A STORY OF SOCIAL EVOLUTION
how it came about, & how we can do the same
Human Science presents here a detailed analysis of Mad Men. The purpose is to bring out the process of social evolution in the story through a detailed analysis of events, characters, and principles of life. The analysis can thus become a mirror for us so that we can further develop as individuals and as a society.
Mad Men is an American television drama series created by Matthew Weiner. The show is broadcast in the United States on the cable network AMC, which also produces it. It premiered on July 19, 2007 and ended its first season on October 18, 2007. Its second season began on July 27, 2008. Mad Men has received considerable critical acclaim and won two awards at the 2007 Golden Globes, for Best Television Series -- Drama, and Best Actor in a Television Series --Drama for Jon Hamm.
Set in New York City, Mad Men takes place in the early 1960s at the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency on New York City's Madison Avenue and centers on Don Draper, a high-level advertising executive, and the people in his life in and out of the office. It also depicts the changing social mores of 1960s America.
The most successful ad executive at the Sterling Cooper Agency is handsome, indefatigable Don Draper who was not only expert at "playing the game" while servicing accounts ranging from cigarette manufacturers to political candidates, but was also an accomplished ladies' man, frequently and shamelessly dipping deep into the agency's all-female secretarial pool. It was crucial for Draper to always be at the top of his professional form, as there were scores of hungry young executives who were eager to topple him from his perch and become Sterling Cooper's new top dog.
The series evoked the manners and mores of the early sixties with pinpoint accuracy: the advertising business, like practically many other businesses of the time were male-dominated, with an overwhelming majority of whites, and few other minorities. Women in the firm are second-class citizens and sex objects, expected to be both subservient and "available." Honesty and integrity were mere words for too many. Nearly everybody drank and smoked to excess . Romantic affairs amongst the higher up was casual and frequent. (This was the status at this company; not necessarily all America, though many of these excesses occurred throughout the business world.)
Mad Men shows the subtle change in consciousness that occurred in the early 60s from a society of conformity to one of more creativity and individual expression. The mass smoking alone expresses this conformity, as does dress, manner of behavior, interests, and so forth. Gradually the beginnings of a new social consciousness emerges in the story (as well as the true history of that time). The show brings this out slowly and deliberately -- sometimes in such subtle ways that we hardly notice.
There was a vast change from the 50s to 60s, perhaps unprecedented in human history, and the beginnings of that change is captured in Mad Men. Woman’s liberation, race awareness, health consciousness, new youth movement, affect of the Beats, and later on the Hippies, all portending a shift in the perception of one’s place in society, what one can become, where the world was heading, etc. Many of the changes that can be seen developing here were later absorbed by a more educated dynamic, and aware American middle class that would emerge in the decades that followed.
This period has inherited the legacy of the Great Depression and WWII. Now with the WWII over, America is focused on becoming prosperous again; finally and most emphatically throwing off the shackles of poverty and malaise of the Great Depression. The story takes place with this heavily prosperity seeking, materialistic-oriented backdrop. In that environment, there is a sense of freedom to the extent that one is moving toward greater prosperity, not towards true individual expression, which would come later on. Prosperity and material goods is what everyone has in mind, and so collectively, the American society is oriented around those goals. The advertising agency can be seen as a kind of “front-end” of that materiality in that it creates slogans and graphics to allure people to buy the products that so many people are after during those times.
In this environment, important, emerging human values are put on the back burner – as the material ones are paramount. For Sterling Cooper the goal is to get as many good clients as possible. Concern for the staff is secondary. They are merely a means of achieving the goals. Honesty and integrity are merely given lip service. This is not new in society, but is reaffirmed during these material-centric times. And yet the society HAS evolved since the advent of the Industrial Revolution and therefore subconsciously wants more. Minorities want more; woman want more; even the traditional white male in the US wants more. These cracks in the material values toward the newer social values that would emerge in the 60s occurs in the background and the foreground of Mad Men.
Draper who uses all his skill in this material environment is gradually put in touch with new realities, putting him at the crossroads of these two worlds; -- i.e. the material, and the emerging new. As the old world begins to crack under the pressure of its own folly, it creates great difficulties, yet at the same time vast opportunities. As the old world begins to give in to the new during the early Kennedy era of youth and newness, Draper comes to grips with psychological issues of the past. Maybe we could say that he is a metaphor of the entire country beginning to understand their individual and collective past. The 1960s would usher in the greatest period of creativity, introspection, and self-scrutiny in modern history. It would arise out of the intense materialism that preceded it. Mad Men shows that transition in fine details.
Mad Men is the story of social evolution through greater social awareness that was beginning to take shape during those times. It is a world of conformity and material values moving toward greater individuality and new psychological values.
Creative director and eventual junior partner of Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency; Draper is the series' protagonist. Don Draper is a brilliant ad man and the award-winning star of Sterling Cooper — attracting and retaining major clients, commanding respect from those above and below him, being courted by rival firms, and generally living the picture-perfect good life of a successful businessman in the early 1960s. However, Don rarely seems happy with his "perfect" life: He is often stressed, drinks and smokes constantly, and is prone to spells of moodiness. While he appears to love his wife, he had a brief affair with client Rachel Menken and was previously involved with beatnik Midge Daniels. He has two children with his wife and appears to be an adoring father. However, when Pete Campbell threatened to expose his past, Don at least momentarily considered fleeing to Los Angeles and abandoning his wife and children. Bert Cooper makes him a partner after Roger Sterling's most recent heart attack.
By his own choice, little of his past is generally known; he was born Richard Whitman, the illegitimate child of a prostitute who died during childbirth. "Dick" lived with his father and his father's wife until he was 10, at which time his father, a drunk, was kicked in the face by a horse and died. His stepmother then "took up" with a new man, referred to as "Uncle Mac," and had another son named Adam (supposedly fathered by Don/Dick's father, though Adam was born after the death of Mr. Whitman and the appearance of Uncle Mac). During the rare glimpses into Don's past provided in the show we learn that his childhood was unhappy, and his stepmother never allowed him to forget that he was a "whore child" (see episodes "Long Weekend" and "Hobo's Code," Season One). During military service in the Korean War an officer named Don Draper was killed while the two were posted alone at an isolated base. Dick then switched identification tags with Lt. Draper and assumed his name, cutting off contact with his family and creating a new life for himself.
Don Draper's wife and mother of their two children, Sally and Bobby; classic '50s homemaker, with the added intrigue of a past as a professional model. Draper still cares deeply for her but has long since fallen out of love. Betty is obsessed with keeping up appearances and sees a psychiatrist. She's recently lost her mother, who also valued looks and appearances highly and encouraged Betty to stay slim so that she could attract a husband. Just as Don is, on the surface, the picture-perfect model of a successful early '60s businessman, Betty appears to be the model wife, but like her husband she sometimes expresses feelings of unfulfillment and dissatisfaction with her "perfect life". She is often lonely, as Don spends most of his days and nights in Manhattan working -- and seeing other women. Although Don sees her as an excellent, caring mother -- something he lacked in his own life -- he doesn't treat her as an equal adult companion the way he treats his mistresses. She knows nothing of her husband's true past, and wishes he were less remote and more involved in life at home. At the end of the first season, having deduced that her husband receives reports from her psychotherapist, she tells her psychotherapist that she has known for some time that her husband has affairs.
one of the two partners of Sterling Cooper, and a good friend of Don Draper. He is a former Navy man, whose father was also a partner at Sterling Cooper. He is cynical about the world he has helped to shape, which leads him to extensive womanizing and a degree of alcohol use that is excessive even by the standards of his co-workers. In the episode "Red in the Face" he makes a sexual advance on Draper's wife (while intoxicated); a suspicious Don's antagonizing of his wife for "giggling at [Sterling's] jokes" and for appearing interested in Sterling's war stories is relieved when Sterling later reveals that it was he who had initiated the flirtations. As a result of his lifestyle, Sterling suffers a heart attack while in the company of a young woman in the episode "Long Weekend." He suffers a subsequent heart attack in the following episode after coming into the office to assuage the concerns of the Lucky Strike executives. He has a wife named Mona, on whom he cheats regularly, and a teenage daughter named Margaret, with whom he struggles to communicate. For all his roguish qualities, he does command considerable affection from his co-workers and family. Following his heart attack, we learn that despite his philandering and outwardly callous attitude, he does love and appreciate his family, and wishes he was a better husband and father.
the ostensibly naive "new girl" at Sterling Cooper; Draper's new secretary. Her retiring nature belies a talent for advertising, a quiet determination to succeed, and a surprisingly utilitarian attitude toward relationships. On the night of his bachelor party, Pete Campbell shows up drunk at Peggy's doorstep, and she takes him in for the first of their sexual encounters. Peggy becomes "the first woman copywriter at this place since the War," much to Joan Holloway's bemusement and Pete Campbell's chagrin. In a gruff but ultimately caring fashion, Draper mentors and supports her as she transforms from wide-eyed secretary to one of the company's few non-secretarial female employees. Pete Campbell and others, however, subject her to some emotional abuse. Due to her success on two recent copywriting assignments, Draper gives her a raise and subsequently promotes her to junior copywriter, with her first account bringing her into more day-to-day contact with Campbell, who serves as the client's account manager. Throughout the first season Peggy visibly gains weight, which is occasionally commented on by other characters. In the final episode she gives birth to a son, and it is revealed that she was in psychological denial about the pregnancy.
young junior account manager who sexually pursues Peggy despite his recent marriage. He is not well liked by his immediate superiors, but is retained anyway because he comes from a formerly wealthy but still socially influential, long-established Manhattan family. While Pete has displayed talent at his work on several occasions, he is inordinately eager to advance, and is willing to utilize unethical tactics to do so. At one point he attempts to blackmail Draper into promoting him, threatening to reveal his real identity to Bertram Cooper. However, the ploy fails when Cooper responds with the scornful words, "Mr. Campbell... Who cares?" Pete treats most of the women he knows with veiled contempt and emotional abuse, particularly his wife and Peggy Olsen. Pete feels resentment toward his wife and her wealthy parents, who pay for their Manhattan apartment and agree to support a theoretical grandchild that Pete tells his wife he can't afford on his salary.
office manager at Sterling Cooper who acts as a professional and social mentor, as well as a rival, to Peggy. Joan relishes playing the role of femme fatale, and was engaged in an affair with Roger Sterling before his heart attack. An intelligent and capable woman, Joan loves the glamorous, sexy life she leads, saying of Manhattan, "This city is everything." Unlike Peggy, she doesn't strive to join the all-male cadre of Sterling Cooper's non-secretarial workforce, preferring to use her sex appeal to exercise control over the men around her. Joan is looking for a "more permanent arrangement", (i.e. husband, marriage, life in the suburbs), but despite her good looks and charm has yet to settle down. She is sexually active, and helps Peggy get a prescription for birth-control pills. She lives with a female roommate, a friend from college, who is secretly in love with Joan and made one failed attempt to initiate a romantic relationship.
Jewish head of a department store who becomes romantically involved with Draper after she comes to Sterling Cooper in search of an advertising agency to revamp her business' image. She is one of the kinder and more thoughtful people in Draper's world; their relationship becomes physically and emotionally close for a time, as he is able to tell her things he could never share with Midge Daniels or with his wife. When Don is blackmailed by Pete Campbell, he comes to Rachel with the suggestion that they run away together to Los Angeles. She reminds him of his duty to his children, and questions whether he would want to abandon his children after having grown up without a father. When Don persists, Rachel comes to the realization that he didn't want to run away with her, he just wanted to run away. She calls him a coward. Their friendship seems to collapse from that point on.
Paul Kinsey, Ken Cosgrove and Harry Crane
a copywriter, an account executive and a media buyer, respectively. They serve as Pete's entourage, seeming to spend more office time drinking, flirting and gossiping than working. Of the trio, Harry is the only one who is married. His wife, Jennifer, works at a phone company and they seem to have one of the few really happy marriages in the show. Harry flirts with women, but he's faithful to his wife until he has too much to drink at an office party, and suffers consequences. Ken has literary aspirations and has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, an accomplishment that elicits jealousy from Kinsey and Campbell. Paul has been involved with Joan in the past.
the Italian-American art director at Sterling Cooper. He is gay and in the closet, turning down a proposition from a Belle Jolie lipstick male employee midway through the season, admitting that he has thought about having relationships with men, but never acted on his impulse out of fear of discovery. He joins the other men of Sterling Cooper in their flirtations with the women in the workplace, in order to keep up the appearance that he is as interested in the opposite sex as they are. He speaks to his mother in Italian. She signs off their phone calls saying, "Ciao! Ciao!" In Season 2 Sal is married.
in a deft reference to his Tony award winning role playing a Vice-President in Charge of Advertising at a New York City firm in the 1961 Broadway play How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying): The Senior Partner of Sterling Cooper, a crafty old gentleman who is treated with considerable deference by Sterling and Draper. It is suggested that he knew Roger Sterling as a child, and keeps a picture of young Roger and Roger's father in his office. Cooper lectures Sterling about being dependent on smoking, and criticizes Draper for his love life (though not for his stolen identity). He has the erotic illustration The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife hung in his office and is a devotee of Atlas Shrugged and friend of its author, Ayn Rand. His office is decorated in a Japanese motif, and he requires visitors to remove their shoes before they enter his office, and also walks around the rest of Sterling Cooper in his socks. He is a very influential member of the Republican Party, and gets Sterling Cooper involved with the Nixon campaign. Cooper is not present in the office's day-to-day wranglings, but he is devoted to the business and quietly manages various challenges from behind the scenes.
One of Betty Draper’s closest friends and neighbors, spends most afternoons gossiping with Betty about the neighborhood's newest resident, a divorcee named Helen Bishop. Francine, married to a man named Carlton, has just had her baby. In the dead heat, she struggles to keep cool while her blouses constantly seep with breast milk. Soon, Francine confides to Betty that she thinks Carlton is having an affair. The clues -- secret phone calls to Manhattan and the fact that Carlton sleeps at the Waldorf two nights a week -- make her wish she could just poison him.
a pot-smoking art illustrator engaged in an affair with Draper. She is involved with the Beats and several proto-hippies, as well as making several references to Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Draper evidently ends their affair after he deduces that she is in love with someone else.
Herman 'Duck' Phillips
Director of Account Services at Sterling Cooper. He is hired by Draper at the end of season 1, in November 1960, to fill this vacant position, previously working at Y&R, a larger agency, in their London office. Draper hires Phillips over Pete Campbell. Phillips immediately challenges Sterling Cooper to broaden their clientele, seeking to attract airlines, automobile manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, and also mentions that Kodak is looking to advertise their new wheel, an account the agency wins. At the beginning of season 2, in February 1962, Phillips wants the agency to hire younger creative talent, a move that Draper resists.
Pete Campbell's wife. Trudy and Pete marry early in season 1 and purchase an apartment on Park Avenue, with the help of Trudy's parents. Trudy is dutiful to her husband, even when he asked her to visit and old beau to get a short story published. In season 2, she expresses her desire to have a child, a desire that Pete resists as he does not want to have children yet (not knowing that he already conceived a child with Peggy).
(thanks to AMC for the foundation of the following recap)
Don Draper is the creative director at Sterling Cooper, a Madison Avenue advertising agency. Don takes the lead on the firm's biggest accounts such as Lucky Strike. When the trade commission cracked down on tobacco health claims, he struggles to keep the Lucky Strike cigarette account from leaving the agency. He finds solace in the arms of the rebellious artist Midge -- instead of his beautiful wife Betty.
None the wiser, Betty supports her successful husband and raises their two children in the suburbs of New York. Her life might seem the picture of perfection until an odd condition in which her hands go numb leads her to crash her car and opt to see a psychiatrist, a taboo concept in the conservative Draper household.
Betty isn’t the only woman struggling. Don’s new secretary, Peggy Olson, gets a crash course in office politics from head secretary Joan, a fire-engine redhead with attitude and an curvaceous figure. Joan recommends succeeding in the “boy’s club” by showing a little leg, encourages her not to be overwhelmed by the typewriter’s technology and offers her a doctor who prescribes contraceptives to unmarried women.
This “boy’s club” is lead by up-and-comer Pete Campbell. He is on the verge of getting married, but that doesn’t stop him from being an insatiable flirt. Don even offers Pete man-to-man advice about how his playboy escapades will make it hard to climb the ladder. “You’ll die in that corner office, a midlevel exec with a little bit of hair who women go home with out of pity.” Still, when he sets his sights on Peggy, he won’t stop until he sleeps with her.
After putting out the fire with Lucky Strike, Don turns to a new account -- a Jewish-owned department store in Manhattan. Surprised to find a woman at the other end of the table – along with David Coen, a token Jewish employee from the mailroom – Don has little patience for Rachel Menken’s demands to turn her store into the next Chanel nor her distaste for his less-than-innovative idea to offer coupons to housewives. A private meeting over drinks, however, starts a romance that neither Don nor Rachel can control.
When Pete returns from his honeymoon, he truly believes he can be faithful, but it’s not long before he and Peggy have another romp in his office. After he makes a cutting remark at an office party, Peggy discovers that nearly every man in the office -- even the ad execs Paul, Ken and Harry -- sees her as merely a skirt.
The only exception is Salvatore, the Italian art director. He opts for a dinner with Elliot, a sales rep for one of Sterling Cooper’s accounts -- even when the beautiful switchboard operator Lois flirts with him -- but he’s still too nervous to take things to the next level.
Ken writes a short story that gets published in Atlantic Monthly, which makes Pete so jealous that he resorts to asking his wife Trudy to call in a favor from her publisher ex-boyfriend to get his own story in a magazine. Unfortunately, his is only good enough for Boy’s Life.
In time, Peggy also discovers a talent for copywriting when she takes part in a brainstorming exercise for the Belle Jolie lipstick account. Her shining moment comes when she calls a trashcan full of blotted tissues a “basket of kisses.” Her talent, and the fact that she has been filling out her unattractive dresses lately, make her the perfect candidate for another account, a panty-shaped weight-loss contraption that has a hidden benefit that makes women feel, well, fabulous.
Back at the Draper house, Betty and her friend Francine gossip about their new neighbor Helen Bishop, a divorcee with a 9-year-old son and a baby girl. Betty tries to be open to Helen’s friendship, and when Helen asks her to babysit her son Glen, she obliges. When Helen finds out that Betty has allowed Glen to keep a lock of her hair, however, Helen is disturbed. “What’s wrong with you?” she asks. Betty slaps Helen in retaliation.
Betty's problems deepen when Don is courted by Jim Hobart, an ad exec at McCann, who believes Don could get a higher salary and an international network of clients that include Pan Am and Esso. Determined, Jim even offers Betty -- the vision of Grace Kelly -- a modeling job for their Coca-Cola campaign. She accepts, eager to return to her former life as a working model, but when Don declines the job, she’s pulled from the gig and forced to return to life as a bored housewife.
Don, skeptical of the effects of her therapy sessions, calls Dr. Wayne. “After hundreds of dollars, all you’ve managed to do was make her more unhappy,” he says. Dr. Wayne suggests even more therapy for Betty.
At Sterling Cooper, the firm's partners Betram Cooper and Roger Sterling ask Don to consider working on the presidential campaign in support of a young, handsome navy hero named Dick Nixon. They struggle with how to make him appear better than John F. Kennedy. “Kennedy?,” Don says. “Nouveau riche, a recent immigrant who bought his way into Harvard. Nixon is from nothing. Abe Lincoln of California, a self-made man. Kennedy, I see a silver spoon. Nixon, I see myself.” Unfortunately, none of their big ideas help. Nixon, at the last minute of the election, loses.
Roger, a heavy drinker frustrated with his wife and depressed and anorexic daughter Margaret, spends his time away from work in hotel rooms with Joan. “Do you know how unhappy I was before I met you? I was thinking of leaving my wife.” He wants her all to himself, but she insists that her life single-in-the-city lifestyle can’t conform to his every whim. But when Roger suffers a heart attack after canoodling with a model in his office, she is devastated.
With Roger out of the office, Cooper makes Don partner, unaware that Don has been dealing with problems of his own. When Don's younger brother, the blue-collar Adam, shows up at his office calling him Dick Whitman, Don does everything he can to keep his former life a secret, including offering Adam $5,000 in cash to leave New York and never see him again. Apparently, Don’s past -- he was born to a prostitute, and when she died in childbirth, they delivered “Dick” to his father, a mean-spirited drunk, and his wife -- is worth hiding.
It’s not long before Don gets a package from Adam, filled with mementos and photographs of the two, and discovers that his brother hanged himself. Pete gets his hands on the package and tries to use it as leverage to get the now-open Head of Account Services title. So, when Don brings in Herman “Duck” Phillips for consideration, Pete tells Don what he knows -- according to a friend at the defense department, Dick Whitman died in Korea 10 years ago, and a man named Donald Draper dropped off the map. In fact, Don had gone to war to get away from his family, and when his lieutenant died in an explosion, he switched dog tags and returned to America a new man. Don recognizes the attempt at blackmail but doesn’t back down.
Realizing that Midge’s anti-establishment revolutionary personality is far too different than his, Don goes to Rachel with a sudden desire to go to Los Angeles with her for good. Sadly, she realizes that he doesn’t want to run away with her. He just wants to run away.
With no other option, Pete tells Cooper about “Don,” a deserter and criminal. Cooper, to everyone’s amazement, doesn’t care. “This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you’ve imagined here.”
Soon, the ad men’s lives all start to get even more complicated. Pete realizes that he has to use his family’s high-end connections -- like the new acne medication Clearsil --- to get ahead in business. Harry, after a spontaneous tryst with Pete’s secretary Hildy, gets kicked out by his wife and spends his nights sleeping in his office. Even Peggy, realizing her place in society, tries hopelessly to fit in. “Those people in Manhattan?” she says. “They are better than us. They want things they haven’t seen.”
Peggy’s luck begins to change when Don gives her a promotion, a new desk and the Clearasil account. Before she has time to celebrate, however, she grimaces with stomach pain and heads to the doctor. “You didn’t mention that you were expecting,” the doctor says to Peggy’s dismay. That night, a nurse brings a swaddled baby boy to Peggy. She just turns her head away.
Betty, planning for their Thanksgiving trip, is upset to discover Don won’t go. “I don’t understand why you can’t make my family your family,” she says. When she discovers that Francine’s husband is having an affair, she begins to wonder about her own husband. After some investigating, she discovers that Don has been calling her psychiatrist and decides to take control of the situation. At Dr. Wayne’s office, Betty talks about how Don doesn’t have a family and parades affairs in her face. “I can’t help but think that I’d be happy if my husband was faithful to me,” she says.
Meanwhile at Sterling Cooper Don is pitching a campaign to Kodak, a potential new client. They are looking for a promotional angle for their new slide projector. Don makes his presentation using the device. “This is not a spaceship, it’s a time machine,” he says. “It goes backwards and forwards, and it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called 'The Wheel,' It’s called ‘The Carousel.’ It lets us travel around and around and back home again.” He concludes with an image of him and Betty kissing on New Year’s. The Kodak clients cancel their meetings with other agencies and sign with Sterling Cooper.
As he rides the train back home to Ossining Don imagines arriving home as Betty and the kids have finished packing for their trip. “I’m coming with you,” Don says. Betty, emotional, watches as he picks up the kids, kissing their heads. When he really does arrive home he arrives to find the house empty. He sits on the steps and holds his head in his hands.
There is a wonderful “life response” moment in Mad Men – i.e. an instance of sudden good fortune precipitated by an individual’s expression of higher consciousness. In this scene the main character of the story, Don Draper, a top executive in the firm, is having a meeting with Peggy Olson, who is a first year junior copywriter, but has also played a vital role in the marketing campaign for one of Sterling Cooper’s important accounts. At this point Peggy comes into Draper’s office and subtly indicates that she now deserves a small raise after her success. Draper then responds that she should ask for it like a man, meaning that she should be more specific about what she wants. In other words, Draper cares about her and wants to give her what she deserves, but wants her to spell it out specifically. Peggy then says she wants a $5 raise. Draper smiles and is about to agree when suddenly the Senior Partner of the firm, Bertram Cooper, rushes in, interrupts their conversation, and drags Draper into his office. He then shocks Draper by offering him the position of senior partner in the firm, the highest position in the organization.
And why did this sudden good fortune come to Draper? Because earlier on, he showed deep concern for Peggy and asked her to spell out exactly what she deserved. That single gesture of generosity and goodwill attracts his boss in mid sentence and propels him to senior partner and co-head of the company! It is a precise demonstration that when we give of ourselves at critical moments or with the necessary intensity, life takes over and catapults us to the heights.