Mad Men | The pursuit of happiness in American society
Those who worked in advertising on Madison Avenue during the Sixties called themselves ‘mad men’, combining a New York innovative and high-risk career with a likewise sparkly and ruthless lifestyle. This series follows ten years in the life of Don Draper – an enigmatic and brilliant executive. The real Draper Daniels, the creative head at Leo Burnett who invented the Marlboro man, inspired the main character. The show explores his inner and conflictual journey and that of many others inside the business in order to construct a multifaceted commentary on American society and the pursuit of happiness.
A pivotal show in TV history
The show aired in 2007. AMC (the company behind The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad) produced it, and Matthew Weiner (who had written the pilot many years before, in 1999) created it. Mad Men is pivotal in TV history in terms of timing (it’s one of the last shows from the pre-Netflix era) and collateral effects on real-world culture.
It prompted a return to vintage trends and newly inspired outfits (double-breasted coats for men and tea-length dresses for women), together with cigarettes (Lucky Strike almost doubled its sales during the show’s run) and cocktails (Old Fashioned and Dry Martini above all).
A portrait of an antihero
The show’s complex and mysterious narrative skirts the border between historical research and artistic reinterpretation of the Sixties (the costume and set design departments are both essential and accurate). It also includes an on-point feminine eye within the advertising world and its power dynamics – thanks to a female-based writing room (seven out of nine) and poignant acting by Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, and Christina Hendricks.
Mad Men is a visually refined, rhythmically loose, and emotionally moving portrait of an antihero (Don Draper inspired an equally famous and animated alter ego, BoJack Horseman). However, it’s also a story from the past that somehow echoes the present on relevant topics like capitalism, homophobia, racism, and social inequality.