The Commerce Journal

July 26, 2012

Looking for a hero in Mad Men

By Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal

COMMERCE — I have a love/hate relationship with the AMC period drama “Mad Men.” I love the show, and even though I’m about a season behind and never have the time to watch it when it’s actually on T.V., I’ve been able to keep up relatively well through the wonders of Netflix.

“Mad Men,” for those who don’t know, is an extremely popular show created and produced by Matthew Weiner (also known for his work as director and producer for the fifth and sixth seasons of The Sopranos). “Mad Men” centers around an advertising agency and its creative director, the hard-drinking, hard-living Donald Draper.

Part of the magic of “Mad Men” is how it transports its audience back to the early 60s, a period of time often remembered as a golden age in American history. In reality, the early 60s were rife with sexism, racism, homophobia and various other cultural issues, much like the main characters are far more flawed than their crisp, clean exteriors.

Draper, played by the previously-unknown Jon Hamm, is perhaps the best example of this. He is an authoritative and talented creative director who possesses the ability to impress both clients and almost any woman he comes across alike.

In reality, Draper is a man named Dick Whitman, the son of an unknown man and a prostitute who died giving birth. A soldier, he used the real Donald Draper’s death during the Korean War to desert.

His wife eventually divorces him after she discovers that he had an affair with a comedian’s wife and he is an alcoholic.

It is Draper’s inability to make good decisions that makes “Mad Men” a frustrating series to watch. It’s not that I expect all of the show’s protaganists to be perfect, but Draper is so completely flawed that it’s almost impossible to root for him. The rest of the characters are hardly any better.

Roger Sterling is charming, ready with a quip to defuse almost any situation. But he also leaves his wife for a former secretary, frequently attempts to rekindle a relationship with married office manager Joan (played exceptionally-well by Christina Hendricks), and does little more than drink and work on his memoirs.

The young account men are all either ego-centric, lazy, alcoholic or a combination of all three. Peter Campbell takes the cake as the most annoying employee at Sterling Cooper. He is vain and desparate for validation.

Peggy Olsen began her career at Sterling Cooper as a secretary, and eventually moved up the ranks to copy writer.

While her move up the social ladder is sudden and based on her obvious talent, Peggy makes terrible decisions in her personal life whose consequences she constantly attempts to avoid.

All of the characters are pretty awful at living everday life, and perhaps that is the point of “Mad Men.” That this time in America that we remember as a golden age of morality and traditional American values was really as depraved as the 21st century.

The show is also uniquely positioned to demonstrate the transformation of America from the 50s ‘baseball and apple pie era’ to the Summer of Love. I look forward to experiencing this important time in American history from the perspective of Draper and cast.

I’ll probably watch the show until it ends. I just wish I had someone to root for.