Mad Men: specifics
- Title: Mad Men — or the most American story ever after George Washington. - Nature: TV series (US) — AMC sure knows how to make a shit-ton of money. - Genre: Drama, fiction — interwoven with actual historical events, SO META! - Length: 72 hours — enough to make a proud American citizen out of you.
What it is all about
Let me say things as they are: the amount of drinking, smoking and cheating on one’s partner in Mad Men is just ABSOLUTE HORSESHIT. How strange that the main character happens to be the very fucking best at all of these. Seriously, he’s always with either a cigarette or a glass in his hand, and he just can’t keep it in his pants. But to be fair, they are pretty much all like this: that’s the 1960s in Manhattan for you. Follow Frodo on his journey to destroy the ring — wait no, scratch that, wrong script, my bad. Discover the advertising world, the ‘Madison Avenue’ lifestyle, and the past of mysterious Don Draper in this TV show 100% ‘made in USA’.
What makes it so damn good
The setting: all hail the 60s!
You get it, this is when the story takes place. And that, right there, is just so fucking cool. Along with the usual classy gentlemen, you get an awful lot of beautiful, stunning women — I’m thinking of characters like Betty Draper obviously, but also Bobbie Barrett, later Sylvia Rosen, and many more. Most of the story happens in New York, but you also get a free ticket to California once in a while, and as you should expect from the producers and directors, the depiction of the West Coast back then is just as on point as everything else. Two worlds collide, and you gotta love the explosion.
What is great about this show is how close to the reality it is. This TV series managed to render exactly how it all would have happened. And that’s what might be frustrating for some: don’t expect a breath-taking thriller where everything goes so fast that you want to know what happens next right afterward, because that’s not what you’re in for. This program is intended to be watched every now and then, like a kind of ritual once a week for you to free your mind from your boring routine and fantasize about how you wish you were born in another, better time.
When fiction meets History
Speaking of which, I’ve heard too many people say they wish they were born in another era, and strangely enough this period usually suits them — because, you know, you could become anything, the music was good, women were sexy… hurr durr, you fucking twat, how would you have liked it had you been gay, black, or female? And what would you have been without your stupid Mac and high-speed internet connection? Yeah, thought so, you brainless turtle. (Wait no, that sounds cute, I fucked up.)
You’ll be thrilled to see that there is a decent amount of actual Historical events that happen throughout the series (e.g. Kennedy’s assassination, the Freedom March, the moon landing), and what’s even better is to see how these impact the characters in ways you wouldn’t even imagine, and eventually leave them all with a deep scar. Oh and no, it is no spoiler to say that JFK and MLK Jr. got shot, the computer appeared, humans walked on the Moon, there was a war in Vietnam… and if it is one for you, well, so much the better, you deserve it, open a History book for once, dammit. Or watch Mad Men and you’ll get a History lesson ‘from the bottom up’ for free.
This very show is what helped me see the end of the 60s as the moment when the past meets the present. So far, all those events I learned about had always seemed so far away, almost like from another time. But everything changed (when the Fire Nation attacked): indeed, this period is when our contemporary issues emerged, and it might even be frightening to say, but the society depicted there is alarmingly similar to ours today — discrimination is older than all of us, yay! The same stereotypes are still around, and the same issues regarding gender, race, sexuality are still raging on.
The work, and the thinking
What’s nice with a series about advertising is that you get to see some final works, some of which are truly impressive. I’ve had to press pause too many times throughout the seasons, just to think for a bit and say ‘damn, that’s clever!’ — because, let’s face it, when Don (or Peggy) presents an ad campaign, it rocks, it just does. But more importantly, you are given the opportunity to witness (and experience) the whole creative process, and therefore the stress before the deadlines, but also quite logically hard procrastination at its best. All of which, I am convinced, is completely unfamiliar to you as much as it is to me…
“If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.”
“What you call ‘love’ was invented by guys like me. To sell Nylons.”
“What’s happiness? It’s a moment before you want more happiness.”
Mad Men is a nest for US rhetoric, whether explicit or not: you will know all about the totally-not-exaggerated American Dream, the overused ‘rags to riches’ card, the fabulous ‘melting pot’, and the likes. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the word ‘opportunities’ so many times in any given context before — or maybe in a speech by Obama, but that doesn’t count, now does it? And that’s what we’ve been taught the US (with its consumerist society, interventionist policy, etc.) is all about, right? Pardon my negativity, it’s just that some is to be found in the series as well, and that I hold dear. Had the show been only about selling America and proving that it was already the greatest nation ever, I would have gone batshit crazy. Advertising serves as a medium to introduce the harsh, cold cynicism and calculation hidden beneath the shining picture we all know. And let’s face it, those quotes are badass as fuck… or depressing, I can’t make up my mind.
Additional personal favorites
Sally, because she is a cutie, really. For all of you who have had the opportunity to work (or spend time) with children, you know how seeing them grow up is frightening, and out of your control. Little Miss Draper is the one character who evolves the most in the series: you see her change her behavior, her mentality… you see her grow up and become someone else. (Peggy does too but she’s an adult, so she’s not competing.)
Michael is the most awkward and fucked up character in the whole show, and for some reason I identify to him a lot — don’t ask why, you sneaky snoop. Stan is the most sensitive and true-to-himself man in the whole thing, plus he is absolutely hilarious, and OH MY GOD what a beard! Put them together and you get a fabulous cocktail of creativity and fun of which I simply couldn’t get enough.
(This might sound bad, but let me finish before calling me names.) Don’s relationships to women is the best thing about this show. By ‘women’ here I don’t mean all the different sidechicks he gets to bang every episode; I mean the very few women of his life with whom he truly shares something . With Sally, despite everything that happens, their bond remains unbreakable — it’s one of the few things in the series that hit me like a truck. With Peggy, their ambiguous but honest relationship never ceased to amaze me. With Anna, they redefined the word ‘family’ in the most beautiful way possible.
Pizza. And candy — fuck yes, candy! Wait, what do you mean you don’t care? Oh, that has nothing to do with the show, right. I’ll show myself out, then. You could have just pretended, for once. How rude!
Truth is, Mad Men is not for everyone, and as much as I wish I could tell you you will like it no matter what, I would be lying. If you’re interested in what being American is all about, and if you’re into series whose focus is more on the world and atmosphere around than on the direct unfolding of the plot, this is definitely for you. If that’s not your cup of tea, just wait a few years, go to the Gym, eat a rare candy or two, come back with all the badges, and maybe then give it a try.
You know how people tend to say that Lost is the perfect US TV series? (In the sense that it respects all the codes of the genre, not that it is perfect in itself, that is.) Well, Mad Men is different in many regards, and as a result gets to bear a different title: it is to me the perfect TV series about the US. So go watch it already if you think you’ll enjoy it, and don’t forget to give me a big hug at the end, I’ll be waiting.