Sunday, November 02, 2008

The id of the American Male--drill baby drill

Your humble correspondent gave into temptation last night and picked up American Movie Classics' dramatic series Mad Men on DVD. I'd not seen any of the show, as the first season aired opposite Burn Notice, and we don't have tivo. I suspected that Mad Men would appeal to me, as several members of the production team of The Sopranos are involved in the show. Still, holy crap, this show is great!

Mad Men is all about the Freudian id and ego of the well-off American male, during the early 1960s--a period when the uninhibited desires of men pretty much had free reign--and the fallout that the male id had on the more inhibited women of the same period. The show is set in a glamorous Madison Avenue ad agency, in a time when the advertising industry was viewed as sexy and hip (except maybe when Darren Stevens worked there). The ad industry in Mad Men cynically sold an illusion of happiness, even if the product was toxic (cigarettes in the first episode, which made me think of the movie Thank You For Smoking). There is a ton of overt sexist aggression and a fabulously politically incorrect amount of cigarette smoking. There are glimpses in Season One of some of the social changes that were to come about later in the '60s (the Pill, for one, and a few strong female character), but only glimpses thus far.

One thing that hit home was the deluded version of happiness that the agency was selling. How many of us have looked around at our relative prosperity, good educations, decent careers, and otherwise pretty good circumstances, yet felt somehow empty and unfulfilled? It's like our inner, subconscious selves are out of alignment with what our conscious minds tell us we are, and even more out of alignment with what we show of ourselves to the rest of the world. Classic Jungian neurosis, I suppose.

The central character is advertising artist Don Draper (Jon Hamm), who has a lovely wife and family and a house in the suburbs. Yet, as an artist, he has a bohemian side, so he has an artiste girlfriend in Greenwich Village. He also puts the make on a female department store, to whom he is attracted by her strength and her understanding of his detached, nihilistic worldview.

In terms of intelligence and production values, this show is on the level of The Sopranos and Dexter. DW agrees, and she noticed that the sexual content of the show is PG-13 at worst, even though there is a ton of skirt-chasing going on. I noticed that Season Two of Mad Men will be ending this week. I look forward to picking that up on DVD also.

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