The other day I suggested to my dad that he watch Mad Men. And my dad replied, “I knew in the first three minutes that I wouldn’t like the show. I always know in the first three minutes if I’m going to like something – and this show is about an advertising executive in the 1960s. I was a hippie then, I lived in the village – I didn’t like Donald Draper then and I don’t want to watch a show about him now.”
Yet, after staying in and watching the entire first season of Mad Men – like a good book I couldn’t put it down – I think that there is so much nuance revealed, both about the characters’ lives as well as the decade they live in, that a decision made in the first three minutes is not a strong one. The poetics of Mad Men is that in order to truly delve into the show’s deeper meanings, one must watch the show. Each episode can stand alone, but each episode is also a chapter in a larger story, adding layers of detail in the characters’ story arcs. This is exactly what Johnson is talking about when he compares the increasing cognitive complexity of today’s television shows to older, less complex shows. (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/24/magazine/24TV.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1)
What remains an issue for me is that in the course of the show one comes to sympathize with Donald Draper despite the fact that he’s not that great a guy. I think that the particular lens of a period drama is what allows this to so easily happen; we are constantly comparing the world of 1960 portrayed in Mad Men to the differences in our present. What character flaws can be excused as a symptom of their times? Or can any of them? What decisions, actions, reactions can be attributed to that invisible but always surrounding feeling, expressed in the opening credits, of a man in a suit falling through the very world he helped create?
Tags: Mad Men 2009