I am mad about Mad Men because it is a show about the 1960’s and it is about my life.
The lead character Don Draper, (Jon Hamm) the creative director and junior partner of Sterling Cooper Advertising agency, is a complex, driven, and unhappy man who has a series of affairs to compensate for the emptiness inside himself.
Don Draper is not who he says he is, he assumed the identify of his lieutenant (after his death) to escape from the Korean War.
We see Don Draper’s tortured ‘other self’ unravel as the show goes on.
When Jon Hamm is asked about Don Draper (the character he plays) he says, he’s “the classic American”.
In that time of history a man’s identity was his job, and everything else (wife, family) become secondary as he pursues the American dream.
Enter Matthew Weiner
Matthew Weiner wrote the first draft of a show that was to become “Mad Men” back in 2000. Weiner was recruited to work as a writer on the series The Sopranos and it wasn’t until seven years later when the Sopranos was completing its final season (and the cable network AMC happened to be in the market for new programming) that the network took a chance that quality would win over mass appeal, and Mad Men was born.
Mad Men went on to receive critical acclaim for its historical authenticity and visual style, and it has won nine Emmys and five Golden Globes.
But all that is very nice, but does it speak to the people who were young at the time?
Does Mad Men capture what it was like to be alive at the time of the Pepsi Generation?
I can’t speak for others, but as for myself, watching any episodes transports me back in time, and I remember what it was like being an ‘office girl.’
At nineteen, I didn’t work for a high powered ad agency in New York, but for a Spokane newspaper.
My boss was so much like Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) I could almost smell his Acqua Velva after shave.
I was working on the third floor of the Spokane Chronicle (as a mere office girl) and had dreams of being a reporter like Edward R. Murrow.
His show “See it Now” (that dealt with the communist witch-hunt hysteria) had a profound influence on me, and since Murrow was a graduate of Washington State College (now Washington State University) he was my role model.
(At the time if you looked for female role models, you were S— out of luck.)
But not many of the office girls wanted to talk about what they wanted to be, and when they did, it seems they wanted what everyone else wanted at the time, to marry well and have a family.
(They desired to be a woman like Betty Draper before she (Betty) realized what a crock of bull her life was with Don and decides to take out her frustrations by shooting her neighbors pigeons with a BB gun. (Episode Nine) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltl0EQ9O7Gg
Back then, we were all called ‘girls’ (whatever our age) and if we happened to be on the sunny side of twenty, and considered attractive, we were flattered, joked with, and made to feel that our sole purpose was to be some kind of window dressing for the men in the office. (When my boss hired a receptionist, I overheard him say ‘ugly’ better not apply, for he wanted a girl who could make men happy by just looking at her.
Young women of today smile when I tell them some of the ‘war stories’ of the time. A story that seems to hold some interest for them is the time that I went to my boss and asked him to keep me in mind for any jobs in reporting.
He told me in no uncertain terms that the ‘news’ for the paper were written by men, (but aren’t you cute for wanting to write news?) but he’d put in a good word for me for the social section. There was always a need for write-ups on the weddings and social events around town.
I felt a little like Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) that day when I was told that to write for the ‘society page’ and like her character, I had to ‘grin’ and bear it.
But unlike her character, there was no Don Draper’s to ‘give me a shot’ at hard news.
Oh well, I decided to focus my talents on theatre and Edward R. Murrow moved over for Lillian Hellman
I believe that many young women today don’t ‘get it’ when you talk about how difficult it was to carve you way into a man’s world. They think you’re exaggerating the problems, or that you just didn’t “work hard’ enough to make the opportunities happen.
(They don’t realize that the opportunities weren’t there.)
They haven’t a clue what it felt like not to be taken seriously when all you wanted was a chance to prove yourself.
In the 1960’s you knew your place. And you keep your place regardless of how many times you were condescended to, or flirted with. You kept you place because you knew that ‘keeping your place’ ranked right up there with “keeping your job”, and that job (at time) was needed to put ‘hubby’ through college.
Mad Men tells it, or rather ‘shows’ what it was like down to the most minute attention to detail. Some critics of the show say that people didn’t smoke that much, and the show was exaggerating the amount of cigarettes that people smoked on the show.
In the sixties everyone smoked—your boss smoked at his (seldom her) desk and the secretaries would have to wait for their breaks, or until their lunch.
People smoked, and when they smoked it was not uncommon to hear the men make chauvinistic remarks around the water cooler. Women were treated like second-class citizens.
Speaking of which, there is another reason that I like Mad Men. The women on the show could come right out of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique. Each woman seems to possess some of the characteristics of the women that Betty Friedan wrote about.
Betty Draper (January Jones) educated, beautiful, yet unfulfilled and frustrated because she gave up her career to get married.
Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) the office manger who is smart, but wants a husband more than a career, and marries a doctor.
Peggy Olson (Elizabeth Moss) is promoted to copywriter, but becomes pregnant and gives her baby up for adoption.
Gertrude “Trudy” Campbell (Alison Brie) is the wife of Pete Campbell and wants to be a mother more than anything in the world. You have a feeling she wants to be part of something, and having a child with give her life meaning.
All of these women (in one way or another) suffer from what Betty Friedan describes in her l960 book, The Feminine Mystique, The Problem That had No name.”
“The problem lay buried, unspoken, for many years in the minds of American women. It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning [that is, a longing] that women suffered in the middle of the 20th century in the United States. Each suburban wife struggled with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries … she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question – ‘Is this all?”
I read that the creator and writer of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner said The Feminine Mystique influenced him a great deal in the making of the period drama.
Don’t know about that, but I do know that it sure ‘influenced’ me a lot.
Mad Men ‘nails’ that period in my life, and gives me hope that even though the show doesn’t have car explosions, chase scenes, gratuitous sex, and sexual stereotyping, it can attract an audience.