The Tragedy of “Mad Men”

Going through the boxes of stuff that my mom sent over to our new house, I discovered a boxed set of the first season of the AMC series Mad Men. As I am in a business that at its worst is not terribly different from advertising, I felt obliged to watch. So, I watched it, three episodes a night for four nights after the family went to bed.

Before I say anything else, I’ll admit that the producers have created some engrossing television. Now, there is really no protagonist with whom you can sympathize, as the show is basically TV noir. There are no good guys, there are no bad guys, everyone is just kind of a middlin’ jerk.

I liked it because it was a technically brilliant period piece with good dialogue (unlike another technically brilliant period piece with rather stilted dialogue, Pan Am. Oy, what hopes I had.) And as such, it offers some insight to the period some five decades after the events described. To wit:

  1. The Good Old Days weren’t so good that we should feel nostalgic for them;
  2. Moral ambiguity is nothing new, and it is not a product of capitalism, Eisenhower, the Sixties, or non-prescription hallucinogens. Even in the heart of the American Century there were lost souls;
  3. Evil is not an exterior force. It is inside each of us, and we either fight it or succumb, and the price of either choice is high. We just have to decide which course is worth fighting.

Dan Draper is to me a failed Jacob. He faces the better angels of his nature, and fights them till he wins a temporary reprieve, or a draw. In that view, watching the show is painful.

I won’t be watching season two, but not because I’m outraged by it. I’m just saddened. It’s just too hard to see a guy failing like that, show after show, knowing he’ll never beat it.

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