I just wanted to share a couple of quick thoughts on Mad Men, a show that I have only gotten into recently because of the magic of Netflix streaming. I had resisted watching this show for the longest time because of all the critical hype around it; I actually didn’t really want to like it at all, but I was sucked in almost immediately.
I’ve always thought the late 1950s and early 1960s have been presented in popular culture as an overly idealized, almost fetishized period in American history, so it’s nice to see a show that presents the casual racism, misogyny, homophobia and hypocrisy hidden behind the idealized white picket fences. Hardly an episode in the series goes by when my modern sensibilities aren’t offended by what someone says or does; some of the bad behavior is certainly sensationalized, but it’s comforting to see a show that tells us that things weren’t always better back then, despite what nostalgia tells us, and that there was some grime beneath the American Camelot; people are people, and they’ll always be hypocrites to some degree, whatever era they live in.
Despite his infidelities, I find Don Draper to be very likeable at times. His pitches to clients are some of the best, most entertaining parts of the show, and the scenes really manage to get you rooting for him. The despicable Pete Campbell, on the other hand, is such a tightly wound ball of insecure masculinity and white male privilege that I find it almost hilarious whenever he loses his mind at any sort of challenge to what he perceives as his rightful status.
Most of the characters on the show (I’m thinking Don, Betty, and Pete in particular) don’t seem to have any knowledge of their inner selves. They go around maintaining the facade of control until their lizard ‘id’ brain reacts to some stimulus and they respond to events without thinking (Don suddenly takes off with a girl to Palm Springs, Pete throws dinner off the balcony, Betty smashes a dining room chair to pieces); they don’t know why they did what they just did, and they don’t know how to stop it. All they seem to know is that these impulses came from some dark recess of their minds, and that is reason enough to stay away from any kind of self-examination at all. It’s dangerous down in that dark unconscious, as Don knows from the weird hallucinations that he sees (or doesn’t see) of his mother and his past; best to try to repress it and deal with the consequences as they come up.
I’m awfully curious to learn whether anyone on the show will attempt to come to some kind of real self-knowledge or self-understanding. Peggy seems like she might be the closest to understanding who she is and what she wants, but so far the men in the series just keep stumbling around blind, acting and reacting without understanding why.
I hope to catch up with the next two seasons in the next few months, so that I can follow along with Season 5 as it airs next year. More to come after I finish with seasons 3 and 4.