Monday, March 28, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: The Erasing Conscience

NOTE: Some spoiler alerts if you haven't watched Mad Men.

"You're going to have a lot of first kisses. You're going to want it to be special, so you'll remember. It's where you go from being a stranger to knowing someone. And every kiss with them after that is a shadow of that kiss," Betty Draper tells her young daughter Sally, in one of my favorite quotes from the show.

Doesn't that sound romantic? Wouldn't the world of Mad Men seem more alluring if, well, everyone wasn't cheating on everyone? I tried to think of one stable relationship among the main characters - and couldn't. Can you?

When looking at the American Dream: Then and Now, I noted Professor Albert Lieberman, Executive Director, EMT Program, NYU Stern School of Business, said in the Mad Men season 1 extra, "Part of what I would call advertising environment is set up to make you believe that there's always more, there's always better." Doesn't this apply to affairs as well? The bored person always is looking for more, better, and when the opportunity presents itself, they take advantage as one does for fleeting pleasure of a consumer good? This seems to be the case in most of Don's affairs. Pete's fling with the nanny down the hall - true love? No way.

Isn’t it also true of the excessive consumption that so defines us (think material goods or food)? Done out of boredom, lack of fulfillment, the temporary pleasure of the new? Consumed because it's convenient, there, fills us with passing contentment? It seems all tied together to me.

There also seems to be lacking one thing: conscience. There doesn't seem to be much guilt at all for betrayed spouses, and Don's slew of mistresses all know and don't care about Betty and his two children. How about Sally Draper's teacher who starts bedding Don and openly stated she didn't care about his wife. I always thought the eighties were the "me" decade, but the writers of Mad Men will have you believe it's the sixties. Everyone seems concerned simply with, "me."

One of Don's mistresses stated mentioning Betty makes her feel "cruel." How often do we participate in consumer behavior that we justify as being okay so long as we don't think about it (regularly eating factory farmed meat where we don't think about the animals or the workers; polluting our air driving extremely fuel inefficient cars because the air quality isn't measurable). I think the absence of conscience applies here as well. Hasn't generations of "Mad Men" worked to disconnect us from the sources of our happiness so that we only think of our own? How often have I read the word "trained" when referring to consumer behavior. Do you want to be "trained" (just another word for controlled, in my opinion)?

One can only speculate on the fate of fidelity then and now, but we seem to be an even more consumerist society from the time Mad Men was set in. Awareness is growing (I think of the fair trade, organic, free range movements, etc.) but overall I can't help but think most consumers don't think a lot about this, and simply consume.

Do you think we're too much in the time of the "me?" and not in the mindset of the "we"?

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