I just gave 70 hours of my life to a television show. On the surface it's about materialism, ambition, and overindulgence in sex, cigarettes, and booze. I almost quit watching Mad Men. It offended me on so many levels.
I only stuck with it because there was so much buzz about this show, and now I was wondering why on earth? So I kept watching, and in so doing, I got my answer.
Beneath the debauchery is a feast of the messy incongruity of humanity. Flawed people. Complicated relationships. Insight into professional competition, the creative process, the arc of family dynamics, the bleed of professional relationships into personal ones. Personal insecurity. Regret. Hope. Themes like loyalty, honesty, fidelity, marital collapse, success and failure, generosity and greed, courage and fear, creativity are all explored across the backdrop of the '40s - 1970 in American culture. Add to the setting racism, Vietnam, politics, religion, sexism, the arms race, and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon.
The character development was brilliant. By the end, it was almost exclusively a narrative, and slowly, over seven seasons, you move from the one-dimensional keep-up-with-the-Joneses superficial facade of these characters to the innermost depths of their human souls.
They are people you come to love, not only despite their shortcomings but because of them. You become so invested in them that they frustrate you and break your heart, mostly because you love them so fiercely while you hate them for their self-sabbotage. Sounds like a few people you love in real life, doesn't it. Sounds like you and me.
A few favorite highlights:
The sibling-like relationship between Don and Peggy and this scene in particular:
The complicated and lifelong love between Don and Betty:
The last time we see Don and Roger together and how they each give the other his blessing:
When Stephanie tells "Dick" he's wrong, he's not her family, and then leaves him standing there alone. There are implications, ironies, identity issues, and hope for Don's future this moment gives him even though it seems like anything but a gift -- all this is wrapped into this exchange.
It was a quintessential scene for me and I can't even find a clip on You Tube. Apparently I'm the only one who saw so much happening in this scene.
My all-time favorite Mad Men moment was when Adrian, who was the impetus of my watching it to begin with, came in last night and sat beside me for the final 20 minutes and the evening of conversation about all things Mad Men couched in our own family dynamics, incongruities, and flawed love for one another.
I almost didn't post about Mad Men because I'm a pastor's wife and I'd never do anything as a Christian leader to be a bad example or lead poorly. There was plenty of raunchiness in Mad Men to be sure. There was a time in my life when I would not have watched. There was also a time in my life I would have watched but not talked about it for fear of being judged or potentially being a stumbling block to a fellow believer. I've now reached the time I have watched and am telling about it.
In the end, I decided to write about my experience with Mad Men for two reasons. One, because the sex and the booze and the overindulgence were ultimately portrayed as the destructive forces they are in real life. And two, I feel inspired by Don Draper, who inwardly struggles with all the conflicted and conflicting parts of himself, public and private, past and present. As Don Draper grows as a character in this series, his identity crisis remains constant.
We'd all be the better for it if we could find a way to consolidate all the pieces that make up our own lives and accept the sum total in the lives of our loved ones. Maybe, just maybe, we could stop being Ad Men ourselves in our own type of advertising agency who try to pitch ourselves as some truer, safer, better version of our real selves to potential buyers. In reality, we're all broken and in crisis. The beauty comes not from trying to cover it up, but by facing our brokenness head-on and learning redemptive ways to move forward.