Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gone Mad

I know I might have my Cultural Literacy card revoked for admitting this, but I’ve never succumbed to Mad Men mania. I’ve seen bits of the show, but after a few minutes I start to catch an offputting whiff of easy cliché. (Ah, postwar suburban ennui, how many souls must you kill?) Still, it’s not the show itself that turns me off as much as it is the relentless evangelization on its behalf. (Slate, New York Times Arts section, I’m looking at you.) I went through the same experience with The Sopranos and The Wire, other hour-long TV dramas that once dominated discourse among the kinds of people who pride themselves on their good taste. I can’t help thinking of these kinds of shows as something like highbrow versions of “Dancing with the Stars:” You have to watch them if you want to participate in your clique’s water-cooler conversation. There gets to be something cultish and compulsory about the whole thing. Sorry, but I’d rather just watch the Blackhawks—or as I’ve been doing the last few nights, reading Eric Sanderson’s Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City. (I’ve checked the index, and Don Draper doesn’t seem to make an appearance.)

MM gets another thumbs up from Benjamin Schwarz in the current Atlantic, but he also faults the show for getting some period details wrong. What made me sit up and take notice of Schwarz’s take on the show, though, was his invocation of one of my lifelong TV loves: The Dick Van Dyke Show. He speculates that many Mad Men maniacs are viewers “whose notions of the glamour of adult life, of Manhattan, and of 'creative careers' were shaped by endless reruns of three sitcoms with concrete ties to Mad Men’s particular milieu: The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewtiched and That Girl.” Schwarz writes that Mad Men is “those shows grown up, grown hard and, in ways that flatter its writers’ and viewers’ images of themselves, grown wise.”

It’s a provocative, slightly counterintuitive point, but I haven’t seen enough of MM to know if it’s on target. (Any thoughts, lovers of Mad Men?) Still, I have to like any essay that argues, in effect, for the timeless relevance of Mel Cooley.


  1. I've never seen more of Mad Men than a commercial-length excerpt. Loved the DVD Show, and I could see considering his gig as glamorous, but Darren Stevens worked for a mercurial boss who didn't respect him, for unreasonable, petulant clients - what about Darren's "creative career" would anyone want to imitate?

  2. I think we need our own special nonconformist water cooler. As long as we can invite Mel Cooley to come hang with us.

  3. Good takedown of Darren, Unfocused. He had that coming. Anon, will our water cooler have those little pointy-bottomed cups?

  4. Those pointy-bottomed cups are very bad for contemplative types; we tend to set them down to make a point.

    I wished I'd seen mad men briefly when the muppet parody came out, but the urge passed.

  5. But the pointy cups do make excellent hats.

  6. I have been watching Mad Men since early in the first season. My gay [male] hairdresser recommended it as a great show to watch because in the 60s, men's suits were much tighter.

    So I guess if you don't enjoy looking at Jon Hamm's butt in tight suits, it isn't for you.

    And speaking of errors, they referred last night to their use of focus groups at Don's ad agency. I have my doubts that the "focus group" term was being used in industry at that time...I'm trying to hunt down references. Because I have work to do and don't want to get it done.