Mad Men (2007)

This epic series, the Cadillac of quality American television, surgically dissects US high society so finely that no subject is left untreated, certainly not politics. ‘The President is a product’ opines one executive. And ‘it’s a ball game’ is protagonist Don Draper’s memorable consolation line to a client after his party’s 1964 election loss to the Democrats. That’s about as succinct and accurate a verdict as you can get.

Mad Men is arguably the most comprehensive deconstruction of American culture since ‘The Godfather’. A forensic examination of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire, it is a towering, subtle, nuanced and labyrinthine study of the evolution of sexual mores and white collar social politics from the tail end of the 1950s through to the beginning of the 1970s.

Jon Hamm plays the United States of America, in the guise of advertising exec poster boy Don Draper, whose Gatsby-like mysterious origins, manly silence and suave exterior make him the corporate face of trendy Madison Avenue advertising firm Sterling Cooper. It’s an arrangement that suits the blue-blood New York aristocrats who run the company.

The genius of Mad Men is that on the surface, nothing ever really happens. But if you think this is just a soap opera, think again. Everything is in the details. The question behind the drama is, does sexual morality, matter? Is Don and the others’ behavior a normal and acceptable executive convenience, an afterthought, an obvious necessity for the glamorous veneer of corporate hospitality, or are they all partying while Rome burns?

Kids are knifing each other on the streets and getting bombed on hard drugs while America has somehow become an Imperial aggressor bombing third world countries into submission. But who is controlling the conceptual ideas that define and originate the terms of this popular conversation and the frame of reference in which it sits? It’s these guys.

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