My first internet article was a brief review of “Mad Men” for imdb. I would never have undertaken to self-publish a review online like that, but it was an assignment for a class I was taking at the time on Theology and Culture taught by Craig Detweiler. Yes, my seminary forced me to engage with the interwebs… At the time, I thought it was one of those annoying, busy-work kind of assignments, you know, the kind that no one will ever actually read since it won’t be graded, but it keeps you occupied because idle hands are the devil’s playground after all. But looking back, I’m grateful to Dr. Detweiler for pushing us to take seriously the idea that people of faith can actually offer legitimate cultural critique in the secular realm, that we don’t need to remain ghettoized by only addressing explicitly religious topics and concerns. Although this little snippet is over four years old, I thought it was still interesting and worth sharing here, if only to give us a little fix since “Mad Men” doesn’t return for its final episodes until Easter and it’s not even Lent yet. Oh, and you can madmen yourself, as I did above, here: http://www.amctv.com/shows/mad-men/mad-men-yourself
The existential creation of one’s own, superficial world in “Mad Men”
“Mad Men” holds up a mirror to the American drive for success and perfection and shows the terrible cost those goals exact on relationships. Although set in the much more sexually- and racially-stratified 60s, the characters’ constant failures and inabilities to connect with one another ring true in today’s still-shallow society. For the characters of “Mad Men,” shallowness is not only a way of life, it becomes its own virtue. For example, in the most recent episode, Roger Sterling is humiliated by the firm’s biggest client by being forced to play Santa at the Christmas party, definitely against the dapper Roger’s character, and despite Roger’s repeated declinations. The client insists and gleefully mocks Roger, forcing all the office staff, men and women, to sit on Roger-as-Santa’s lap while he takes pictures in a subtle form of emasculation. This power play is particularly disturbing to watch considering the Christmas setting, a time which typically brings out sentimental and often spiritual themes in TV shows. But the best that can be hoped for in the world of “Mad Men” is to rise above—which Roger does. He makes the most of his situation and brushes off the humiliation without a hint of sentiment, enacting the image of “goodwill towards men” by handing out presents without any of the spirit behind it. For shows of less complexity, this kind of thematic coldness would be off-putting, but God or any other form of higher purpose is so absent from the characters and their lives it’s almost as if, like the numerous bad and absent fathers depicted on the show, he has abandoned them to their own devices and they are left, helplessly flailing for shreds of meaning and connection that never come in a superficial world they themselves have the job to continually create.