Monday, April 18, 2016

On my mysterious liking for Mad Men

Mad Men is one of my favorite TV shows, and I don't even know why. It doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat the way Breaking Bad does. It does not betray the caustic, clever brilliance of House. It has not the comic genius that makes the commonplace become the source of everyday laughter and joy for your soul, like The Office has.  In fact, I can only talk of Mad Men in terms of all the things it is not, than the things it is. Because of what it is I have little clue.

Many of its episodes just linger, like life, without a set goal or aim. Like an afternoon spent without knowing what to do or who to call.

Unlike my other favorite shows, which I watch with rapt attention whenever I watch them, with Mad Men I often find myself drifting away, zoning out, and realizing it 10 minutes later, at which point I scroll back to wherever I last was with the show, and watch again. Reviewers of the show tell us that it is about the feminist movement, about the changing social mores in the 1960s USA, but I've never bought it. I like the show because it doesn't pretend to know any answers, propose any theories. Because it is interested in different kinds of people, its characters, without painting with a heavy hand exactly how their stories should look and be interpreted. Because it is more interested in knowing than in telling. I like the show because it has the spirit of someone who knows they do not know.

Don Draper, the lead character of the show, is one of my favorite TV characters. Media reports extensively on his looks, his womanizing habits, his affairs, as though that is what Don Draper is about. Don Draper, if you ask me, is about trying to feel meaningful the possibly meaningless, about trying to act like stuff matters, day in and day out, when he doesn't know if it does. And that is why I like this character. 

Mad Men is a show I really like and never recommend to others, not only because I'm not sure they'd like it, but also because I'm not sure what I could say to recommend it convincingly. My feelings about Mad Men are very similar to my feelings about John Banville, the novelist.

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