Why I’m Still Mad for Mad Men

To say that I’m a Mad Men fan is like saying Jake Query is an Indianapolis 500 aficionado or that Dr. Phil has a penchant for saying, “This aint my first rodeo.”  I was and remain obsessed with Mad Men, and for not the reasons you think.

I’m a man, yes I am, and I can’t help but love you so.  Back atcha, Don.  While it’s true that I’m in love with Don Draper, make no mistake, I see nothing to love about his doppelgänger Jon Hamm.  Jon’s okay, but as a real person he just doesn’t do it for me.  What he did do for me, though, was to skillfully and cleverly construct and portray a character who is at once dark, passionate, mysterious, predictable, and, for the love of all that is holy, knows how to light a Lucky Strike.

That he slept with most of the properly appointed women of the eastern seaboard bothers me not.

I could say so much more about Don, but I think you know what I mean.

Ready at the door with slippers and a highball.  I was born in 1963, just as Sally Draper was entering her formative years.  To see set designers’ re-creations of the insides of the characters’ homes brought back memories of what interior decorating was all about in the 60’s.  That Early American look was in my own home, as in chez Draper, and, in fact, the pattern on the fabric of the Draper’s family room loveseat was the same pattern on the sofa in my house.  Except that my grandmother called it a ‘davenport.’

I enjoy being a girl.  Poor Peggy never got a decent hairstyle.  I thought that at least by Season 7 she’d be rocking a bouffant, but, no, she still sported that ugly shade of brown with a ‘do that looked like a football helmet.  Joan, on the other hand, never wore her hair down while at work, and by Season 7, she was still all boobs and red hair, smokin’ hot as always.  Megan’s hair speaks for itself, wigs, falls, and all.  Today, Joan would have taken a medical leave to have breast reduction surgery, and Peggy would have had a boob job and would have reveled in letting everyone in the office touch them.  In a purely informational way.

Lucky Strikes and Canadian Club.  Back then, everybody smoked, and no one gave a crap if you lit up a cancer stick in the office, in someone’s home, or even at the hospital.  My dad was a high school principal and smoked in his office—with students present.  He probably had a bottle of Seagram’s in his desk drawer, too, but I doubt that, like the executives at SCDP, he set up an actual bar in the corner.  Then, surprise!  (Spoiler alert if you haven’t finished Season 7)  Betty is diagnosed with lung cancer—whether that’s sad or a case of schaedenfreude, I still can’t get over her smoking a ciggy in her very last scene.

Please, please, don’t be a litterbug.  One of my favorite scenes is when, after buying his first Cadillac (the only car for the successful ad man), Don takes his family on a picnic at a local park.  After they’ve finished eating, canoodling, playing checkers, and peeing beside a tree, they all get up from the blanket they’ve been lying on.  Don packs up the picnic basket with the un-consumables, and Betty grabs two corners of the blanket and gives it a good shake, sending all of their garbage hither and yon throughout the park.  The camera remains fixed upon the scene long after the family gets inside of the Caddy and drives away, as if to say, “See?  Littering was okay in the 60’s.”

Sock it to me, baby, let it all hang out.  The amount of sex, love, pot, and overall debauchery in the office was mind-blowing.  Can you imagine working in a business where it was considered a requirement to light up a fat one in order to spark your creative juices?  Or to get so drunk that you peed in your pants in the middle of a meeting?  How about the general practice of shtupping your secretary?  And when she quit, heartbroken because you wouldn’t leave your wife for her, you shtupped the next girl?

Girls, girls, girls.  Yep, that’s what the executives back in the 60’s called their secretaries.  And sometimes they actually called them ‘secretaries,’ which today (in addition to all the shtupping) would be grounds for a sexual harassment lawsuit.  Remarks about the girls’ collective T’s and A’s were de rigueur.  To not have your boss wax poetic about your ass was, well, it was downright insulting.

It’s a man’s world.  It was bad enough when Peggy was anointed as a girl copywriter, but when Joan tried to dip her toe into the account acquisition pool instead of the secretarial pool, the partners and junior partners were apoplectic.  How dare she?  It was okay for her to sleep with the top guy at Jaguar in order to secure the account, but how dare she try her hand at actually doing business!  Although, to be fair, she did negotiate a partnership in exchange for her Machiavellian willingness to prostitute herself to a fat-assed Jaguar executive.  When that episode aired, you could almost hear the keening and sobbing of sexual harassment attorneys throughout the country.

A woman, a Negro, a Jew, and a homo walk into an ad agency.  If women were treated as sexual objects and the getters of coffee, Jews were treated as objects of suspicion and envy and were expected to work among their own “people.”  Homosexuals—‘gay’ not yet part of the counter culture vernacular—were still in the closet, even going so far as to marry beautiful women in order to secure a beard.  Blacks, in the throes of the Civil Rights Movement, just wanted a chance at a fair shake.  Enter Dawn, Don Draper’s spankin’ new (not that kind of spanking), competent, intelligent, and professional all-American girl.  Dawn and her fellow colleague of color Shirley had to work ten times harder at their jobs because they were (fortunately) not objectified but were somewhat (unfortunately) looked upon as a novelty, unlike the elevator operator and Carla, Betty Draper’s own around-the-house girl Friday.  As for SCDP, they considered themselves hip for employing Negroes; little did they know that behind their WASP-y backs, these Negroes rolled their eyes at whitey for their collective stupidity, lack of insight, and overall single-mindedness.  This was a time when ‘politically correct’ meant voting Republican.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

The times of your life.  The deeper love I have for the late series is all tied to nostalgia.  Or it could be that I just wrote a novel about the same time period, so I’m still rooted in and rooting for the 60’s.  Matthew Weiner and his collection of writers, stylists, set designers, and whoever else goes into the making of an amazingly well-crafted period piece could not have done things any better.  The best moment for me was the beginning of the series finale, when, instead of the familiar opening riff and its clever animation, images of Don Draper’s life drifted across the screen to the timeless voice of Paul Anka.  That’s when I lost control of my emotions.  I sat by myself in a hotel room in Aurora, Ohio, and cried for a time of my life when I heard this same song on the car radio, my father’s arm hanging out the open window, a cigarette lazily nestled between his fingers, and my mother in the front seat, all beautiful and smiling and probably laughing at something he had said.  And the three of us happy kids in the backseat thinking we were the best family in the world.

Thank you for a beautiful ending.