A Brief Justification of My Mad Men Addiction

October 4, 2010 | 7 Comments

Mad_Men.jpgThis summer, my wife and I started watching Mad Men via DVDs from Netflix. I’m sure our postman got tired of seeing red Netflix envelopes come and go, because we worked our way through the first three seasons quickly. We are now up to season 4, which we are watching via Amazon Video on Demand, downloaded to our Tivo. (An entirely different topic, but part of our motivation to watch a new show was the ditching of our satellite dish this summer, and we — and our wallet — are quite pleased with a Tivo, Netflix, and six channels from our antenna.)

Mad Men, if you aren’t familiar is a show about an advertising agency in the early 60s. It is striking for its visuals, attention to details of the period, and rich dialogue. Any synopsis you read will tell you that it is a look at how the advertising industry was finding ways to change even as the culture itself was beginning to go through giant shifts. There are a few themes present throughout the 3 and a half seasons I’ve seen that hold my attention:

We’ve come so far in 50 years. Kind of.

What intrigues me about the time period of the show is the proximity and distance it has to where we are at 50 years later. Must of what the show exposes is shocking because we have come so far in 50 years, and yet much of what the show reveals still exists as undercurrents in our culture. The racism and sexism, the general suspicion of the other, are blatant in 1960 in a way that isn’t acceptable now, and yet seeing it then illuminates how it still exists today.

The grotesque underbelly of consumerism

A line in the first episode had me hooked on a theme the keeps unfolding. While having drinks with a potential client he had offended, primary character Don Draper explains: “What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” The 50s were a time when advertising thrived, selling the American Dream to an ambitious post-war USA. But some are starting to see that it isn’t quite working. The people in the agency are broken people, trying to live the dream they are creating, all while experiencing the reality that it doesn’t exist. And that leads me too…

Layered characters

These people are a mess. There is so much about them to like. And so much about them not to. They are a lot like you, and a lot like the person typing on my keyboard right now. If you want to choose a favorite, or try to define a protagonist, then you are forced to do it in spite of their apparent brokenness. And that’s the most common conversation I’ve had with my wife — do I, or don’t I, like any particular character. It’s not straightforward and simple — it’s more like, you know, life.

  • I couldn’t have better explained my family’s addiction to Mad Men any better! There are some episodes that I look back on and realize that they took me on a journey, I just didn’t know it. Others remind me of the movie Pleasantville. Great writing, great cast, great directing!

  • great post…we love the mad men

    as a total side note, would be interested in your tivo/netflix/antenna set up. we’re looking to ditch satellite too, and were trying to figure out a way to still have a dvr. are you paying the monthly tivo fees?

  • Mike,
    The setup works well because Tivo is so user friendly. Antenna signal is actually a little better than Satellie or Cable because there is no compression, but I don’t think it’s noticeable.

    I found the older model of Tivo on blowout in the clearance center on Tivo.com, so that saved a lot of money. Then, I prepaid for a year on the Tivo fees, which saved a few bucks a month. We canceled satellite in Aug, so we’ll break even by the end of the year in terms of what we saved on monthly satellite bills.

    I don’t like the idea of paying for Tivo service, but it’s still less than we would pay if we were going to try to subscribe to a few shows on iTunes once you add it up. And the convenience factor of Tivo with Netflix, plus the option for Amazon Video on Demand, is great.


  • I just think Don Draper is dreamy. That’s pretty much my justification.

  • You and my wife. I’m partial to Betty, back when she used to smile. 

  • Donna

    I watched the first season of Mad Men last month, but that’s only as far as I got before fall TV hit (when I always cancel Netflix). I will catch up on the other seasons next summer. I too, am struck by the captured timepiece it is.
    Have you watched ever Dexter? Fabulous!

    I bought a lifetime subscription for my first Tivo years ago. I was able to transfer it for a small fee when I upgraded my box. It might be worthwhile to calculate if that would be cheaper for you in the long run.

  • Donna,

    I’ve heard great things about Dexter, but avoided it, because I’m trying not to add another show to my TV diet! 🙂

    I only bought a year for Tivo because the landscape of how one gets TV content is changing so rapidly, I’m not sure a lifetime subscription will be worthwhile for us at this stage. Even in a year, I think the options will be very different! (I’m about to publish a post about all this on my other blog!)