Monday, August 30, 2010

Embracing Mad Men Already

I’ve finally managed, after two years of feeling as though trying to push a Chrysler Imperial up a steep hill, to learn to enjoy Mad Men. Not for a millisecond do I think it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos, for which its implacably giggly (DVD special features, you see) creator used to write. Not for a moment do I understand why it inspires writers for Salon and Slate to reflect on every line, on every arch of Don Draper’s brow. But my newfound immersion technique — whereby I ask my friends at Netflix to send me whole seasons on DVD, and then watch them over the course of a few nights — has, as I admitted when first we met, worked. I may be watching with far less pleasure than I watched the programs I mentioned, but it's pleasure nonetheless.

I’m also watching the current Season 4, set in the year I graduated from high school, and marveling at how very quaint the nonstop drinking and smoking and casual misogyny all seem. Could such people really have looked and acted like this after a year of The Beatles, simultaneous with the first ascent of The Byrds?

When I actually entered the workplace for good four years later, it didn’t seem nearly as bad as on the show, which of course might have had much to do with my experience being in a record company in Burbank, California, rather than an advertising agency on Madison Avenue. Nobody drank, as far as I could see; we were just entering that era, which no Brit can believe really happened, when alcohol was considered hopelessly uncool. Everybody, including me, smoked — though, unlike the characters on MM, not very often while dining. The greatest similarity was that all the bosses were male, and you could pretty well tell -- except in the case of the legendary Mo Ostin -- how powerful a guy was on the basis of his secretary’s allure. The famous Stan Cornyn, head of what he would later name the creative services department, had a haughty Jean Shrimpton type from actual England who wore the shortest skirts in the Western Hemisphere, and appeared in a few of my most intense onanistic reveries in the last summer of the 1960s.

I suppose that our being out in Burbank, a place where only the downtrodden or unimaginative actually resided, might have served to curtail drinking in the office. Everyone drove home. There was no such thing as a public transportation system in Los Angeles at the time, for reasons revealed in the motion picture Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

Every time one of the male hotshots on Mad Men refers to another’s secretary as “your girl,” I shudder. I embraced feminism in theory well before I was able to break myself of the habit of referring to women as girls; at the time it seemed to me that it was no more demeaning than guys. I remember making my breakthrough at an anger management class my shrink had urged me to attend. Every time I said girl, the woman leading the class leapt halfway down my throat.

I’m holding firm on African-American, though.


  1. In that same Burbank environment long ago, I smoked too. A coupla years later we moved into a new building a few blocks away. During the course of planning our offices, an interior decorator asked if I wanted a mini bar in my office and was surprised that I found the thought amusing.

    In other news, we watched Mad Men for a bit but found it too dark and dour. Although it’s nominally set in the 1960s, feels more like the 50s.


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