A Series of Backdrops

The silhouette of a man in a black suit stands still on the threshold of his office, the mysterious character places his leather bond briefcase on the floor, the art work lining the walls of his chamber come off their hinges falling to the ground, the very foundation of the room begins to collapse sending the man plummeting towards the ground. The figure falling rapidly towards his inevitable death, doesn’t look alarmed or fearful, instead his placid demeanor resembles that of a soaring black bird. Floating poetically towards the ground, speeding by advertisements projected upon the grandiose skyscrapers at the heart of the city.  A cool glass of whiskey ripples from the wind as the man in the suit continues his descent.  The man cannot reside in the comfort of the plunge coming to an end, because there is no end, he is stuck in a perpetual state of decline, ebbing in and out of the abyss.  Just as we think we have lost the man to the deepest and darkest depth, he is back in his office lounging apathetically in his chair finding comfort in a “Lucky Strike” cigarette.

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The enigmatic man in the perfectly tailored suit is the infamous Don Draper from the commercial television series “Mad Men”. “Mad Men” is show created by Matthew Weiner who is also know for his work on hit Primetime HBO series “The Sopranos”. The show has received enormous critical and commercial success throughout its final 7th season which was concluded in 2015 . The subject of numerous Golden Globe and Emmy awards and nominations for its merit in everything from acting to sound mixing.  The shows versatility allows it to excel beyond measure in its display of the heavy cultural complexities of the 1960’s.

Many have called “Mad Men” a period piece, but merely describing it by its temporal location would be a limiting representation of the production. The time period acts as a rich backdrop for its eloquent and colorful characters. The keyword here is backdrop, and this is not to say the graphic era of the show isn’t important. However the time period of the show plays a more insidious role throughout the production. Often times the setting will reflect the disposition  a particular character at a given moment. Essentially time acts as a catalyst for the human emotion in the show. During heightened times of hysteria and panic, the characters reactions to said events are a reflection of who they are to the core. Momentous occasions such as mankind’s first step on the moon have been covered in the show in season 7’s episode, “Waterloo”.  Possibly one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the United States is seen through the perspective of the Characters on “Mad Men”. It is also possibly one of the most vital moments in the shows history as well. During the Episode “Waterloo” the characters share bond unlike anything we have seen in the show before. Their connection during these awe inspiring moments, are almost as galvanizing as the actual moon landing itself.

At the heart of “Mad Men” lies its richly complex characters. The most important part to understanding the characters is understanding the world in which they interact. The nexus of “Mad Men’s” characters is the Advertising Agency Sterling Copper. While this Ad agency may be fictitious, it is a vividly authentic representation of what the Ad business was like during the time. Booze guzzling male chauvinists dealing sex and death to the masses. This depiction strikes with remarkable accuracy, but it offers a genuine look into a deeply immoral world. By now you may ask yourself, how could anyone in their right mind connection to such a character (and you wouldn’t be crazy for asking yourself that question). These are the taste makers, the people propelling our materialist culture that they need to consumer more. The entire premiss of this show balances on this ethical and immoral dilemma that becomes epically eviscerating . Through this dramatic lens we are offered an insight to the backbone of our society.

Many of the characters on “Mad Men” are nefarious, but we see them grapple with their own morality on such a visceral level. The shows protagonist Don Draper played by Jon Hamm is perhaps the most disenchanting character on the show. A rampant alcoholic, adulterer, liar, and egotist. On paper Don Draper seems like a terrible person, and you could argue he truly is. Draper is the type of man you hate to love, but you continue doing so.  Beyond the superficial elements of his character we come to find that deep within this man lies some dark secrets. Don Draper is all of these things, but he is none of them. Don Draper begins as this truly enigmatic anti hero, and as his character developments we find this longing for vulnerability and acceptance.

We are along for the ride as Don continually struggles to crawl out of the depths, each time he makes an advance, he ends up two steps back. He is character bogged down with a tremendous weight. His immoral activities are only a way to alleviate the pain of his past, and we are compelled to forgive every cheating move he makes. What “Mad Men” does exceptionally well is create beautiful dysfunctional people we can relate with. Through long character arcs that foster three dimensional characters “Mad Men” plays with our empathy. Drawing intense emotion with dramatic finesse, the show never seems campy nor to serious.

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Ultimately what “Mad Men” does best is tell a story. A story that people can find themselves in, a story that people can find the world in. There is something so inherently human about imperfections, and “Mad Men” does such a compelling job of playing with these organic components that constitute our daily lives that it seems so instinctive. The show is full of these raw moments that are deep-rooted within our existence that we are forced to deal with our own morality.  At beginning of each episode we see the man falling, but he never hits the ground. Is he falling into the depths of despair, or does he know something we don’t? The question of humanity that may never be answered.

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