…………..Mad Men Casting Contest………………………………..The Wire (Wikipedia)………..

Tonight Mad Men returns.  I liked the show.  I liked it before it became popular.   (It’s not The Wire, but then, hey, what is, except The Wire.)

But now I fear for the youth of the country.  The photo on the left–which I believe I have legally downloaded from the Mad Men web site since it is an advertising gimmick, which is in itself pretty funny–says it all.  You can be in this photo.  And it seems that many people would very much like to be in it, at least judging by the Mad Men mania among the young, many of whom collected in Times Square tonight dressed in period costume.  The photo on the right is of a group of characters from The Wire, a show that struggled to stay on the air.  (Its last season overlapped with the first season of Mad Men.)  It never found a large following in its five seasons, although today it is considered by many critics and viewers to be the finest TV series ever produced.  It is set in present-day Baltimore and one of the things that it is about is how America is broken.  It is highly unlikely that The Wire could have advertised itself by holding a contest that says, you can be in this photo.

Mad Men is great fun.  The acting, the clothing, the furniture, the nicknacks, and that wonderful lighting.   And of course the show is dutifully critical of aspects of the period that it portrays.  As a matter of fact, the narrative arc was apparently meant to swing from the uptight and hypocritical 1950’s to the liberation of the ’60’s.  But something perverse seems to have happened or be happening.  In our dark economic times the atmosphere and staging of the show are becoming the message.  And this message seems to be: it’s kind of okay to forget about how awful and repressive the 1950’s and early 60’s were if its artifacts provide the fantasy or eye candy that we need in order to escape from our own times.  I know, you are going to say that I am going too far.  It’s not the TV show’s fault if it’s seductively adorned.

A short personal sidebar.   I was a child in the 1950’s and a young adolescent in the early 1960’s, yet I can still feel the claustrophobia of the period.  I can tell you that offices were rarely glamorous.  They were enclaves of sexism and repression.  I remember working in one as a mailboy in my teens.  Men were stuffed into cubicles or small offices.  Women worked in outer areas as secretaries–a version of what you see in Mad Men.  The hierarchy was fixed.  I can swear that the men spent half their time either making passes at the secretaries or making juvenile sexual jokes about them, which were not much different from what I heard in the high school locker room.  If I were a girl at the time, I would have said “ick.”  (Of course, I couldn’t actually say, “ick,” or I would have been seen as a sissy.)  What about the clothing, you ask.  Let me tell you, when you actually had to wear this sort of clothing day in and day out or be ostracized for not wearing it, it wasn’t any fun.  (I had to wear skinny ties in a public school until the late 1960’s.)

Perhaps I am getting worked up over nothing.  After all doesn’t the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, feel much as I do about the period?  But I am not the first to suggest that Weiner may be conflicted regarding his own creation.  (See Natasha Simons.)   The period is romanticized even as it is criticized.  Let’s be clear, the romance is a mistake.  The period was so bad that if I invented a time machine I would make sure that it would self-destruct before it could take anyone back into it.  From this perspective, the Mad Men contest photo does not appear innocuous.  It’s not simply suggesting: wouldn’t it be fun to be on a TV show.  It’s suggesting: wouldn’t it be a blast to be back in that time, when, to paraphrase Ogden Nash, candy was dandy but liquor was quicker.

This season Mad Men will present us with the trials and tribulations of a bunch of middle class folks struggling to build their own business in a day when the economy was still booming.  Escapism surely has its place.  But as we enjoy the accouterments of the characters’ life styles, I wonder how much time we will spend focusing on how far their world actually is from ours.  Which brings me back to The Wire, in which the drug of choice is heroin, not liquor, and upward mobility is not about getting a corner office but avoiding the coroner.  We don’t really want to watch The Wire.  It presents a political and economic system that is ill-equipped to grapple with depth of the corruption that plagues various strata in our society.  It doesn’t provide any eye candy and it certainly doesn’t hold out the hope of a world in which our homes and offices are bathed in sunlight.  If you are going to watch the fourth season of Mad Men, and you haven’t seen The Wire, it might be an interesting experiment to view them together.

73 thoughts

  1. This is kind of similar to the reason I never watched The Sopranos. I couldn’t understand the romanticising of an organized crime family. “Oh, hey, they’re just like you. Isn’t that cool?”

  2. For an 80’s version of MAD MEN, “in skirts,” check out my blog (just started, so there are only 5 entries so far.) Hope you enjoy and pass along? Thnx. B&B>M.

  3. There is good and bad in every period of time. Time is not linear. We are not an arrow on course to progression. To say an entire period of time is to awful to return to is ridiculous.

  4. I’ve been thinking about this issue for a long time, and I have to say that you nailed it for me. To me, The Wire represents the apex of everything a TV drama can do, and though I enjoy watching Mad Men, it never feels nearly as fulfilling. The Wire goes so deep into so many corners of our social fabric — class, race, and education, to name just a few — whereas Mad Men skims the surface; its accuracy, as you point out, has less to do with social mores than with props. (All of this is to say that I enjoyed your post very much!)

  5. I love both series but for very different reasons. I agree that The Wire may have been one of, if not the very best show ever made.

    And as you have eloquently pointed out, Mad Men is about escapism. I don’t find that to be nearly as much of a problem as the people who want to believe that circa 50’s and 60’s America was the golden age of America are a problem. In other words, the far right.

    Excellent, thought provoking post.

    1. It’s funny to me how you stereotyped all those who would be labeled as “far right” and claimed that we all believe the 50’s and 60’s as the golden age.

      You stereotyped all the far right and criticized us for generalizing a time period. Perhaps there’s a little truth, but not entire truth, in either assumption.

      A generalized stereotype criticizing a generalized stereotype. Interesting.

  6. *Sigh* I love Mad Men. I have no idea what that era was like except for what I see in T.V & movies, and read. But it does seem like it was more simple- ya know- without all this crazy technology that can sometimes cause and get you into trouble. I wouldn’t mind being able to go back in time and see what it was really like.

  7. I am not a Mad Men watcher, I do feel for you over this concern though. It is common for people to have a selective memory of what the past is like, or for people who have never lived it make up this rose tinted idea on what it should be, disregard all the negatives, and whine about how “nowadays we are a bad society in comparison”.

    Because I can’t wait to get back to the good old days when I’d be forced married out at the age of 10, get legally raped and die of childbirth before reaching my teenage.

  8. This is an interesting critique. I could never get into Mad Men to be honest. The one thing about the show I really enjoyed were the actual ad board room scenes where they figure out marketing strategies. I was very intrigued by that, but the characters fell flat, and I was much less charmed by the sets, costumes, atmosphere than others. I think that the 50 year old movie The Apartment did this for me much better.

    Does it romanticize this era? Yes, but perhaps if it didn’t it simply wouldn’t get viewership. Like you said, the Wire was a rather gritty depiction of our modern world, and it struggled for viewership. However, the Wire continued for 5 years despite this and is definitely considered a success today. Perhaps Mad Men will fall short in maintaining popularity after its run; who knows?

  9. Mitchell- Great post. I would have to say that I am actually rather new to Mad Men, having only watched one and a half seasons—but I’m slowly on my way to catching up. I actually think that the deeper message, or at least why I find the show interesting, is not just the portrayal of an old era, but actually doing so in a way that reminds us we’re in almost exactly the same place now.

    When I first started watching the show I was actually a little put off. Here is a show that creates a cast of characters that encapsulate the worst qualities of American society. Kind of disheartening. A bunch of men who drink too much, cheat on their wives and devote the better part of their daily lives to standing as business icons in a city dominated by corporate allure. The women, with some exceptions, represent the hardships of a male-dominated society and dealing with that both at home and at the workplace. Issues of segregation, divided socio-economic castes, and a society driven by a culture of product consumption also find their way in.

    The viewer has a tendency to say “wow it was kind of bad back then in the 50’s and 60’s” because the story happens to be set decades behind us, but the truth is that how many of those problems have we really solved? Some have arguably gotten worse. Most of our marriages still fail. We are still hopelessly committed to working long hours and driven to make money. More than ever, we are a nation that consumes products in an endless hope to accumulate “things.”

    Mad Men may be a recounting of the 60’s, but I see it as a commentary on present day society, reminding us of our lethargy in advancing to new societal norms.

  10. Wow. Thanks for your perspective. I love the show, but never though of it from the perspective of someone who actually lived it. I understand now why my grandfather’s secretary was so angry all the time. You are right. Highly oppressive for men and women. So I’ll keep watching, but with a different eye. 😉 Thanks.

  11. You have a very interesting perspective on this. I like it. It’s really our nature to romanticize our past, though. A great example is Woodstock. It wasn’t this celebration of peace and free love that it’s been turned into in our collective memories (especially if we weren’t actually around when it happened). I can admire Mad Men for setting out to portray its era somewhat accurately, so it is sad when the fantasy takes over and cheapens the original idea.

    You know what we all need? A good laugh to lighten things up a bit. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLkIPt0VeYU

    Have a good day!


  12. Hi Mitchell,

    I love Mad Men and I’m a huge fan but it doesn’t want me to quantum leap back to the early 60s.

    I think many enjoy Mad Men because of its exploration of characters.

    In terms of setting, yes it’s neat to see the old clothes but I’m glad I don’t live in a time where everyone was smoking and unknowingly poisoning one another.

    Also, if you’ll recall in the first episode where Peggy was told to go on the pill basically out of necessity, though I guess that failed her at some point.

    Anyways, I think people dressing up is more of homage to the brilliance of the show and not as much the era, perhaps.

  13. I agree, “Mad Men” is a set- and costume-designer’s eye-candy, and does romanticize the period it portrays (since it takes place in Manhattan, NYC, possibly the most romanticized city in the world.) However, it’s also basically a soap opera, albeit with more realistic characters. “The Wire” is a character drama as well, but not at all in the same style.

    Also, in terms of television exposure: “The Wire” was originally featured on HBO (and I’m not sure if it’s been syndicated yet?) whereas “Mad Men” has always been available on AMC, which I think is part of a standard cable package. And “The Wire” might have just pre-dated the more widespread activity now of illegal television-program-episode downloading, meaning it could also reach fewer people, legally or otherwise. I don’t know what the stats are of HBO subscription or how much that affects potential viewership (after all, I’m sure “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” convinced a number of people to buy HBO), but it should be taken into consideration as far as “The Wire”‘s struggle with viewership.

    I agree that it’s unfortunate that people always gravitate toward the “pretty” TV, the escapist rather than the realist, but that is also why people tend to watch TV in the first place. Not to mention that good TV and popular TV are rarely the same thing. See: American Idol.

  14. Thank you for this insightful analysis!I’m glad someone finally said it :). As a black woman I have no taste for shows like “Mad Men” which if they presented true to the 1950s-60s wouldn’t feature a person of color unless they were pushing a broom not to mention the virulent sexism of this era. I must confess I also have a problem with shows like The Wire (and I love the show!) only because they’re are so few Black dramas on TV (if any) that present Black folks being sucessful at something besides selling drugs or chasing drug dealers. The black middle class & blue collar workers have been so de-valued by our curremt era, unless we’re portrayed in a Tyler Perry movie.I’d love to see some equal time given to a Black TV series that shows us doing something besides running from the police or engaged in slapstick comedy.

    1. Take a glance at the TNT show Memphis Beat sometime. While it is just a typical television drama, and by no means revolutionary like The Wire or Mad Men, I find it amusing that out of 4 episodes so far (I’m one week behind, admittedly), only ONE of those has had an African-American as the perpetrator of crime.

      With Memphis being 61% Black, this isn’t even statistically probable/accurate, not even counting for the fact that Memphis has been ranked as the second most dangerous city for violent crimes in America.

      So it goes both ways. While television is inaccurate at portraying African-Americans in a solely negative light, it’s also guilty of often stepping around the issue and portraying African-Americans in an inaccurate positive light at times for fear, no doubt, of being criticized for stereotyping.

      If you’ll visit or live in Memphis, as I have, I think you’ll find, in opposition to what Memphis Beat seems to portray, 3 out of 4 crimes are not committed by caucasians either.

      1. @Ginger actually it doesn’t go both ways, given the fact that TV shows are primarily white (with perhaps 1 token black character). And since they are primarily white the number of TV crime shows such as “Law and Order” and comedies featuring people of color is overwheming. As an African American I’d just like a level playing field: if you’re going to have a show like “The Wire” that’s primarily Black (portraying Black folks either selling drugs or as cops chasing drug dealers) then where is Black drama that presents African Americans as doctors, lawyers teachers? If the situation were reversed and you never saw caucasians on TV except in trailer parks how would that make you feel? Movies are even more skewed. If I had a nickle for every movies made within the last decade with no Black characters at all I’d be rich. I’d like to see media with Latino, Native American Black, Asia — in short every racial ethnic group that lives in the diverse nation I was born in. But I guess for some folks that’s too much to ask.

  15. I only found this blog because it was on the WordPress freshly pressed page, but I just want to say I had a really good time reading this. I have watched Mad Men, also before it was popular. I have never seen The Wire but I hear how amazing and groundbreaking it is. (I plan to watch it) I think part of the appeal is that with The Wire, it can’t be something used to escape the woes of our society, in fact those struggles get magnified. It’s not something many people want to consciously be aware of because that means A) trying to make a difference about it or B) feeling guilty about not making a difference about it.

    1. Or a C) option: it’s just not amusing/pleasant and we want to enjoy watching TV. I don’t feel guilty, it’s just not pleasant to view.

  16. I thought Mad Men took a big turn for the worse in season 3, and everything I’ve read about season four suggests the same problems remain. The characters became lifeless cliches. The writing was aimed to shock. There was no narrative coherence. It basically became a soap, and barely a good one at that.

  17. Hmn… interesting point. I, personally, like Mad Men simply because it’s so stylized. It’s the same reason I like the movie Marie Antoinette, and romanticized stories about the reign of the Czars: even though I know that they were all horrible periods in history, there is something that is more distinctive about them than our current day and age. Or maybe it’s just me.

  18. This tidbit:

    “They were enclaves of sexism and repression….Men were stuffed into cubicles or small offices….I can swear that the men spent half their time either making passes at the secretaries or making juvenile sexual jokes about them…”

    I don’t understand how this is supposed to be an insight to how the show isn’t accurately represented. That’s IS what the show is about. It’s true to the time. The women are all sexually objectified on the show. The only female character whose life isn’t revolving around a man is Peggy, but her work life is solely dependant of Don and his opinion of her. None of the women on the show have an identity other than being a sex pot.

    To criticize the show for this simply accomplishes Matthew Weiner’s goal: breaking rules with a well made TV show. You can’t complain about historically accurate representation.

  19. I think it is very clear that Matthew Weiner is criticizing the time period and also criticizing ours with his creation. Beyond that his characters transcend any time period or archetype. Each is dynamic enough that they are highly relateable even when they are behaving horribly. If you can’t get past the time period to the depth and splendor of what Mad Men really is it must be deliberate. I suggest you look at it again and don’t think about the tie you had to wear while you’re watching.


  20. This is a silly article because Mad Men is more dark than it is glamorous. There is ALWAYS a dark underbelly beneath the scenes with gowns, tuxedoes, drinking and laughing. There are always CONSEQUENCES for this behavior. Every rich person on the show is miserable or damaged in some way.

    And everyone who criticizes the show as inaccurate forgets that this was MANHATTAN, not a small town. Most of these characters ARE the “elite” (in societal terms), so even though they don’t resemble your boss and your co-workers during that period, doesn’t mean that on Madison Ave. in Manhattan, which was ensconced in pretty much the hub of commerce and wealth in America at that time, they didn’t act this way.

    Which is not to say it’s a docu-drama, it’s not. The Wire IS (or at least much closer to) a docu-drama and its milieu and style is a complete 180 from Mad Men. Apples and oranges. Yes, we should all watch The Wire because it’s quality television, but not because it has anything to do with Mad Men.

    Finally, your “sidebar” completely affirms the show’s intentions rather than refuting them as you intended.

    Do you watch the show?

    Telematic Dan! The Best in Television

  21. I was not a fan of the wire and was more attached to the shield. I have not watched Mad Men in its entirety but I think the sexism and conformity of the era is more subtle in the experience and choices of the characters reveal their frustrations with the strata of advertising, image, and society in America. Although it doesn’t include much input from minorities in Mad Men although it could mean a white washed vision of the world through advertisement.

  22. I am not a child of the fifties but I want to in some way redeem this rising enchantment with Mad Men and that time period. Men lack confidence now, not just in regards to women, but in what we are supposed to be doing with life. I would call my generation a disenchanted one that is seeking to redress the attitude of today. We want to speak confidently, assert our will and rid ourselves of that plague which makes us all mice by virtue of laying out distinct boundaries of action. We’re not opposed to boundaries in general but rather to emasculating ones. Boundaries that all entail deprecation to previously oppressed people in order to avoid offense. We’re tired of worrying or feeling guilty and dammit, we want to dress nicely.

    This does not mean that we want to act in a racist or sexist manner but it is because we really have never had the desire to act in such a way that we’re upset with always being told to be careful not to. We worry: What if I do something that’s misconstrued? Will I get crucified by public opinion? And because we worry, we shrink.

    And… the wire is a great show.

      1. What an interesting comment. Something I might say because I remember the Cary Grants and Gregory Pecks, but you’re so young!!!

        Where have all the men gone? Hollywood is now made up of darling guys, but they’re boys. Invariably the female looks and acts older than the guy she’s cast opposite.

        I’ll have to watch Mad Men to see if they got back those “men.”

  23. Mad Men is fun because it reflects an era when people still cared about how they dressed in public. I think that is one of the big appeals of the show and why fans love to dress up and have Mad Men cocktail parties. Nowadays, you see people going to the ballet in shorts and t-shirts. Don’t even get me started on how people dress to go to the grocery store. Yes, there were many bad elements in the timeframe and I do think the writers are careful to incorporate some of those into the show. My teenage nieces love the 80s….glitter rock, big hair and all, and yet it was a time where AIDS obliterated an enormous part of the creative community. Any show that gets people excited about dressing up should be applauded. And really, the show is about an advertising agency, a truly glamorous job at the time. I love the show. Would I want to go back and live in the era? No. But I would dress up in those sexy outfits anytime.

  24. I never watched The Wire since I never bought premium cable. But it sounds interesting and worthwhile to view.

    I hated the Sopranos but I love Mad Men. I don’t see how this time was so horrible. It was bubbling with impending change, cultural stresses. It was on the brink of a feminist movement and attempts at racial equality. We can learn where we came from in the repressive underpinnings found in Mad Men, and understand our times better.

    Mad Men may be eye candy but it shows us how beauty is truly skin deep; scratch any of the characters and you find pain and darkness.

    I don’t want to feel guilty because I watch a show with rich, pretty people in these bad economic times. So many people are struggling economically now, but the Man Men show is loaded with morally bankrupt people. As it has been with any time in history you may look back on.

    No I don’t want to be in my doctor’s office and have him or her come into the examining room smoking a cigarette. But what a contrast in cultures it was to see this on TV. And what fun to talk about it the next day at work.

  25. Thanks for the thoughtful topic. I watch MadMen but can only take an episode at a time. It’s too emotionally draining. I grew up in that sterile family, even though I was ashamed of my dad for a time because he wasn’t in advertising. Every other dad, in our Conn. suburb, was. There wasn’t much romantic about the time. The show seems very clear and accurate about what was going on. Betty telling her maid, Carla, maybe ‘Negros’ should wait, is classic. Women were abused – as they are on the show. The only insight, I’m getting – is that a man had no support – he was out there all alone with society’s BS about his position. –Lynn

  26. I agree with you completely. However, isn’t this the direction that Hollywood and America have gone to, and are becoming?

    We romanticize everything ~ and if it isn’t possible we throw it under a blanket and hope no one sees it. Why? Because it isn’t pretty.

    I stopped watching TV years ago, and when I try to watch TV now ~ the sarcasm and complete lack of genuine character blow me away.

    But America is not entertained by anything less, and so it continues.

    One of my very closest friends suggested The Wire to me months back. Finally, with a lot of coaxing (and red wine) he was able to get me to sit still long enough to watch it. Excellent show. I find it both intelligent and intriguing that you match Mad Men against it.

    The one time I sat down to watch Mad Men ~ I was so infuriated by the second show that I turned it off. I have better things to do. Are the clothes great? Of course! Are the characters attractive? Always! But that’s normality these days. Good story line ~ a rarity.

    Not everyone is entertained by this kind of entertainment ~ and that gives me hope.

  27. i like both shows (and the sopranos which was mentioned above). they are well made productions that present multi-faceted characters. mad men is more idealized aesthetically than the others but the character interactions are what make the show great

  28. You know i have never really watched Mad Men but i think its not much diffrent from The Godfather movies is it? I mean i watched the Godfather movies with great relish and never mind watching them again. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

  29. This is an interesting issue. On the one hand, I’ve always loved how this show presents slick, glossy surfaces while ALSO exposing the rotten corruption and darkness lurking beneath. It’s kind of the whole point! But with the recent widespread popularity, some viewers probably only see (and glamorize) the surfaces. Some viewers will never get all that’s intended. The question is: have the writers/creators backed off on fully showing the darkness beneath? I’m not sure they have…. but that’s a danger with mainstream success. Food for thought! (And yeah: you’re right: ONLY “The Wire” will ever be “The Wire.”)

  30. However, I’m not sure of Mr. Weiner’s intent, but some art is to send a message, some is just for pleasure. Some art can be both.

    I find Mad Men wonderful — yes, primarily for the styling of it, but also for the message. There are consequences to actions.

    And for those who think that we’ve come such a far way. Yes, now women aren’t objectified by men. They cheapen themselves. Men don’t have to force themselves upon women anymore. We’re happy to show them our boobs, go home with them from bars. No need for them to say a rude comment under his breath or to his buddies. He can say it right outloud to us! And we call this a sexual revolution. Ha! We can both cheat on each other — men AND women, and be proud of our unfaithfulness. No silly standards to worry with! Broken families are acceptable!

    Women don’t have to stay at home and take care of her children. Men and women both can both work 70 hour work weeks and pay our salary to the nanny to raise our children instead. Then, we can wake up years later, our children not knowing us, us not knowing them, but our work will throw us a obligatory retirement party with a cake from the grocery store and some awkward small talk from collegues holding their punch cups.

    Men still drink, but now women can too! We don’t have to stay in unhappy marriages! We can divorce and be unhappy! We don’t have to be stuck with uncomfortable ties around our necks! We can go to the airport with our bellies and behinds hanging out of our pajamas!

    Is our world really so much better off?

    Freedoms are only liberating if they are what we really want. Is this what we really want??

    1. Freedom means choice. It means the ability to make a choice about whether you want to work or stay at home. Whether you want to drink or not. Freedom doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. I would definitely take this era over the 50s/60s any day, and that includes all the unhappiness, dissatisfaction and pain that comes with freedom.

  31. This is a very interesting perspective, and I’m glad to see it made it to the front page of WordPress today.

    Interestingly enough, watching “Mad Men” actually makes me GRATEFUL that I never lived in the 50s and 60s!! The rampant racism, sexism and classism of the time definitely does not appeal to me, and I love the show for its dissection of human ugliness rather than any semblance of nostalgia for an era I (thankfully) missed. Since I never experienced a world without feminism or Affirmative Action or the Civil Rights Movement, it sheds a light on how far we’ve come as a society…and how far we still need to go for people to be accepted as equals.

    The most interesting conversations my friends and I have about “Mad Men,” incidentally, involve drawing parallels of “their” social issues with “our” social issues. For example, Sal never had any sort of protection when he was wrongly fired for not succumbing to a client’s sexual advances. Today, he could have easily sued for wrongful termination. But…Draper’s dismissal of him as one of “you people” could potentially ring true today. Although homosexuals enjoy far more social acceptance now than they did in the 60s, many still echo the attitude of disgust present in his voice.

    This is, of course, just one of many examples. There’s plenty more issues regarding gender, race and class that crop up and help us look back on how things today came to pass. And, hopefully, allow us to ponder how to solve the problems we still face when it comes to these factors.

    “Mad Men” boasts plenty of valuable sociopolitical messages beneath the slick surface. As one of the “youth of this country” (if you count 25 youthful, anyways), I believe you have less to fear than you may originally thought. Many of us – or, at least, nearly every fan I know – don’t look back on the trappings of the 50s and early 60s with fondness. Rather, the show should be considered a well-dressed warning sign about what we could become if we don’t do our best to fight discrimination and promote social justice in the world.

  32. I don’t understand all this Wire hype. I watched Season 1 and it no way compares to the awesomeness that is Mad Men, The Sopranos, or Six Feet Under.

    The Wire – I just don’t get it.

  33. I’m finishing up The Wire as we speak and I’m about to watch Season 3 of Mad Men. FO the last few months, I’ve been going back and forth between the two shows and the contrast is unbelievable.

  34. Mad Men isn’t The Wire, but The Wire isn’t Homicide: Life on the Street.

    I think Mad Men works as a great show because it’s not present day. It has an allure that probably wouldn’t be felt the same way if the same show had been during the period in history that it portrays.

  35. I’ve never watched Mad Men and I already feel like that’s what it’s like, I only hear people talking about the clothes and the glamour but I never hear anyone criticizing how women or minorities were treated… which I suppose was meant to be a big part of the show?
    But hey, aren’t we all humans, we look at what makes us happy and put a blind side to the rest. Sad but true.

  36. It is set in present-day Baltimore and one of the things that it is about is how America is broken.”

    No, see, once Obama got into office it became very unpopular to say anything about “America” was broken. He’d fixed everything. The zeitgeist became that it was a new day, never mind that unemployment doubled and the deficit increased 150 times and all the other disasters. Same reason West Wing ended. They didn’t need an imaginary president anymore because they had an imaginary one in the White House.

  37. Beautifully written! I enjoy Mad Men as a 1960s baby…the soap opera drama is in some sense secondary to the snapshot of the style of that time. In any case, I’m going to go find season 1 of the Wire. Treid to watch it early on but found it too dark. Will try again.

  38. While I think there are some great points in your post and I was thrilled to read it, I don’t think that it’s all that applicable. Consider the reasons why you watch TV in the first place, regardless of the content — you watch for some interest, entertainment, boredom, etc. All TV is exaggerated even down to the worthless reality shows on MTV, so why complain about one of them deviating from the standards of another unrelated, lesser known show? The Wire is not an acceptable representation of America and her brokenness nor is Mad Men; they only capture one facet of our national identity or history. Despite knowing this, I’ll still watch because it’s fun and interesting.

    Thanks for a good post and great conversation.

  39. most tv shows are fluffed up in some way, and isn’t that the purpose? as a viewer I want to be entertained and Mad Men, for me, does that. More fluff please! thanks for the post!


  40. You are completely right. I recently watched season 1 through 3 of Mad Men and being 22, I was fascinated by it all. Even the smoking, which I have grown up knowing was bad for me, just seemed so fun. I have to remind myself as I am watching it though that I would never had a chance to be a Mad Men, I, along with every other one of my friends, probably would have been a Betty or truthfully, a less well-off housewife. I feel the show would not have succeeded as much with women without the character of Peggy, because just like people do, most women of today can watch the show and think, ‘yes, I’d be the Peggy,” but how many Peggy’s were there really?

  41. Um, for all the vaunted arresting “realism” of THE WIRE, I found it pretty dramatically hokey (or creaky, more like it) in terms of writing. Yes, the venality and corruption is brutally revealed—yippee for muckraking (really)—but it is not nearly as great a show as some seem convinced.

    MAD MEN, I like, but don’t adore the show. Don’t all period shows of any time always have a love/hate=exploitation relationship with the accoutrements and details of their settings?
    I almost wonder if in comparing the two shows, people dislike MAD MEN’s all-too-real AMBIVALENCE toward success (fully shown), as opposed to THE WIRE’S more generally like all-around unlikeable characters.

    And I grant you. WIRED does show the morally-compromised universe we all live in, which we should be aware of, but I don’t learn much about myself from it, which is at least slightly less true of MAD, even if I am a child of a later period.

  42. To say Mad Men glamorizes the 1950s and 1960s seems to be missing the entire point of the show. Perhaps we are watching two different shows, but I find the period displayed to be maddeningly depressing and dark with a very thin sugar coating on top of it all – much like the actual period itself.

    Everyone is trapped into playing a part – Don Draper so trapped he has imagined his entire identity!

  43. I probablly get the flames for this, but idc. I really like the show, & I realize that they had bad stuff back then, but all eras had their bad stuff. Point is I would totally live back then if I could. I hate the world that I live in now. I mean, ppl are always up in your face about stuff that that shouldn’t even matter to them, & they be all like how it’s for your own good & crap. Everyone acts like we have oh so much more freedoms now, when really we just have more restrictions. “Don’t smoke, don’t drive that car, don’t shop there, don’t listin to that person, don’t eat that it’s bad for you, ect,” omg I wish everyone would just go away & let me decide for myself. Really, other than the tech stuff, which is totally cool btw, this place sucks.

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