Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mad Men

It took me nearly three seasons to catch on, but I am glad I finally did. The lying! The cheating! The scandals! I mean, it’s no wonder I spent half of my summer in front of the tube barely blinking and the other half waiting for the mail man to arrive with my next Netflix installment.

I am of course referring to my, and in a larger sense, America’s, fixation with Mad Men, AMC’s popular and critically acclaimed period drama set in a New York City advertising agency in the 1960s. While the characters’ engagement in taboo behavior, such as drinking alcohol in the office, committing adultery, and chain smoking while pregnant, certainly command a viewer’s attention, I am most interested in the show’s extreme commitment to historical accuracy.

Because of history and Hollywood's notorious incompatibility (Pearl Harbor anyone?), I was pleasantly surprised to discover how well Matt Weiner recreated the era and its corporate culture. According to my limited research, Mad Men is one of the most meticulously put together shows with very little creative licensing. Vanity Fair’s Bruce Handy describes one story in which Weiner replaced the apples they were using as props, because they did not resemble the non-genetically enhanced produce of the era. Weiner and his team research weather patterns, repeat costumes, and, as the apple story indicates, select props with care. Handy also reports that the writers extensively consulted the commuter train schedules from the Westchester suburb where Don Draper lives to Grand Central, aiming for accuracy whenever possible.

My Mad Men obsession intensified after reading The Conquest of Cool, which I read last week for the senior seminar. According to Thomas Frank, the 1960s advertising culture co-opted the counterculture in order to sell the very products that the “hip” detest. The book also discusses the sort of corporate environment of the 1960s ad agencies, which Mad Men manages to depict with great accuracy. I do not want to spoil any plot lines, so I think I will stop there, but I will say that Mad Men enhanced my reading of The Conquest of Cool. If you want to imagine “the man in the gray flannel suit,” look no farther than Don Draper.

No comments: