Set in the late 50’s/early 60’s, before JFK’s election to office, Mad Men takes its audience to an era of whiskey, women, and work. [M]ad work that is. The show centers around the dashing Donald Draper, Director of Accounts for the fictitious advertising firm Sterling-Cooper in New York City. From the very beginning, the audience becomes aware that Don isn’t the man he appears to be. Moving from the office to the penthouses to the fine dining to the night clubs to the bars to the home then to the mini-bar, the audience watches Don go about his business and personal lives. It’s like watching a fictional reality TV show. There is no real conflict/resolution in each episode; only the lauding lamentation of “this is all there is.”
Frankly, I am beginning to see its subtle brilliance.
I started watching Mad Men a few weeks ago, and just finished the first season. I was instantly intrigued by the milieu of the show. But it was and is a hard show for me to figure out. I mean all the booze and womanizing is so over the top, you have to wonder if the 60’s were really like that. I can’t tell if the show is reminiscing about the ‘glory days’ of when life was grand and gay; or if the show is trying to recreate such a dismal remembrance of a time past that we should look on it with disgust and contempt. So as I watched, I kept asking myself “Why do people like this show? It’s not like there is any real plot here. What’s the point?”
In all actuality, the show doesn’t aggrandize or glorify advertising sales, drinking, and womanizing. Nor does it cause us to abhor the past. Instead, it whispers a quiet desperation about life as it is, and where our current culture has come from. As far as I can tell Mad Men is really a show about life in a material world: this is all there is so you might as well make of it all that you can – carpe diem if you will.
This is seen by the show’s frequent references to Objectivist Philosophy and it’s founder Ayn Rand. Which according to her “[Objectivism], in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.” Mad Men labels this as ‘self-interest’ of which Bertram Cooper, senior partner and co-founder, is the biggest proponent. It would seem that it is through this lens we are meant to view and understand the world of Mad Men. Of whom Don Draper is the focus of our observation.
By watching Don’s life we see the consistent outcome of a ‘self-interested’ lifestyle. For one who is solely interested in his self-fulfillment and happiness, it’s striking for me to find myself mesmerized and sympathetic for Don’s character. As I said already there is more than meets the eye to Don Draper. He would have us believe that he’s this suave and debonair man on the outside; but on the inside he is a selfish and sheepish coward hiding behind the success and prowess he has b[r]ought to the name Donald Draper. In fact, many of the characters in the show live a double life one that is “professional” and one that is “personal.” One of the more intriguing aspects of the show is its display of each characters’ flaws & strengths and how these drive the characters’ relationships. But what is it about Don that makes me, and presumably everyone who watches Mad Men, like him so much?
Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I think the reason that we find Don so appealing is we find him to be the man we want to be, and to be the man we actually are. Like most, if not all of us, Don puts forth a great bit of energy to hide the ‘real’ Don. Don puts on a mask of how he would like to be seen by people – a strong, quick-witted & winsome man – rather than be seen for who he really is – a weak, degenerate and selfish coward. I as a man can certainly relate to this. Namely, because when I see Don, I see myself.
Everyone is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody. ~Mark Twain
I know that I am weak and most of the time a coward. Sure there are times when I muster up the strength to be courageous and do the right thing. But more often than not, I act in a way that allows me to “save face” when I am around people to serve my ‘self-interest.’ Which I find ironic because everyone is insecure and we all try to hide our insecurities. Imagine if everyone wore there insecurities on their sleeves. I wonder if this world would be better for it. Probably…
This is probably the reason why Mad Men has its appeal, its an authentic representation of our human condition. It accurately displays our brokenness and our feeble attempts to cover it up. We like Mad Men not because it takes us to a fantasy world of ‘if only…’ but because we see people, with real problems, who are like us.
Which only leads me to ask – If we are all broken, and we know it, then why do we try to hide it?