This is a (M)ad Men’s World

By Kai-Arne Zimny

mad men
Pho­to cred­it: Christi­na Sainte Marche 

1960: Don­ald Drap­er (Jon Hamm) holds a high posi­tion in a renowned New York adver­tis­ing agency, has an ex-mod­el wife he calls “Betts” (Jan­u­ary Jones), two kids, and a beau­ti­ful home. How­ev­er, that is just the out­side view of the protagonist’s life that is as mul­ti-lay­ered as the show itself. In the course of the decade-span­ning sev­en sea­sons of Mad Men (2007 – 2015), the view­er gains reveal­ing insights behind the so very appro­pri­ate facades of Don Drap­er and his fel­low (m)ad men – and one (m)ad woman. Despite Don Drap­er being the show’s cen­ter, there are sev­er­al plot lines being fol­lowed, for instance that of sec­re­tary Peg­gy Olson (Elis­a­beth Moss), who against all odds and con­ven­tions of the time aspires to a career that goes beyond wear­ing a tight dress, get­ting cof­fee, and oper­at­ing a type­writer “sim­ple enough for a woman to use.

Even though the names would be time-appro­pri­ate, there are no “Mary Sues” and “Mar­ty Stues”: None of the main char­ac­ters is a “hero.” They all have their flaws and oscil­late some­where between lik­able and repul­sive. This makes them feel real, which caus­es the view­er to be more involved in their per­spec­tives and prob­lems. Hav­ing that involved view, one notices all sorts of devel­op­ments con­cern­ing per­son­al­i­ties, pol­i­tics, soci­ety, and last but not least fashion.

Mad Men can be viewed on dif­fer­ent lev­els. Focused on plot and char­ac­ters, one can tru­ly dive into the sto­ry, but it’s also pos­si­ble to sim­ply have the show run in the back­ground. Ignore seg­re­ga­tion, sex­ism, and soci­etal lim­i­ta­tion and instead enjoy the beau­ti­ful homes and peo­ple and let the com­pelling old-fash­ioned atmos­phere of busi­ness-life, suits, dress­es, omnipresent cig­a­rette smoke and con­stant­ly swirled whiskey-glass­es fill the room; let the pre­vi­ous­ly men­tioned facade fool you. It’s all so swell!

I dis­cov­ered that detached way of watch­ing Mad Men by acci­dent: One evening while expect­ing guests, I was pass­ing the time watch­ing an episode, and when my guests arrived, I was about to turn off the TV. But they asked me to let it run because they thought it looked inter­est­ing and pleas­ant. How­ev­er, if you’re immersed in con­ver­sa­tion and Chi­nese take­out, you’ll miss the gloomy side behind the pleas­ant beau­ty of Mad Men. There is a strange sense of trag­ic dis­sat­is­fac­tion in the “good life” portrayed.

Mad Men is many things: an array of per­son­al sto­ries, an over­all atmos­pher­ic series, and clear­ly a time study of the 1960s in the USA. It can be viewed on dif­fer­ent lev­els and trig­ger many dif­fer­ent moods. I, for my part, am maddicted!


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