A word, please, about Mad Men

*For the  people who have not yet hopped on the Mad Men train but are contemplating it and to those who are behind on episodes:  Do not worry.  There is not a semblance of a spoiler anywhere in this post.  I promise.

As you may know, I’m rather obsessed with the AMC show Mad Men.  The writing is fantastic, the characters are multi-dimensional and real and complex, and the set design and clothing is DREAMY.  It is to this latter issue that I want to issue a soapbox-y statement.

Look:  I know the aesthetic vibe of this show is nothing short of fabulous.  I realize we all want to go out and buy retro yellow lamps and sleek charcoal grey couches.   I am aware how those crisp black and white graphics make our hearts flutter in the way they combine casual and brilliant elegance with a truly memorable punch.   I know, ladies, that the dresses are so unbelievable that you may have contemplated taking up sewing to make yourself one, and that you, like me, might be willing to chop off an appendage for Joan’s whistle necklace thing that is perfect, perfect, perfect with every dress she wears.  I know, men, that you admire the dapper suits and the way those men exude such dapper-y dapper-ness in the suits as they strut around the office.  I know many of us feel deflated when we walk down the street and see people schlepping around in t-shirts and ill-fitting jeans rather than looking tailored and fabulous and we bemoan that hardly any of us have to dress up anymore for, well, anything.  (The Journey guys have felt this so strongly that they have begun creating opportunities to “suit it up” as they are calling it.  One day they did this at work.  Their very casual, jeans-every-day work.  Just in search of the dapper-y feeling.)   I have absolutely zero problem with any of this.  In fact, I say, bring it on.  I will not tire of the 1960’s fashion and design influences for the foreseeable future.  And Lord knows as a society we could all stand to take it up a notch fashion-wise.

HOWEVER:  It would be a tragedy to the brilliance of the show if we did not remind ourselves regularly that the show is not about fashion or design.  Its intention is not to glamorize the 60’s and describe all the ways it was cooler than the 2010s.  (It should only take suffering through one scene in which blatantly racist and/or sexist comments are made to make us thank our lucky stars we’ve come so far.)  So let’s remind ourselves, please:  The entire show revolves around a character who is trapped in despair.  I mean, the opening credits have him FALLING THROUGH THE AIR.  I realize we are blinded by the dizzyingly pretty graphic posters on the sides of the buildings and the whole shebang in general that it is possible not to have noticed this very important fact, but  it is a Very  Important  Fact:  Don Draper is in free fall.  Out of control.  Inside the world of New York advertising in the 1960s.  As is much of the world around him.  As are much of the people around him.  He is a man falling from a skyscraper, people.

I say all of this because I keep hearing inklings that suggest people might be missing the point of the show.  For example, a week or so ago I overheard two people talking about the show, and how much they love it, and one of them said, “I know, it’s so fun!”

Fun?

Ok, honey, no.  Seeing the dresses is fun.  Being Betty Draper/Roger Sterling/Joan/Don Draper/pick-a-secretary is NOT fun.  It is a MESS.  The show is amazing because Matthew Weiner knows how to expose the truth of the mess and the reality of the mess and the complexity of the mess better than every other writer currently working in television.   SO DON’T MISS THE MESS.

That is all.

3 Comments

  1. Dear Reinhold Niebuhr,

    I did not know that you were now writing posts for Danielle…nor that you cared about fashion.

  2. people that miss the point of this show and think it is fun are borderline _______ insert politically incorrect word they would used during the time period of the show.

  3. Agreed. Aren’t you worried that there seem to be a frightening number of people who think this is a cooler version of Melrose Place? Maybe I need to switch coffeehouses/hangouts/people-upon-whom-I-eavesdrop.

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