|The Appeal of Mad Men|
|Written by Ami Thomas|
We are counting down to the Mad Men Season 4 Premiere, and you can not deny the appeal. Whether you watch it or not, you know about it. The AMC original series, set in the early 1960s, and focusing on the group of Ad Men (& women), working at the fictional Sterling Cooper agency on New York’s Madison Avenue, had a Season 3 premiere of 2.8 million viewers, a 57.7% increase over the Season 1 series premiere.
Fifty-seven percent. From Season 1 to Season 3.
It depicts a period of history in America when we were on the verge. It is a lavish and gorgeous production. The cast is beautiful. The sets are beautiful. The clothing will leave you breathless. The authenticity is flawless. If this show has a fault, it’s a small one and it’s only that sometimes it feels too real. Were we really that naïve? Were we ever that bold and arrogant? The racism, sexism and bigotries of the period are written into the stories in such a matter-of-fact way that it is not exaggerated or overly-pronounced.
Don Draper, the main character, spends his time drinking, smoking, and cheating on his wife. We don’t care. He is so handsome, so suave and so well-dressed that it (almost) doesn’t matter. We tolerate, even cheer, this behavior, while we would never take it from our own mates. Don doesn’t live any differently from his peers at Sterling Cooper. This is how they do it. They have beautiful wives, adorable children, and fine homes. They also have full bars and sofas in their offices, expense accounts and women lined up waiting.
I wonder if the appeal is that we’re a little sorry that we have “evolved” past those traditional gender roles. The appeal of the show is obvious for Retrophiles like us who live this way every day. And, of course, there are certain advantages to the “progress” we’ve made since then, but for the most part, women want the Don Draper-type. He is in charge and in control. There is a reason that this period of American history is still so popular.
Joan Holloway Harris is a woman, complete with hourglass figure and clothes fit to show it. There is not one ounce of the sickly thin super-model type about her. But that’s not all she is. Joan is highly capable. She is a bit of a nod to the modern woman, in that she is easily able to take on whatever comes her way, but she’d rather let a man do it. Or, rather, let a man think he’s doing it for her.
When I ask men what they like about the show, their answers usually start with “Joan,” and end with something about Don Draper. When I ask women what they like about the show, their answers usually start with “Don,” and end with something about Joan Holloway Harris or Betty Draper.
It is interesting how many people respond to Mad Men. Men are as drawn to Don as women, albeit the motivation is different. But the reasons are the same. And the same goes for Betty and Joan. Women want to be them, look like them, live like them. But the fact is their lives are no better, or worse, than ours. They just look better doing it. There is something they have that our society has, for the most part, thrown away: a joie de vivre that comes from no consequences.
The writing is brilliant and unequalled in television right now. Watching Don slowly but surely come unglued and spiral downward, only to catch himself mid-slip and push back to the top is scintillating. Seeing the other characters evolve and change, due to the events in the world and small things in their own lives is like watching life in a fishbowl. There is a perfect cross-section of the socioeconomic strata.
Don says in one episode that he’s “living like there’s no tomorrow. Because there isn’t one.” That sums up Don Draper and the way we lived when we knew how to live.
WATCH THE SEASON 3 FINALE HERE ON RETROSPECTIVEMAG.COM:
Ami Thomas lives in Charm City, USA with 2 kids, 2 cats and her husband. She is a semi-retired bombshell who writes about her life and often drinks martinis before lunch. When she isn't writing, cooking, cleaning or breaking hearts, she can be found in a bubble bath with a bottle of champagne and a trashy novel. She doesn't wear a watch, but if you shake a cocktail loud enough, she'll get there eventually. Read Ami's blog at CharmCityDaily.com