Yay to “Mad Men” for winning another Emmy! I really look forward to Sunday nights. No, I’m not in love with Don Draper, but I’m really in love with his story, and the story as a whole that Matthew Weiner is telling.
Let me count the ways:
- This presentation of the 1950s and 1960s seems real to me. We’ve long had romanticized versions of the 1950s. Many of us have parents or relatives who tell stories about the “good ol’ days,” or we’ve all at least read some e-mail quoting George Carlyle about how stand-up all the kids were from back then. We’ve seen “I Love Lucy,” or maybe “Leave it To Beaver” or “My Three Sons.” That era has been romanticized forever because of its postwar country-wide deep sigh of relief. (And, granted, the boom in stylized architecture/ clothing/ appliances/ etc. was truly spectacular.) But here’s the thing: The era was great if you were a white, middle-class man. If you fell into any other category (black, Jewish, poor, homosexual, woman, child, etc.), you were kind of screwed. I think Mad Men is the first time I’ve ever seen that fact portrayed on the screen. And the show takes a person from every “other” category and throws them into the world so we can see how they had to sink or swim.
- The show is taking a moment of great change and showing us change on an individual level. We’ve all seen shows or movies about how the assassination of JFK changed the world. Or the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Or of Bobby Kennedy. But those shows focus on those events alone and show the massive change they caused in the people involved with the events. How those events changed the everyday person, however, was probably much slower. A thought here, a mention there. I love how Mad Men has those events going on in the background.
- We see this change take form in various types of characters. Mad Men has every type of person represented: Peggy is the young woman (unattached) who is able to go with the changing times most easily; Pete and Trudy are the children of upper-middle-class families who still cling to the old family way of doing things (they did the Charleston at Roger’s daughter’s wedding); Roger is the older man who fought in the war and wishes things could be like they used to be; Ken Cosgrove is one of the young men who seem open-minded enough to note changes and go with the flow; and Don Draper – he’s the best one, because he carries the characteristics that should make him privileged (white middle-class male) but he didn’t come about those characteristics legitimately (he stole the identity) and so has no family roots to ground him. So he’s the most malleable person, really. Watching him embrace or reject change is the most interesting because he has the most choices.
- The symbolism is always pretty. After noting that Kennedy “never wears a hat” on TV, we slowly see how the men stop wearing hats. We slowly see how the women stop wearing gloves. We slowly see the women becoming more enlightened. In a recent episode, the more enlightened (hatless!) young people are standing on one side of a glass hallway, waiting for Peggy, while the slower-to-change people (wearing hats) are on the other side of the glass, waiting for an advertising meeting. It’s always done gorgeously and symbolically.
Do you watch the show? What do you like most about it?