Mad Men: Evolving Before Our Eyes and Its Time

Mad Men (Madison Avenue Men) Season 1 first aired July 19, 2007, with its first episode Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. I remember watching the first episode and being immediately glued to the television set.  It is Don Draper’s character I was sophomorically enticed by. 5 years later, Season 5 having aired March 25, 2012, with A Little Kiss, a two hour premiere, I remain a loyal fan.

Mathew Weiner the creator of Mad Men (also the creator of The Sopranos) has surely built new shelves in his office. How else would he house Emmys Awarded for Mad Men in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 along with a Writers Guild of America Award for Best New Series and their nomination for Best Dramatic Series in February, 2008? Let’s not forget a Golden Globe Award for Best Drama Series and a Peabody Award on their first season alone.

Mad Men is all about substance, character and drama. The writing of each episode script along with every song chosen for the closing of each episode is carefully thought out and relevantly crafted together. The series orientates small intricate details in each episode with each story line allowing the characters to stay alive, conflicted, relevant and involved.

Let’s talk the enigma that is Don.

At first view, you see a beautiful glossy packaging, an object of desire. The packaging however does not, at all, resemble the content. Here’s a man who starts off by cheating on his wife Betty with Midge. Right of the bat you take Don for being a pedigree of the ‘60s. You remember the ‘60s, don’t you? Civil Rights Act, Martin Luther King delivers his speech, riots, JFK assassination, Che Guevara killed, Cuban missile crisis, Marilyn Monroe died… It was a very determining era for U.S. history.

As we all know, women and minorities were unfairly treated during this era, especially in the workplace. Mad Men masters the depiction of these times and although some may view its candid references harsh, that’s how things were back then. Not so true now, thank goodness.  Can you imagine a woman being groped at the office, or being told some derogatory statement about her body? This would not go over well with H.R, now would it? Civil Suit would surely follow.

Back to Don:

He makes you fall in love with him.
Side note:  I know love is a strong word. However, I read a psychiatric medical article that stated that if you spend a minimum of 90 uninterrupted minutes sharing personal intimate details with someone, you are pretty much guaranteed to fall “in love.”

Throughout the series of Mad Men, Don Draper evolves dramatically before his time. He learns valuable lessons all delivered on the lap of a woman, and there were many.

When I think of Don and his relationship with Betty, his first wife, I can’t help but think of how closed-minded he was. He cheated on her, he never came home after work, and he drank excessively. He had affairs with his son’s teacher, a stewardess, a junky, a department store owner, the wife of a comic. Then there was the prostitute, let’s not forget the young friend of Roger’s wife, Jane. Then there’s Anna’s 18 year old daughter he tried to seduce, the advertising psychologist, and finally Megan, who becomes his second wife and with all of her talents and modernism makes an honest man out of him. In my opinion he took something out of each encounter with these women and he planted a seed of knowledge. As of Season 5, he’s blindly in love and he’s happy, accepting and confirmative even. Notice how all Don’s women are so different from one another, both in character and backgrounds. The only un-encountered species for Don has been a Latina.  “Mr. Weiner, I am available, my mom always said I should have been an actress!”

With Megan however, Don copes and accepts change. Here’s a man who lets Megan yell at him and put him on all fours. Betty would not have dreamt of raising her voice at him. Megan accepts all his secrets and his shortcomings, unlike Betty that gave up on the marriage not due to Don’s affairs, but rather, Don was not the aristocrat, well-to-do man she thought he was.

Don’s life was anything but rosy. He was the son of a whore who died leaving him in the hands of an abusive-drunk uncle. He goes off to war when his co-soldier dies due to a bombing. Don switched his dog tags with the deceased soldier in efforts to elude his family. He desired to die to them and start a new life. He did just that.

As the seasons of Mad Men progress you see Don mirroring a package of extreme emotional growth, compassion, evolution and changes that are far beyond the ‘60s. The question remains, how long will it take before he takes the express train to Dark-Shallow County?

Notwithstanding his key to the City of Whisky in Dark Shallow County, I praised him as he made a woman (Peggy) a copywriter; being the only one at Peggy’s bedside when she delivered her child out of wedlock, fathered by Pete a junior executive turned partner; being graceful when she quit the firm. He of course, admonishing that had it not been for him, Peggy would have never made it. At the end however, he accepted her departure and with affection, kissed her hand. Don made a black woman his secretary, in the midst of the riots; he fell in love with a modern, intelligent young woman; he begrudged Joan at her making partner by way of sexual contingency on the Jaguar account. I recall when he took Joan out for a friendly drink when she was served with divorce papers (and didn’t even attempt to sleep with her), that night he comes home to Megan who’s raging because he’s been drinking and arrives home late! She greets him by smashing a served dinner plate on the wall and orders him to sit and eat beside her; which he does! That being a pivotal moment in his character; to allow a woman to dominate him. Brilliant!

Furthermore, he held no grudge or hesitation when Megan decided to quit her job at the firm and pursue an acting career. The compassion and parental tactics he exhibited when dealing with his daughter are on display; his sincere concern when Betty thought she was seriously ill.

It is the growth of Don that pulls me. Surely the darker side of Don will soon resurface.

Mad Men is impeccably written with a flawless delivery by all its actors who were all relatively unknown before the show became the phenomenon it is today.  I tell you, it is a MAD web of drama and philosophy… “And here I thought it was about advertising.”

While the show has been often referred to as a depiction of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” wherein she tells a story with a minimum of cliches and whose philosophy is inspiring with a double response. Further, there is undoubtable references to the book just as in the first few episodes when Don’s boss. Mr. Cooper suggests an introduction between Don and Ayn Rand and that Don should read “Atlas Shrugged.” When you study Don’s characteristics all of the elements Don possesses are also possessed by Henry Reardon. No?  I think so….

Let me recite some of Ayn Rand’s quotes and we can play a match the quote to Don’s experiences.

Quote: “Against whom is any union organized?”
(Part 1-Chapter 4)
Don:     Did he respect any union?  He worked for years without a contract. He viewed unions as a means to control.

Quote: “This was the great clarity of being beyond emotion, after the reward of having felt everything one could feel”
(Part 1-Chapter 4)
Don:     In the journey of Don, it is evident that he’s felt everything. From the lowest, most hurtful pain to the heights of gratifications.

Quote: “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”
(Part 3-Chapter 3)
Don:     Precisely.  He lived the script of what he thought his life should be on the pretence of a dead man’s identity.

Quote: “Through all the centuries of the worship of the mindless, whatever stagnation humanity chose to endure, whatever brutality to practice-it was only by the grace of the man who perceived that wheat must have water in order to grow, that stones laid in a curve will form an arch, that two and two make four, that love is not served by torture and life is not fed by destruction – only by the grace of those men did the rest of them learn to experience moments when they caught the spark of being human.”
(Part 3-Chapter 1)
Don:     It is this quote that mirrors his current role.  It is the perception from hardship and challenges to compassion that brought him to view his relationships in a broader spectrum.  A clear realization that hardship and scarcity humbles the soul.  He’s experience both.

Quote: “When you force a man to act against his own choice and judgment, it’s his thinking you want him to suspend.”
(Part 3-Chapter 7)
Don:     When Don switched identities, it’s obvious that he thought about a way out of his current situation. He forcefully acted against his own choice and judgment bringing about a realization of the thoughts he had about how he wanted his life to be. Dick Whitman had no room in his new life.
Don’s meeting with the American Cancer Society after losing the firm’s biggest account, Lucky Strike, Don’s decision to marry Megan. In my opinion, due to all of the disastrous dealings with women up to that point, made him appreciate the attributes Megan possessed. It was about a forceful thinking brought on by unhappiness, unstableness and promiscuity that wasn’t working. Once again proving true to this last and clearly implemented quote.

The weekend before the sale Sterling Cooper is to take place, Don, Roger and Bert effectuate a hostile takeover of their own thereby giving birth to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. If that is not a force of the man to act against his own choice and judgment, I don’t know what is!

I, along with millions of followers, sincerely hope for the longevity of this show, a timelessness parallel to Atlas Shrugged…

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