Making Sense of MAD MEN
March 6, 2012
Right before Christmas I stumbled upon MAD MEN at the grocery store. No, Don Draper wasn’t casually smoking Lucky Strikes in the produce section, and Pete Campbell wasn’t chasing women down the frozen food aisle. It was a gift box of Season One DVDs. I grabbed it on an impulse, making a mental mark on my husband’s wish list. Giving in to my old speedaholic tendencies, I didn’t notice that the DVDs weren’t actually in the box, something I was supposed to pick up at the information desk after the purchase. Fast forward to early January when I discovered the faux pas just as my husband and I settled in to watch the very first episode. Luckily, there were only two boxes left at the store so by power of deduction, we were able to match the ‘missing’ DVDs with my set. Another night passed before we reconvened for another viewing attempt.
And we’ve been savoring every episode ever since. After just three shows I ordered the next season online. We were hooked. And we didn’t know why.
I mean honestly. I went to Smith College, alma mater to Gloria Steinem, the godmother of the feminist movement. Why on Earth would I like a show that exhibits sexism, racism and homophobia like none other?
To explain the attraction, fellow Psychology Today blogger Dr. Stephanie Newman just came out with her new release MAD MEN on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of Men and Women of the Hit TV Show. From her perspective as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Newman dissects every one of the main characters in a Freudian context. It’s amusing, if not revealing, that we appreciate watching people act badly.
It satisfies our inner bad boy or bad girl. We actually enjoy watching Betty Draper dismiss her daughter for possibly dropping the dry cleaning on the floor (and not minding that she’s actually wearing the plastic covering from it over her head). For 42 minutes, we’re allowed to be less than perfect parents, colleagues and lovers. We may be nauseated by all the alcohol and tobacco consumption, but we watch anyway because inside we’re collectively saying “I’m so glad that’s not me.”
It’s a bit like reality TV. We find pleasure in viewing others’ antics for the sake of our own entertainment. MAD MEN on the Couch may be repetitive in its driving home how much Don Draper misses his prostitute mother who died in childbirth, but it also explains a lot about the character himself. Why else would he self-sabotage if he didn’t think he deserved it?
We engage in self-harm on a subconscious level because we somehow think that we shouldn’t be rewarded, that our bad sides acted out and it’s our punishment. We see this in virtually every episode of MAD MEN too.
I embraced the book primarily because I wanted to understand why Peggy, the secretary turned junior copywriter, gets ahead professionally while Joan, the bombshell office manager, does not. They both sleep around. They both are seriously surpressed as women in the early 1960s and they both obviously possess higher than average intelligence. However, while Joan buys in to the role of nurturing maternal figure, Peggy does not. She shuns that societal expectation well before there were even role models to follow. She establishes herself in a man’s world by becoming a lot like them: harsh, critical and independent ~ without all the substance abuse to hide behind.
If you’re a fan of the show (and have seen most of the shows up to Season Four), I highly recommend giving MAD MEN on the Couch a read. You may not agree with everything the author writes, but then again, that might give you even more reason to read it!