As the beginning of the end of summer approaches, the ever-expanding fan base of “Mad Men” is preparing for Don Draper’s return, this time with the newly formed Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising firm. It’s been well established that the AMC show, set in the world of New York ad men in the 1960s, is brilliantly written and visually stunning. But is there a deeper reason why we want to be like (or just plain want) Don Draper and his colleagues that we’re not even aware of? Some pop culture experts say yes.
“There are a number of fans — particularly young white men — who love the show because it’s an escape to a time where they still could be ‘cool’ for smoking and drinking at work, treating women like crap, et cetera,” says Sean Griffin, professor of communications at Southern Methodist University. “It is a chance to get away from what they consider to be the pressures of political correctness.”
It’s a nice theory, but cast member Vincent Kartheiser, who plays squeaky clean account executive Pete Campbell, isn’t buying it.
“It’s really hard to admire a time when there was still such chauvinism and racism,” Kartheiser says. “The ’60s were a great time of change, but things hadn’t changed yet.”
But that lack of change could be exactly why we love it so much.
“‘Mad Men,’ like ‘The Sopranos,’ depicts a world that an audience can react to with both fascination and repulsion,” argues communications professor John O’Leary of Villanova University. “We watch the characters and think, ‘Why can’t they be more like we are now?’ while we simultaneously envy the aesthetic richness of this immoral milieu.”