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My Problem With Mad Men

Mad Men returned last night after another ridiculously long hiatus.

I have watched the show since inception and I can speak highly of many aspects of the show. But I continue to have one major problem with it.

Never mind its main character Don Draper, there is not a single character on the show that I like better now than I did when the show began. None of them have learned the important lessons, none of them have become better people. Some are more successful and some are not, some have attained what they wanted and some have not. But I can't think of a single character that has become better.

Its as if all of these people reside in a graceless world, where redemption is unnecessary because sin has no consequences. Don destroyed his marriage and family because of his lies and treachery. He was rewarded for his bad behavior with another beautiful wife and an incredible apartment. Who needs redemption in a world like that? Mores are discarded as quickly as pants.

The show has sometimes flirted with consequence and transformation and in my mind that is when it is the most interesting. But these rare brief flirtations are just interludes between the base.

Mad Men is an interesting contrast to another AMC show, Breaking Bad. In Breaking Bad the lead character also repeatedly makes immoral decisions. But unlike Mad Men, in Breaking Bad sin always has consequences. Anyone who has watched the show since the beginning knows how it is going to end. It is going to end badly. It already has. The rationalizations made by Walt about doing bad things for his family are always clearly just that. You know he has to lose them, destroy them, to a degree he already has, it is just a matter of who and how much destruction. But it will end badly.

Maybe Mad Men will too. Maybe Don Draper will end up alone and irrelevant and kill himself just like his brother, But even if that happens, it will just prove that Don has learned nothing. I want Don to see the consequences of his sin and know them for what they are. I don't want Don to despair, I want Don to pay. And then I want Don to live with them. I want Don to live.

But I just don't know. I don't see it in this world of detailed and shiny nihilism. One moment of grace can change a man and change the world. But in the world of Mad Men, I am not sure if anyone is interested.


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therecusant said...

I see what you are saying, but sin does have a consequence in Mad Men - isolation and a profound unhappiness. Is there anyone in the show that has a history of "bad" behavior that you would describe as happy or joyful?

dmw said...

The show is set in the 1960s. We don't need to see the consequences in the show; we see them everyday in our 2013 real world.

Gerry said...

"He was rewarded for his bad behavior with another beautiful wife and an incredible apartment. Who needs redemption in a world like that? Mores are discarded as quickly as pants."
For thoughts like these, I remind myself of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. http://www.usccb.org/bible/luke/16/ (v 19+)

Siobhan said...

Don't forget that both women with unplanned pregnancies carried their babies to term. There's a message there. And until last night, Don was flirting with redemption, he was a drunken mess in season three, but he turned it around and became a good husband and fair dad. Until last night.

My fascination with MM is the setting of the 60s. Your point is well taken though, and it's more pronounced in Breaking Bad: no good guys, only bad guys and worse guys. The personification of the culture of death.

gsk said...

Watching the show is painful, like watching a slow-motion train wreck, which leads to (as dmw says) our present landscape. I think it does provide a cautionary tale for anyone who might be tempted to envy the Madison Avenue crowd. They're clearly fumbling their way through each day -- being lost, cut-throat, unpleasant schemers.

Unfortunately, these tremendously misguided souls have shaped the popular culture which firmly bears their sordid stamp, and which is misleading yet another generation of children to whom they have even greater access than before. Fighting it is like shouting into a maelstrom, but fight it we must. I watch for the sake of fine-tuning a strategy, because there's no pleasure in it.

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