By Troy Rampy, Editor, The Wellness Blog™
I have a new fascination, and apparently millions of other people do too. I’ve been consumed of late with Mad Men, the television program that has won three Golden Globes and nine Emmys so far including back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Drama Series. Now, having me comment on any TV program at all is ironic, since I turned off my television 17 years ago and I’m not connected to cable.
Normally I have no interest in watching TV. But I do have a Netflix account and the first few seasons of Mad Men are available, three episodes at a time, via DVD.
(Here’s one of three facts regarding depression that you’ll find embedded in this blog post. Did you know that watching entertainment TV can be a cause of depression? It’s true. Well-founded research has shown that those mindless sitcoms and reality shows that take up so much of our time tend to lull our frontal lobes into a passive mode that can become a marker for depression.
Actually, one marker alone probably won’t result in depression…it generally requires four or more. But please take note: if you’re using up one of your markers to occasionally watch a good film or a selected television drama or even a PBS special, it may require you to be more vigilant in other areas of your life.)
So then, what renders Mad Men still worth watching for me? Well, the content, writing, casting and acting are all excellent. In fact, in my humble opinion, they’re far better and more engaging than that found in most TV programs…maybe any other since Thirty Something was a hit 20 years ago when I was still partaking of the tube. Simply put, it’s a well conceived and executed series…that’s why it keeps winning awards.
But there’s more to it than that. Mad Men uniquely offers a well wrought glimpse at our changing cultural values and perceptions over the past half century, particularly those related to women and men, and how we relate. That’s why I’m willing…no, driven…to sit and watch.
For those of you not yet smitten, Mad Men is about the male-dominated advertising scene in New York during the early 1960’s. “Mad men” was apparently a self-descriptive term that they themselves coined. Watching this program is like encountering a hermetically-sealed time capsule from that period with all its sexism, racism, homophobia, lack of health awareness, and other Eisenhower-era beliefs blatantly and unselfconsciously still intact. It’s chock-a-block full of the cultural and perceptual detritus of “pre-enlightened” America.
Everyone in Mad Men is smoking cigarettes, drinking hard liquor, driving without seat belts and letting their young children play with those plastic bags that come from the dry cleaners. (Smoking cigarettes and imbibing alcohol are two more markers for depression – for some individuals that includes the “red wine with food” that is so widely touted these days as being heart-healthy. Alcohol is, after all, a depressant.)
I stare at the screen in disbelief as a pregnant mother interrupts her chain smoking just long enough to take another sip of her wine. I shudder at the Leave It To Beaver-styled family mentalities. I wonder at the husband who calls his wife’s psychiatrist to get a confidentiality-violating update on her progress – did that really happen back then?!? And yes, it’s most often the women who pay an emotional price for all the chauvinistic madness in the 1960’s, especially in the New York ad industry as depicted in this series.
But the times they were a changin’. As I watch (I’ve just finished the first season), I wonder what will happen as some of the new influences of the sixties begin to take effect – like the sexual revolution, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the very beginnings of the gay/lesbian movements, as well as our growing health-related and social awareness.
More importantly, I wonder what we, the audience, will learn about ourselves as we parse this fictional, yet revealing chronicle of our not-so-long-ago cultural past. How much have we really changed…and where are we still stuck in our own self-limiting beliefs?