04 March 2011

Thoughts on Mad Men

Mad Men works as a series in large part because of the look. A lot of bright and hard-working people are evidently working very hard to get the 1960s right -- the clothes, the furniture, the cars, the ubiquitous use of cigarettes -- and it pays off.

But how often would you want to keep going back to the same museum? The show works, and is sustainable as entertainment, for some other reason.

Is it the plotting? As I believe all of the posts I have devoted to the question have helped illustrate: the plots are almost absurdly complicated. They deal with all the great themes that your undergraduate Lit professor told you were important: birth, death, commitment, abandonment, conflict, reconciliation, mystery. But every drama, and every comedy, treats of these themes. So what?

Is it the acting? The acting is serviceable but not, I think, in a stand-out way.

So (by process of elimination) is it character? I think there we have to say yes. The characters are indelible, and the otherwise rickity plots work only because these characters are interacting.

Why are the characters indelible? For those of us of a certain age, these characters are our parents, when we were kids and they were in their prime. (Yes, I know I'm not the first to make this point.) I was born in October 1958. Most of the events of the first season of the show took place before I turned two. But the world of the series, especially in seasons three and four, is decidedly my parents' world.

I had only the vaguest of ideas what my father did for a living, and the byzantine nature of the office intrigue at Sterling Cooper in a way captures this vagueness. The idea that the grown-ups were doing grown-up stuff and it wasn't something for me to worry about overly much.

The scenes in Westchester are priceless, they play to this sense of seeing events from a child's POV more directly.

What about for the younger fans of the show? I understand it has a lot of admirers who were born in the 1970s or later. My sense is that they pick up on the same inter-generational theme, even if it isn't meant for them in quite the same way.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.