Mad Men (and women)

My new favorite show is Mad Men.  It also gets my award for favorite opening sequence, but more on that in a minute.  Set in the world of an early sixties Madison Avenue ad agency, the show follows the lives of Sterling & Cooper’s various employees.

The central characters are Don Draper, a junior partner in the agency, and his wife Betsy.  Don has a lot of secrets.  Raised somewhere in the Depression era Midwest by an abusive father and a mean stepmother, his real name is Dick.  He has stolen the identity of his Lieutenant, Don Draper, after the latter was killed in Korea.  Now “Don” is living multiple lives.  He has a wife and two kids, but he is a notorious philanderer.  Meanwhile, Betsy is suffering from depression or anxiety (I can’t tell for sure) and can only talk about it to her therapist.

Then there is Peggy Olson, the young woman who started as a secretary, but who has worked her way into the world of copywriting.  Peggy has had a child out of wedlock that no one (except perhaps Don) knows about.  The boy is being raised as her nephew.

Given just this description, the show sounds like a soap opera, and it sort of is, but it’s a very intelligent one.  The characters couldn’t be more real.  Each one is complex and flawed—capable of both kindness and cruelty.  And the dialogue is wonderful.

The show makes good use of the era in which it is set.  Taking place in the sixties, it has its feet in two different worlds.  It holds on to the stiff propriety of the early 20th century.  The characters work hard to keep up appearances.  It is still a world where white men are in charge, at least on the face of it.  Everyone smokes everywhere: at work, at the breakfast table, in the office, on planes, etc.  And everyone drinks excessively.  But we can see that the façade is wearing thin, and the modern era is approaching.

The prosperity and propriety of the fifties are about to give way to the chaos and upheaval of the sixties.  This world that everyone has constructed for themselves is not going to hold together.  The serenity of everyone’s outward demeanor cannot be maintained.  Their inner lives are too tumultuous.

Nothing represents this dynamic as well as the credits.  (You can watch them by clicking here.)  A man appears to have “arrived,” and then the ground gives way beneath him.  He falls past all these images--illusions of happiness and perfection created by the advertising industry.  Then, just when his doom seems inevitable, he lands in an oversized chair, confidently smoking a cigarette and giving no indication of the turmoil that he is experiencing.  It’s all about appearances—both in advertising and in real life.

So what does all this have to do with church stuff?  I’ll let you think about it a little bit.  And then I’ll come back and give you my two cents a little later.  Here’s a hint though.  There’s a brilliant little exchange between two of the characters that takes place.  A young account executive named Peter is talking to Peggy.  He’s bemoaning how dysfunctional his family is.  When Peggy admits that she doesn’t understand what he’s talking about and suggests that he should just go home, Peter makes this very self-centered (and false) observation.  Peggy’s response could not be more insightful:
Peter: Everything’s so easy for you.

Peggy: It’s not easy for anyone, Pete.

And that right there is a message that will preach.  But it will have to preach later, because I’m done for the afternoon.