Mad Men, Mad World—live! | Bleader

Mad Men, Mad World—live!


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At this moment, 12 days from the start of season six of Mad Men, we as a nation are so starved for further installments in the ongoing saga of the denizens of Sterling Cooper Draper Price and the people who love and endure them that we dream about them while on vacation and have resorted to discussing Jon Hamm's penis, so much so that Jon Hamm has asked us to shut the fuck up.

This is desperation, people.

And so last night Northwestern Law School's Thorne Auditorium was packed to three-quarters capacity with Mad Men fans who paid money to the Chicago Humanities Festival in order to listen to three professors from the University of Illinois discuss Mad Men, Mad World, their new book of critical essays about the show.

Well, OK, there was one woman sitting near the back who admitted to never having seen a single episode.

"You're welcome here," the moderator, WBEZ's Alison Cuddy, told her in a soothing voice.

The panel discussion, which lasted about an hour, was an opportunity for the three professors, Lauren M.E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky, and Robert A. Rushing, to share some of the highlights of the book, most notably its overlying thesis that Mad Men isn't so much about the 1960s as it is about us in the 2010s and our continuing interest in the 1960s. It also allowed them to do some academic pyrotechnics with close analysis of a few brief clips, including the opening credits and the final scene in the season two episode "Maidenform," which sums up the audience's relationship to Don Draper.

Don confronting his own image
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  • Don likes what he sees less than we do.
As Kaganovsky summarized it, "He's shaving. Sally's watching and says, 'I won't talk so you don't cut yourself,' but he's distracted by her look of admiration. He sends her away. And then he's alone in this bathroom which, since it's a Betty Draper bathroom, is all pink and fuzzy and he's wrapped in a pink towel, which is incongruous, but he's still half naked, so we like him. And the camera pans back in an echo of Hitchcock as he stares at himself in the mirror and we see his identity start to unravel. And we're like Sally, still admiring him, even though we should know better."

As for the opening credits, Rushing said, they show nothing less than the decline of American masculinity, starting from the moment the Don figure sets down his briefcase and the corner office starts to dissolve. And yet, he pointed out, "it ends with Don re-formed on the couch in a position of power. It's the disillusion and reconstruction of masculinity."

There was also some discussion of racism and sexism in the show (will it ever take us deeper inside the lives of the black characters?), the emergence last season of Fat Betty, sexual violence against the female characters, and how Don Draper's reluctance to embrace the counterculture mirrors our aesthetic appreciation of the show. (Or, as Goodlad put it, "Do you want to see Don with sideburns and a fat tie?")

The audience just sighed happily at the video clips, like it, too, had just finished up another long, hard day on Madison Avenue and was ready to lean back in Don Draper's midcentury fabulous easy chair, kick off its shoes, and settle in with a nice stiff glass of whiskey.

Just 12 . . . more . . . days!

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