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If you aren’t a Mad Men fan, all I can say is, I’m so sorry. It is mesmerizing, especially for those of us who know that the brutally sexist world of the early 60s Matthew Weiner has created is authentic and legit. My kids can’t quite believe it. What can I say? Yes, I’m old enough to remember a time when David Ogilvy, the era’s anointed god of advertising, wrote the industry treatise in which he stated his unconditional belief that advertising was a man’s profession and that women had no place except as secretaries who eventually morph into suburban, supportive wives. Peggy Olsen, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, is our only hope.
And of course there is so much more in this series to chew on. This portrait of the dystopia that was American life in the 60s also includes other themes like pre-Civil Rights rumblings, closeted homosexuality, suburban/urban tensions, generational struggles, identity, freedom, Bohemianism, parenting misadventures and the evolution of consciousness, among many others. The writing is so smart.
Last Sunday’s episode even included an extended reference to architecture critic emeritus Ada Louise Huxtable in a discussion with the rapacious developers who will eventually destroy Penn Station and replace it with the still obnoxious after all these years Madison Square Garden. (Huxtable later described the annihilated structure as “McKim, Mead and White’s Roman extravaganza in cream travertine and pink granite, later soot-darkened.”)
The consummate angler Don Draper, played to perfection by Jon Hamm, tells the calloused developers how to change the spin of the dialogue with oppositional Penn Station Preservationists. “I was in California,” says Draper. “Everything is new, and it’s clean. The people are filled with hope. New York City is in decay. But Madison Square Garden — it’s the beginning of a new city on a hill.”
Who knows what Draper really thinks. His character has great presence in part because his is a highly layered, clandestine psyche. But watching this series is like being witness to an archeological dig, one that is in search of the Ur taproot of the cultural character of our nation today. The cultural dismantling that is to come—which I hope there will be seasons enough for us to witness in detail—will be extraordinary viewing.