Audience Positioning in Mad Men

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A successful dramatic pilot depends on the ability of its writers to make the audience invested immediately in the series’ plot and characters.  Though several literary techniques can captivate viewers, this requirement has become a great burden for the creators of a series due to the fleeting attention spans of viewers combined with the diversification of entertainment.  One strategy to generate interest is to play with the positioning of the audience. The pilot of Mad Men does this brilliantly.

Just before Don Draper saves the advertising meeting with the Lucky Strike executives with an inspired pitch, there is a long pause of silence as they begin to leave the room.  During this suspension, the camera features a close up of Draper with a barely audible non-diegetic background tone.  Since the audience has no experience with the character, they are in an inferior position – not knowing whether Draper is capable of retaining the account.  Traditionally, dramatic situations in which the protagonist is depended upon grant the audience superior positioning, making them conscious of the likely outcome.  One example includes the format for the Law and Order franchise, in which the detectives always solve the case.  The choice to make the viewers unsure whether Draper can pull through a seemingly winless situation, places them in a unique, inferior position. Furthermore, the moment is intensified with the length of the close-up pause on actor Jon Hamm at 30:03 minutes into the episode.  Once Draper saves the meeting, the audience has no reason to doubt his advertising abilities again.  The resolution of that moment defines the nature of Jon Hamm’s character.   Draper’s action is nothing short of heroic.

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