Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mad Men: More Than Meets the Eye

When Pop Art swept through the art scene in the Sixties, I didn't get it. A lot of other people didn't get it. In retrospect, Andy Warhol understood the world he lived in far better than most of us who were simply immersed in it, or viscerally reacting against it.

Warhol once pointed out, "It's the movies that have really been running things in America ever since they were invented. They show you what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it."

In the preface of her book Mad Men on the Couch, Dr. Stephanie Newman writes, "What Warhol meant was that movies not only reflect major social trends and changes; they also shape cultural norms and expectations. Movie and television stars become the avatars of fashion and style, the messengers of ethics and morality.

"And TVs powerful effect continues today."

When Mad Men popped onto the cultural landscape a few years back I was not a television watcher, though occasionally I've dabbled here and there for the purpose of keeping my finger on the pulse of what people were being moved by. The notion of obtaining box sets of complete seasons of your favorite shows was a foreign concept when we were kids. Today, you can obtain collections of every episode of Perry Mason or Lost. And for the record, I have seen all the Perry Mason shows again, and lost myself in the first five seasons of Mad Men.

Mad Men was a special challenge because I practically hated a couple of the characters and didn't want to be around them when they showed up in a scene. At the bidding of a friend I persisted because he said so-and-so isn't such a jerk after the first season, etc.

Being an ad man, what fascinated me about the show was its realistic portrayal of the problem solving aspect of the advertising game and how the agencies provide real services to oftentimes clueless clients. The show's widespread popularity is driven by the manner in which it re-creates the Sixties, mirroring the values, styles and events of that time. The screenwriting is superb.

Newman's book takes each of the characters from the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and has them lie on the couch to be analyzed. We see what's beneath the surface in Don Draper the Mad Ave Marlboro Man, Betty Draper the Original Desperate Housewife, Peggy the Career Woman, Pete the Bulldog, Roger the Blue Blood, and Joan the Competent Sexpot. The book deals with the narcissism, racism, anti-Semitism, sexism and every other kind of ism... as does the show, actually.

Just for the fun of it, here's a brief peek at what the real Mad Men of the Sixties were producing for their clients.

Mad Men on the Couch by Dr. Stephanie Newman was published by Thomas Dunne Books, A Division of St. Martin's Press.

No comments: