also talk at length at the smart shots, range of acting, occasional directional flares, sound and editing, but instead I'm going to talk about why this show means so much to me; it's passion to accurately portray the human condition.  While The Wire and Breaking Bad are novels of length to parallel grand metaphors of Greek Tragedy, Mad Men is a collection of short stories that juggle an overarching plot with several heightened moments in between.

My discussion of Mad Men has to begin with the obvious; the setting.  As such, the setting of the show is apropos to the era of the 60s in that it is mysognist, racist, and sexist as ever.  White men rule everything, housewives are in, people have little health concerns, and conforming to the American Dream seems attainable on your TV.  This is all to say that Mad Men spends most of its show deconstructing this to show imperfect this world was and how unhappy its inhabitants were.  Beyond this, the real-life connections points are sensible as well in that Mad Men is not only deconstructing the 60s, it's deconstructing the now and how little has changed from 50 years ago.  Thus, Mad Men becomes a social critique on the modern era that can use the backdrop of the 60s as a disguise.  Sure white men were in charge of everything, but is that any different than now? Women are seen as housewives for the kitchens; most men would like that to continue even if in misery, racist and sexist attitudes still prevail, and people still want they want on the internet more than the TV.  Still, the show provides a fully-realized time period in the 60s while comparing and contrasting the times in NYC to the times today -a prolonged satire of the state of the union.

Before I discuss characters, I have to discuss the themes as it relates to the showcase of Mad Men as a whole. As I said before, I originally thought that Mad Men was going to be about rich white guys; however, it was farther from the truth. There are themes around advertising and what it means to be an American consumer, there are also themes that deal with 60s trends too; however, the strongest themes deal with the human condition and how people, places, and objects affect each other.  For example, each season has a theme that all the characters go through.  These themes are ones anyone can relate to such as death, isolation, friendship, chaos, self-discovery and self-worth, and whole lot more.  These are conveyed in dialogue -everything is advertised including the lie of who we are-, imagery-a particular shot or item holds weight for a character, and through interpersonal relationships -one character is often falling or  rising right alongside another in the same episode.  These themes take the show from being an elite world we cannot relate to; to poignant vignettes everyone can relate to: dissatisfaction with a job, relationship woes, the desire for more prestige, parental discord, and more. It is through these themes that I f ind myself laughing, crying and smiling along with the characters who live in the same world of themes that we do.

Lastly, I have discuss the characters and how representative they are of not only my life, but nearly everyone else's too.  First, I'll discuss the character of Don Draper who has many same mannerisms and quirks that I have developed since being in college.  While I originally would have never likened myself to Don, 7 years of college and post-college life makes me far more like him than I originally thought.  As such, Don is the guy we all want to be - suave, rich, and handsome, but also the guy no one wants to be -languid, arrogant, and selfish.  Throughout the show he rides this juxtaposition of both celebrating and deconstructing the myth of not only the 60s man, but today's man.  For every cool moment, there is a repugnant one and as he transforms himself and those around him it makes for a a character far more real than many protagonist I have discussed before.
Each of the other characters will have a moment, but the three other main focuses in the show are Peggy, Pete and Roger. While Sally, Joan, Betty, Lane and Megan all have their day in the limelight, the previous three are just as much a part of the show as Don. For instance, Peggy represents the rise of women in the workforce both then and now, while also standing in as a representative of youth counter-culture.  Since Don is all about the fall, she represents the rise and all the setbacks until you make it.  As such, her arc is always fun to watch because you're basically watching a passionate twenty something begin their career..
 In a similar vein, Pete also represents the rise, but he also represents the fall considering he represents the established employee who wants to be in charge, but doesn't know what to do when they've made it.  Most of Pete's experiences deal with a large amount of unhappiness with himself and how he is never satisfied/never fulfilled in what he wants out of life. Thus, you spend your time both rooting and hating him at the same time.
On the other hand, Roger represents career's end, the point when you've made it to the top, but what do you really have to show for it.  That being said, Roger spends much of the show trying to figure out how to be a better person to his job, friends and family.  He is a tragic character who never really knows where he fits in because of how much it has cost him to get to where he is. Thus, he begins to represent a man who has not grown wise with age, but uncertain of what the rest of his life means.

While I would love to go more at length with the other characters of Sally, Joan, Lane, Betty and Megan, I think I may include that in a different blog post.  However, through character, setting and theme Mad Men really grabs a hold of you if you have the patience to see its pathos.  I highly encourage everyone to take a chance with this show. Grapple through the first two seasons and see how you feel.  As for where I rank it? We'll see how the finale does in comparison to the rest of the show to see where I will ultimately place it.