Mad World Mad Men Essay-Harrison McCorkindale, BCIT Radio
A Mad World by Harrison McCorkindale
“What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness.” This isn’t Plato or Aristotle, Buddha or Confucius; this is Don Draper, their better-looking counterpart. He is the protagonist in Matthew Wiener’s dynamic drama Mad Men. As an exceedingly affluent advertising executive whose outward success is starkly contrasted by his tormented past and subsequent inner turmoil, Don is who all men want to be, and women want to be with. Unparalleled characters, creativity, visuals, and social canvasing make Mad Men something to applaud and appreciate.
Like any show worth its salt in storytelling, Mad Men is made by its creative foundation, rich tapestry of characters, and poignant plots. Unlike the unending unrelenting stream of sagging sitcoms hurled forth today that rely on predictable stale dialogue, clumsy innuendos, and painful puns, Mad Men is buoyed, not brought down by its writing. “Being with a client is like being in a marriage. Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons, and eventually they hit you in the face.” This is a show that eloquently and effortlessly goes from serious to seriously funny so frequently and flawlessly that it should be watched if for no other reason than to realize the strength of the spoken word. Also, flying in the face of conventional cookie cutter shows today, this small screen oasis boasts complicated, complex, and most importantly, convincing characters like Don the aloof artist trapped in the confines of advertising, and Peggy, the smart independent woman copy writer with a bright head on her shoulders but a heart that is rarely on the same page. These are characters whose lives and limitations, though set more than fifty years in the past, strike a profound reverence in the hearts and minds of today’s viewer. Each episode is like a decedent cake built layer upon rich layer, inch by inch building up with all the suspense until you reach the conclusion, the icing on the cake and, oh, how sweet it is.
The only aspect of this little slice of T.V. heaven that is more vividly enthralling than the characters portrayed are the visuals and styles. This is New York in the 1960’s, a town and time of expected elegance. There were no pajama days or yoga pants, people dressed for success, not their workout and put their best foot forward in something a hell of a lot more substantial than Crocs or flip flops or whatever the latest fad is. The ensembles the ensemble cast finds themselves in set the tone for the episode, season, and series as a whole. In the early seasons the styles were still largely that of the 1950‘s, very buttoned down and homogenized but, as the 60’s and characters progress so to do the styles, clothes become vibrant and varied. The fashion of the show works to transport the viewer from the present and transplant them into the epicenter of excess and extravagance that was upper class America. With its thin lapels, and thick clouds of smoke, Mad Men is an aesthetically entrancing show like no other, it invites the viewer in so convincingly and captivatingly that one often has to reacclimatize themselves with their current contemporary setting after each enchanting episode.
“I don’t care what your politics are, this is America. You don’t just shoot the president.” From the enchanting to the sobering, from lapels to labels Mad Men doesn’t hesitate to provide perspective on the social issues of the day. Be that the hype around hallucinogenic drugs and how that affects the outlook and efforts of Roger, a partner in the agency, or the issue of integration, and the trials of Salvatore Romano a closeted art director who suffers in silence. It tackles the perils and perceptions of alcoholism with Don in particular but society at large as well, the validity and virtues of the Vietnam war, the widespread massacre of monogamy, and iconic assassinations. One of the most powerful episodes in the shows run centres around JFK’s assassination and the subsequent fallout, this episode strips the characters down to their cores as human beings and serves to show how, though we (as people) profess difference and independence in the lives we lead, and how we lead them, there is inherent commonality in the fundamentals of morality. The show oozes just as much substance as it does style and helps give context for the place the world has become.
Mad Men should be appointment T.V. for anyone who likes good stories, history, and compelling visuals. For those who like to be entertained and educated, this gift of glamour has something for everyone. It is the whole package and than some, so often there’s a hitch, a caveat or mitigating factor, but not with this show, finding Mad Men is like finding religion, it is life being lived, and love being lost. To conclude in the only fitting way possible, in the immortal words of Don Draper “Life being lived… I’d like to stop talking about it and get back to it.”