Monday, October 05, 2009

7153: Not Mad About Mad Men.

From The Chicago Tribune…

‘Mad Men’ may be can’t-miss for some, but not for me

By Barbara Brotman

So did you see it last night? Wasn’t it incredible? The symbolism, the depth, the riveting insights into the rootless and restless nature of 20th century America.

Oh, who am I kidding?

Prepare to hoist your nose in the air and look down it at me. I am a lone wolf, an outcast at the Monday morning water cooler, a wallflower at the TV show orgy. OK, I’ll say it:

I don’t like “Mad Men.”

Yes, that two-time-Emmy-winning dramatic series set in the world of a New York advertising agency in the early 1960s. The one that has had critics scrambling for superlatives. “Legendary.” “Can’t-miss.” “Exquisite.” “Brilliant.”

The majority of the TV-watching public has declared it “can miss, easily.” Its audience of 1.9 million is dwarfed by the 16.7 million viewers who tune into “Dancing With the Stars.” But the Mad Meniac minority is a fierce and somewhat haughty tribe. Tell them you don’t like the show, and you can almost see them checking off the little box in their heads saying, “moron.”

But full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes. I don’t like “Mad Men” because I find the characters—a mean collection of liars and cheats who defy my attempts to care about them—repugnant.

Some devotees apparently conclude that I am just a person who should stick to simpler fare. “For you, there are Disney movies,” sniped a colleague.

Look, I get the concept of the flawed hero. But in order to have a flawed hero, you need the hero part. A character doesn’t have to rescue a puppy from a burning building, but how about the occasional shred of loyalty or honesty? Instead, we get Don Draper bravely telling his agency’s bean counter to stop nickel-and-diming his creatives over their use of office supplies. Wow—a profile in courage.

Nasty worlds can indeed be riveting, as David Mamet has often proved. But for me, “Mad Men” is just nasty.

I’ve tried. God knows, I’ve tried. It’s no fun to be left out of a cultural phenomenon.

Friends have tried to help. “You have to go back and watch all of the first and second season,” one counseled.

So my husband and I set ourselves to doing our TV homework. After the first episode, he turned to me and said, “Are we done yet?”

I wasn’t. Determined to find out what I was missing, I kept watching and waiting for the magic.


I have consoled myself with the rare kindred spirit. My friend Beth, a marketing firm vice president with more than a passing interest in the world being depicted, can’t force herself to watch the show. There are no heroes to root for, she said; women are badly treated; women are cruel to other women; and the characters are one-dimensional, that dimension being woman-hating.

“How can I find that appealing when I’m being attacked by it?” she said. “I want to like it—it is stylish. I just can’t put up with it.”

Someone else I respect dislikes it, too, someone with the street cred of having actually been a female copywriter for Madison Avenue ad agencies in the 1960s—my mother, who worked as a copywriter in New York for more than 40 years.

The show “treats people with contempt,” she said. It heaps indignities on them and shows them as willing to take it, she said, which she considers an unrealistic portrayal of a business known for big egos.

She feels no kinship with Peggy, the female copywriter on the show, especially after the episode in which Peggy picks up a city college student for a one-night stand and treats him shabbily.

And fierce feminist though she is, the show’s depiction of the mistreatment of women does not ring true to her. She found advertising a beacon of opportunity for women. “It was a place where a woman could get a toehold and, if she had confidence and talent and brass, she could succeed,” she said.

But to each of us our own response to the show. And even though mine is not yet one of affection, I’m not completely indifferent to its characters’ fates. I hope the men get syphilis and the women burn their torpedo bras. But how long am I willing to wait for such a payoff?

A little while longer, at least. For one thing, my lonely stance threatens to become a lot lonelier. My husband, who works in a den of Mad Meniacs, has begun to sip the Kool-Aid, if not the dry vermouth. “I’m going to watch my new favorite TV show,” he announced the other night before queuing up another recorded episode.

And et tu, Mom? After we watched the show together last week, she confessed that she wondered what would happen next.

“It’s addictive,” she conceded.

Perhaps it may yet be for me. We’ve placed the next order on Netflix. I’m still trying.

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