Double Consciousness: Escaping Mad Men

Posted on May 18, 2015 by


Beat Valley‘s Lars Russell published an essay series on the television show Mad Men over at Loser City appearing after each episode of the show’s final half-season in 2015. Here are links to the individual articles.

Part 1: Everything’s Exactly the Same

Weiner could end the series right here and that would be enough, however abrupt. Mad Men has that quality that every so often it seems like what you’re watching contains the epitome of the show, like anything afterward would be superfluous, and yet it ferries on.

Part 2: Mad Men is the Superhero Show We Need Now

Don Draper has something like a super power, too. His power is his imagination, which makes him about the most powerful person on Earth. We see him able to make his own future and environment—when he doesn’t get derailed by his alter ego, which we all do all the time anyway, or the other way round.

Part 3: I Walked Backward All the Way from the Living Room

If Mad Men has several steady romances going with intoxicants, alcohol and cigarettes are the marriage: reliable, ever present, and functionally reinforcing the show’s realistic structure. Mood-altering drugs are more like the steamy and rollicking sidepiece. Drug sequences in the series offer more than a change of flavor with heightened intensity; they’re a way to escape the rules and habits of its regular order, to indulge in ways of being less accountable to our established realism.

Part 4: Which Was What Was Wanted

It’s less a process of reiterating consistent ideas over and over than reorienting thoughts, bringing new results from them and observing those changes to meaning and consequence—especially when disagreements arise in those comparisons over time. Fresh understandings take over for established ones, which fall hidden again ready to be rediscovered.

Part 5: This Hazardous Business

Mad Men, very much concerned with signifying and appearances, is however not a show about proud, openly visible and recognized representation; Mad Men is a show about subversive representation, about concealed secrets. Mad Men is a show about passing.

Part 6: How One Becomes What One Is

“Criticism is not bookkeeping,” says Samuel Beckett. He means you can’t match directly symbols or images in a work of art each to a fixed corresponding meaning, the way you would balance entries for income and expenditures on a ledger. There’s no way, he says, to make a whole out of a “handful of abstractions … for the satisfaction of analogy-mongers.”

Epilogue: Better Than Nuts

The most deadly accurate critiques address the phenomena of approval surrounding the series: our culture that receives it sometimes irresponsibly, lazily appreciating its thrills and even nodding at its challenges rather than using it as a critical tool for understanding the weaknesses of its characters as our own weaknesses, and with that understanding changing our lives.


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