On Not Watching 'Mad Men'

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

by Alyssa Rosenberg

I always feel guilty as a guest-blogger when my host says he hopes I'll write about something I'm at a loss on, and so I got a sinking feeling on Monday, knowing I'd have to crush TNC's eagerness for me and Mad Men. Truth is, I bought the first season on iTunes some time back, got distracted, and never returned. I'm sure I should be watching the show, I know that, and yet, because I grew up largely without watching television, and entirely without cable, there are so many other shows I want to get to first. I want to finish Homicide and start My So-Called Life. I wish I could download several decades of British television directly into my brain. There's just so much I have to see so I can understand television better, so I can see how it fits together and articulate what the things we watch mean. Mad Men feels like a luxury when I haven't finished Spooks, and House of Cards, or gotten to what I'm told are the good seasons of Angel.


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And honestly, after a childhood spent obsessed with the era, I'm just not as interested in the early 1960's as I used to be. What I would love, though, would be a Wire-style show about radical movements and the federal agents who were hunting them down. The hysteria over President Obama's connection to Bill Ayers would probably make it a hard sell. But the increasing radicalization of young leftists and the hardening attitudes of COINTELPRO makes for a fascinating story.

It's the subject of the best, most nuanced documentary I've seen in a long time, The Weather Underground. Watching people make terrible decisions out of great love and fierce political convictions, decisions that lead them to kill both themselves and other people, and then seeing them isolated, failed, lost, imprisoned, repentant, rebuilding their lives as math professors and bartenders is intensely compelling stuff. I want to be clear, I don't think killing people because you think you have a right to rob an armored truck in the name of the revolution makes you a hero. It makes you vile. But so does running a violent drug operation. And if we deserve a great show about the War on Drugs and the decay of our urban institutions, one about a moment of national insanity in multiple directions that opened up still-raw wounds in our politics just might fly. Especially if it's also a great police procedural.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/08/on-not-watching-mad-men/61011/