'Mad Men' Gets It Right: Booze, Sex, Secrets

Photo: Mad Men: Sterling Cooper

It's 1960, and new research suggests that smoking is dangerous. Richard Nixon is running for president, and the best minds at Sterling Cooper ad agency struggle to sell Lucky Strikes.

"Advertising is based on one thing, happiness," says Don Draper, the brilliant, enigmatic, booze-swilling creative director in AMC's wildly successful "Mad Men" series.

Tobacco may be poisonous, but Draper suggests these cigarettes are "toasted."

In reality, Lucky Strikes launched that slogan in 1917 to tout its unique drying method.

"They play fast and loose with some things," said Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television, Radio and Film at Syracuse University. "But who cares?"

A picture of the cast of Mad Men.
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"It's exquisitely written and acted, and just so beautiful to look at," said Thompson. "Every square inch of it has been thought over and lovingly caressed before the cameras."

The episode "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" takes only one of a handful of liberties in the otherwise historically accurate television series created by Matt Weiner, who was one of the writers on "The Sopranos."

Known for his attention to detail, Weiner changed a script that called for Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm, and art director Sal Romano, played by Bryan Batt, to fly to Baltimore on Eastern Airlines after it was discovered the now-defunct airline didn't fly that route.

Now in its third season, "Mad Men" is reeling toward the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy and the symbolic end of innocence before the social and political upheaval that's come to emblematize the latter part of the decade.

VIDEO: Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm talks about his role on the hit show.
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"It looks like the world we live in, but it is so vastly different," said Thompson. "We forget what a couple of generations can do when it encompasses the '60s and '70s -- the way women are treated in the office, the machismo, the smoking and drinking. It's the last big generation that is unenlightened by what came to be called political correctness."

The show is a nostalgic touchstone for the buttoned-up executives who caroused their way through the workday and their dutiful stay-at-home wives.

But it also resonates with their children -- the Sallys and Bobbys -- the baby boomers -- who transformed the times.

Creator Matt Weiner told Boston's WBUR that each season has a theme: "To me, this one is about chaos."

"It's about how people respond to change," he said. "And we're in a period of great change in 1963, and right now. And I wanted to sort of show that the culture is in a reaction, where some people are just digging in so deep and they're so terrified. And some people are saying, 'Here it comes. Let me have it.'

The Appeal of 'Mad Men' Across Age Groups

"Mad Men" also speaks to a younger generation, who see today's world spinning toward a new kind of chaos: sexual identity politics, escalating wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, threats against a young, new president.

"One day you're on top of the world, and the next day you're run over by a tractor," says Joan, Sterling Cooper's voluptuous head of the secretarial pool, in the recent episode "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency."

After all, January Jones, who plays the stoic trophy wife Betty Draper, who is burdened with her husband's infidelities and a newborn, is only 31 herself.

"I'm not at all like Betty, and I don't have any role models that I can draw from," Jones told ABCNews.com. "I get most of my inspiration from the writing.

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