Posted by: ritagone | August 29, 2012

What I’m Learning From “Mad Men”

I resisted watching the TV series “Mad Men” for five years, and then recently I gave in.  I can’t even remember why I finally decided to watch it, but now I’m playing catch-up, and I must admit that there’s a certain advantage to doing it this way: I’m watching a lot of episodes in a concentrated number of days, and so everything stays fresh in my mind.  I don’t have to wait days in between episodes or months in between seasons.  I’m doing the whole first five seasons in about two weeks.

And, I’m amused to report, I’m learning a lot about life through this series.  First, I’m finding that it well deserves all the awards and accolades it has been given during its life-span.  It is well acted, well written and well crafted.  It doesn’t do what so many TV series do: re-write history to make it more palatable to the tastes of a 2012 audience.  For example, there haven’t been frequent F-bombs in the show.  I was a teenager and young adult during the time of “Mad Men,” and I honestly don’t remember people using the F-word very often (or at least in the circles in which I moved).  So it’s refreshing that the producers and writers stayed true to the culture and didn’t use it (and of course the cable channel AMC doesn’t allow the freedom that, say, HBO allows, thank goodness).  Apart from the gratuitous sex (did I miss something?  Was there really that much sex going on all around me and I was oblivious to it? – and this is a rhetorical question, thank you very much), there’s no blatant nudity and nothing to be horribly ashamed of.  I wouldn’t let my 12-year-old granddaughter watch it, of course, but I would sit and watch it with anyone wanting to know what the culture of 1960-1966 was like.

And it truly is a representation of the culture of that time.  It makes me nostalgic to hear the music and see the sets and be taken back to that time in my own life.  It really does do a great job of transporting its audience back to the day of typewriters and dial-tone telephones and black and white television sets.  If you grew up with those items, you are instantly transported to your own history, which is no small feat for a TV series to accomplish.

The episode dealing with the Kennedy assassination, for example, brought back to me in vivid detail where I was, what I was feeling, what happened the rest of that week, how we all talked and wept and glued ourselves to the television set.  What we saw on this episode of “Mad Men” was re-lived in homes around the country almost 49 years ago, and the staff did a fabulous job of re-creating it so that it all came rushing back to me with all the emotion.

Among other feats, “Mad Men” makes us realize – though I believe this is probably not what the creator and writers meant to happen – that life without the presence of God is a life not worth much.  You can fill it with success or booze or sex or beauty, but it still is empty.   Don Draper – the iconic main character whose life we have followed in intimate and painful detail from 2007 until now, as we await Season 6 – has it all, seemingly: success, great dark and mysterious good looks, a dashing wardrobe, wealth.  Yet he is one of the most unhappy characters in a slew of current unhappy television characters, and that’s saying something. (Think “Breaking Bad.”)

The characters remind me of my all-time favorite cartoon: a prison, the warden’s desk, the warden sitting behind his desk, talking to an inmate.  The caption reads: “But Smith, you’re not supposed to like it here.”  Smith is complaining, and the Warden is trying to convince him that the inmates aren’t meant to enjoy prison life.  Get over it.  So it is for the life on Madison Avenue in the mid-‘60’s: you’re not supposed to like it there.  Or anywhere else, for that matter.  Nothing satisfies.  Nothing lasts.  Nothing takes away the hurt and the pain.  Nothing.

You couldn’t ask for a better story of biblical proportions than “Mad Men.”  There are all kinds of moral dilemmas, all sorts of ethical violations and roadblocks encountered.  How the characters deal with these events and situations allow us to consider how we would deal with them, always a challenging prospect.

And so I’ll continue to watch as Season 6 starts up, because I am struck so often with the overwhelming joy as I watch of the knowledge of what it means to know Jesus and His love and mercy in my life.  Sometimes it takes a TV show or a movie to illuminate in our lives what we have found in Jesus, and what He means to us, the holes He fills and the gaps He cures.

The benefit of art is to hold a mirror up to life and show us our foibles and our mistakes, our beauty and our ugliness.  In this, “Mad Men” is a success.

I wish the viewing audience would take to heart what they’re seeing on this show and turn toward the gospel.  That’s my prayer and my fervent desire.


  1. I love this show. From the first episode, it has transported me back to memories of my own existence during the same time but from my childhood perspective. There is a photo of my mother somewhere in my possession where she is sitting at a table with my aunt, laughing and pregnant…..with a cigarette in one hand, long neck beer on the table in front of her…..and she is pregnant with ME! When I saw the episodes where the neighbor lady or Betty were pregnant, drinking and smoking, it reminded me that no one really knew that one shouldn’t do those things while pregnant back in the day. I’m always struck by how far we have come in the past 50 years. And, not always for the better. Though that whole “not drinking and smoking while pregnant” is definitely for the better! Ha.

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