(What Else is There to Say) About Mad Men

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19 August 2009

It’s hard to say whether it’s cooler right now to love Mad Men, or to hate it.  I suppose aloofness would be the super-cool posture du jour:  Mad WHAT?  Don WHO?

At The Elegant Variation, a reprint of an excerpt from n+1, panning the show as “an unpleasant little entry in the genre of Now We Know Better.”  The writers at TEV themselves “came to it with an open mind, looking to fill a void left after the last season of The Wire.  We made it six episodes, walked away and never looked back.”

I’m a lover not a hater.   I recently stayed up way past my bedtime watching FOUR consecutive Season 2 episodes.  There were many other mission-critical things I needed to be doing (like, for instance, sleeping). With such obsessions, one asks oneself at some point, what’s this about? 

People who know me know that I’m not a particularly bandwagon-y type.  If  anything, I err on the side of suspicion when it comes to popular fads (and yes, I recognize that this is as flawed a posture as mindless conformism).  But I do notice that a lot of writerly folks love Mad Men (TEV and n+1 notwithstanding), along with The Wire.  People are split on The Sopranos (didn’t do it for me), Deadwood (run, don’t walk!), Six Feet Under (if I’m stuck in suburbia and someone has cable TV, I’ll watch it), and other HBO series, but The Wire and Mad Men seem to be staples among the literary.   

(David Simon has in fact said many times that The Wire was conceived to be “read” more like a novel than a TV show.)

It’s odd to feel part of this “club” of Mad Men lovers.  There is a faint self-loathing that creeps up, like how I feel when I’m at an Ikea on a Saturday afternoon and almost half the people I see around me are 30-something Asian Americans wearing solid-colored clothing and Daniel Libeskind eyeglasses.

What’s interesting to me is how different Mad Men and The Wire are from each other.  When I consider the two obsessions, I can’t help but compare.  The writing on The Wire is far superior, I’d say.  And the story lines much more complex and compelling.  I could watch The Wire — every season — over and over and over again and take greater and greater pleasure in the writing, and the characters, each time.  

With The Wire, I feel I am being both entertained and enlightened; The Wire is challenging, in a highly stimulating if slightly painful way (I feel the same way about David Simon’s Iraq War mini-series Generation Kill) — maybe akin to the experience of a David Mamet or Neil LaBute play.  Mad Men is an altogether different kind of pleasure: I am aware of being both entertained and indulged; to some degree affirmed.  Because, let’s be honest, as nice as it is to behold Don’s beautiful face in almost every frame;  it’s all…  about… the women.  

Yes, yes, yes, we women say internally as we watch Peggy, Betty, Joan, Trudy, Jane, Mona, Helen, Bobbie, Sheila, and that vixen Joy at the end of Season 2 saunter by in their fitted dresses and high heels.  I am her, and her, and her, and her, too.  

Don and Joy

I am (s)he as you are (s)he as you are me and we are all together.

And there you have it; for a woman in 2009, living the fullness of identity fragmentation, Mad Men is integrative.  Which I suppose is just another way of saying, it’s therapy.

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