AMC’s cast of “Mad Men” (Copyright AMC, 2012)

Below is a link to an article written by Cord Jefferson, appearing on Give it a read, I’ll wait.

Back? Okay.

Yeah, that was not a well-thought-out or insightful article, in my opinion.

It was tweeted by a friend of mine and I had to reply. Here’s what I said in a series of tweets of my own:

“I disagree [with the article]. We don’t want to be *exactly* like the Mad Men. We balk when Don crosses moral lines…”

“…He and the Mad Men are a breed we don’t see today. We compare our values to theirs, as a yardstick…”

“…We want their nobler qualities and behaviour without the “flaws” inherent in their day & age & upbringing..”

“…We watch Mad Men because we want to see if they can adjust their moral barometer, not because we celebrate it.”

My friend said that the point of the article was that “an uncomfortable number of white men romanticize the era”.

Well, I read it a few times again trying to see how Jefferson’s point relates to his examples and it’s pretty muddy and convoluted, which is why I took exception to Mad Men being cited in it.

Do some men romanticize the past? Yeah.

Does that romantic view turn a blind eye to actual history? Yes.

However, Mad Men, the show, does not. It is pretty dispassionate about its subject matter and simply shows the viewer the world it takes place in. The viewer brings their own values to it and compares them to the characters’ behaviour. The series itself does not judge the characters. If all the Mr. Jefferson sees is a group of misogynistic, racist, etc., men, he missed the point of the series entirely and will never understand the popularity of it. The time-frame of the show, the 1960s, is important for its point in modern history where these attitudes and behaviours changed. The series reflects that and allows the characters room for growth. We don’t watch the Mad Men execs to celebrate their moral lapses, but to see their effects and to hope they can overcome them. There are a lot of things at work as we compare who we are to who they were. We balk at their behaviour even as we might laugh at the sometimes quaint (even charming) lack of political correctness. That laughter isn’t condoning the action, it comes from acknowledging the chasm between their world and ours. We laugh because we can’t belief they said or did something, so at odds and wrong it would be in our day and age if repeated now.

Mad Men challenges its characters to face the reality of their lives, beliefs and and attitudes in the turbulent ’60s even as the viewer is challenged by a way of life and a way of thinking we hope we long grew past. That’s where we compare ourselves to the characters. We ask, “What would I do?”

All this is lost, apparently, on Mr. Jefferson as the article takes the most superficial understanding of the show and hoists it up as an example of how we deify popular characters who seem to represent the worst of human behaviour. They aren’t popular because of what they do, Mr. Jefferson, but because of the journey they’re on.

The following was sent to me in an email in response to my article:

“I think where the author [Mr. Jefferson] is talking specifically about a segment of the viewing public, he/she has a valid point. And from his pov, this is what he sees. It’s also in response to what happened to @srpsrpsrp in her Sorkin interview.”

Also, the friend who first tweeted Mr. Jefferson’s article tweet-replied to my earlier Twitter posts with:

“The piece’s author is black & thru that lens writes a very valid piece.”

So, allow me to clarify…

He muddies his point when including Mad Men in it by painting the show as nothing but a bunch of successful racist, homophobic, misogynistic, etc. white men that modern white men want to be. That’s where I take exception, because there’s far more at work in the show. His underlying point is accurate, that the rose-tinted glasses some people wear when viewing the past ignores the reality of the situation. I did acknowledged that, because it’s true! However, he fails to successfully apply the example of Mad Men to support this point when he takes the shallowest, most limited view of the series. And THAT is what my email/blog post is addressing, not him pointing out that people like Sorkin romanticize a time that was extremely difficult for a large segment of the population. Jefferson himself compounds the problem by failing to understand that the series addresses the abhorrent behaviour of some characters because it does NOT take place in 1940s, but in the 1960s when those attitudes were violently forced to change for the better. And that’s where the line between his example of Man Men and his underlying point becomes convoluted. He starts off his article by practically firing into the crowd of readers a series of base accusations toward Mad Men, racism among them, and fails to properly support the accusations with the rest of his article. Frankly, he doesn’t get to do that and get away with it because he’s a person “of colour” (his words, not mine). My response doesn’t even bring up his ethnicity because it has nothing to do with the point I’m making. He raises issues and doesn’t defend doing so for all of them, which weakens his article. Instead, his superficial view of the show demonstrates that his uninformed opinion is based on a limited understanding. An opinion based on ignorance is not defensible with the race card.