The period drama, Mad Men, created by Matthew Weiner is based in the 1960’s and explores the discourse of the time while tackling concepts of gender, race, politics, consumerism and popular culture, whilst also drawing attention to the role of television within the traditional family home. The program follows the troubled and fabricated life of a mysterious and charming advertising ‘top dog’ named, Donald Draper (Jon Hamm) and his attempts to balance work, family and women, whilst also battling with his own personal hidden demons. Madmen tackles many issues, but one of the more prevalent problems it tackles is the shift America went through after the war, the rise of consumerism, pop culture and the personal effects that has on characters such as Donald Draper.
In J.P Kelly’s article Nostalgia 2.0: AMC and the Development of Original Retro Programming, he discusses the twin lure of newness and nostalgia which the character Donald Draper presents in a pitch to client for the Kodak carousel. In this particular scene you can see the confliction that Draper has within himself, but also within his work. The world was changing. After the war there was a shift, America was the leading state when it came to manufacturing weapons and necessities for war, but considering the demand for those goods diminished, America changed to the production of consumer able goods such as televisions, fridges and other desirable commodities that became fundamental to the American dream. Considering it is Drapers job to sell this commodities his personal problems connected to this are two fold as he is selling the things that can be seen to be destroying his world.
The motion of televisions becoming common in the home had a serious effect on the structure of the family, as stated by David Morley in his article At Home With The Media, it can be presumed that the unilateral power of macro-technological forces effect the realm of the micro-domestic. Men, or the father, had always been the centre of the family home, however after the war that changed. Firstly, woman got the chance to be more than just housewives while the men went to war, they were expected the pick up the pieces and step in while a large portion of the other gender was indisposed and so they had the desire to be more than just dolls living in a house cut off from the world. Next came the television, which allowed woman and children to gather information from a source that wasn’t their husbands or fathers. Men were no longer the centre of attention in the home, or the only resource of information and this threatened them and their masculinity.
This shift and this battle with masculinity are clearly represented in the opening credits of the show. Don Drapers silhouette is seen falling through a myriad of pieces of advertising, plummeting down the side of a skyscraper to his inevitable death, only then to be seen sitting suave and collected on a couch smoking a cigarette. The fact that they chose to use a silhouette in these opening credits reveals that this was a nationwide problem, Don Drapers problems and his struggle with musicality was not unique and the silhouette shows that the falling man could be anyone. This connects seamlessly to Jason Mittels comment about the characters of Mad Men being ‘dinosaurs unaware of the coming ice age’. Other than the supposed link to the 1937 stock market crash, resulting in men throwing themselves from buildings, it can be seen that the falling through the advertisements represents getting lost in this new state of consumerism American has found itself in.
Overall, madman represents many problems that were very real in the mid to late twentieth century, but also that this obsession with consumerism, the role of woman and the lack of diversity in society today is very real and still a problem
Mittel, J. (2010). On Disliking Mad Men. [Blog] random thoughts from media scholar jason mittell. Available at: https://justtv.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/on-disliking-mad-men/ [Accessed 11 Oct. 2015].
Mediacommons.futureofthebook.org. (2017). Nostalgia 2.0: AMC and the Development of Original Retro Programming | In Media Res. [online] Available at: http://mediacommons.futureofthebook.org/imr/2011/10/31/nostalgia-20-amc-and-development-original-retro-programming [Accessed 13 Aug. 2017].