Revisiting earlier impressions of Mad Men

In March 2012, as the fifth season of Mad Men got underway, I wrote about the show for the blog to which I contributed at the time. My perspective on the issues raised by the show is now sharper, more complicated, and better informed, thanks largely to this collection of critical essays, and if I were to write about Mad Men now I’d have to tackle some of those issues. This post is largely a matter of personal impressions—but those, after all, are part of everyone’s response to the show. (Incidentally, anyone who has yet to experience the show at all will find nothing essential spoiled here.) I’ll let these rather limited remarks stand and add one further thought. With just two episodes left, we still aren’t sure—or at least I’m not—how to interpret the show’s title sequence. Don Draper enters his office, suitcase in hand; his surroundings collapse, and he finds himself falling, through towering buildings and a collage of ad-like images. It suggests that the character is heading for a fall, yet the sequence ends by restoring him to stability, comfortably reposing on a couch. Does Don always land on his feet—or, more precisely, on his seat?

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Mad Men: Still Smokin’?

Did people really smoke that much? This was one of my first two responses when I sat down to watch Mad Menfrom the beginning on DVD two years ago: it could’ve been called That Cigarette-Smoking Show. In much of America, the slate has now been wiped so clean—a process begun by the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, dealt with in Season Four of Mad Men—that it’s hard to believe the clouds we used to live and work in. But it’s true: in 1965, after that unsettling report, 23 percent of American adults smoked a pack or more a day. (It had fallen to 7 percent in 2007.)

If you’ve seen AMC’s show, you know what clouds I’m talking about. If you haven’t, try dropping in on an episode. It may seem uneventful, which is because everything connects—much of the meaning derives from implications for…

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