I still haven't watched more Mad Men - I will, I promise! - but the fact that it inspires articles like this one isn't exactly encouraging. Writing for The Nation, Anna McCarthy makes the show sound like The Sopranos meets Pleasantville - a glossy, tedious exercise in ex post facto liberal condescension. Mad Men, she writes, is "concerned with demonstrating the progress we've made in gender relations since the alienated years before the women's movement," and with dramatizing "the disaffection of midcentury suburbia's 'lonely crowd' and the oppressive expectations of the feminine mystique," not to mention "the hatefulness of conformist WASP culture." (Such dramatic conceits are hackneyed enough at this point that even a Nation writer like McCarthy can recognize that they "are not terribly original," and gently suggest that may be "more revealing as a window onto the present, exposing what 'cutting-edge' popular entertainment considers the cultural gains and losses of the past fifty years.")
Then she whips out this hum-dinger of a conclusion:
Maybe, and perhaps wholly unconsciously, Mad Men signals a desire to return to a time when advertising, and the consumer culture it helped sustain, represented the vitality of Western democracy and the deeper moral meanings of capitalism. The perception that consumption is patriotic is still around, part of the arsenal of ideas used to gain support for the "war on terror," but it's becoming increasingly hard to stomach, especially as bankruptcy and foreclosure rates rise. Automobile ownership, planned obsolescence and the pure plastic perfection of Tupperware were once part of a battle against totalitarianism, American weapons of containment in the cold war. Nowadays, they are part of a global image problem, one that all the President's admen may be powerless to fix.
Dana Stevens, call your office.