Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV

Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV

Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV

Mad Men Unzipped: Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV


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This is the story of the Mad Men fan phenomenon: how the show and its fans distinguished themselves in a market where it’s hard to make an impression, not unlike the driven ad execs at the center of the show. In this book, four media psychologists who also just happen to be dedicated Mad Men fans explore how the show’s viewers make meaning from fictional drama. The authors also interviewed several contemporary advertising industry professionals, getting their inside view of the business in its modern guise and what they make of the show’s vision of their past. The result is cutting-edge psychological research that crunches and codes online fan commentary to understand the ways that people use the show to debate complex social issues, from sex and alcohol to gender roles, parenting, and advertising itself. What do the 1960s mean to us today, and how well does the twenty-first century measure up against that famously turbulent decade? Which characters do fans identify with—and which ones do they love to hate? How would fans unfurl the Mad Men storylines if they were in charge? What makes a good man, and has it changed over time? How should husbands and wives treat each other, and how should parents treat their children?

In answering these questions, the authors explore not just the online commentary but also Mad Men fans’ fan fiction, cosplay, cocktail making, and vintage furniture collecting. Whether tweeting as one of the main characters (or just a lowly mail clerk), setting Peggy up with the man who’ll treat her right, or figuring out just which “Mad Man” they are at heart, fans integrate the show into their lives and use it to make sense of their own choices in work, leisure, and love.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781609383787
Publisher: University of Iowa Press
Publication date: 12/01/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 182
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Karen E. Dill-Shackleford is a professor of psychology at Fielding Graduate University and the author of How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing through Media Influence. She makes her home in Hickory, North Carolina.

Cynthia Vinney is a psychology graduate student at Fielding Graduate University and has worked as a user experience designer for major advertising agencies and clients including Mandalay Bay, Acura, and VIZIO. She resides in Los Angeles, California.

Jerri Lynn Hogg teaches psychology at Fielding Graduate University and is a senior research fellow at the Media Psychology Research Center.

Kristin Hopper-Losenicky is a psychology graduate student at Fielding Graduate University and a lecturer in journalism and women’s studies at Iowa State University. She lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Read an Excerpt

Mad Men Unzipped

Fans on Sex, Love, and the Sixties on TV

By Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, Cynthia Vinney, Jerri Lynn Hogg, Kristin Hopper-Losenicky

University of Iowa Press

Copyright © 2015 University of Iowa Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60938-378-7


The Mad Men Fan Phenomenon

When Mad Men hit the airwaves in the fall of 2007, the bold, brash outrageousness of the show started a buzz. Who were these chain-smoking, three-martini-lunching hipsters from a bygone era? More importantly, what could they tell us about ourselves? Mad Men, a show about Madison Avenue advertising executives of the 1960s, may have looked old school to some, but it had a freshness and an audacity that told the world it was a new kind of show. Soon we found that not only was Mad Men a refreshing novelty, but its flavor attracted the discerning fan, hungry for the kind of substance this at once swanky and thought-provoking venue would provide in spades.

This is the story of the Mad Men fan phenomenon: how the show and its fans distinguished themselves in a market where it's hard to make an impression, not unlike the driven ad execs at the center of the story. As psychologists as well as members of the Mad Men audience, we've followed the show and the fans' reactions to better understand both fandom generally and the Mad Men fan phenomenon particularly.

This book represents cutting-edge psychological research on how fans make meaning from fictional drama. Using online fan commentary, we piece together some of the thought-provoking real-life issues that Mad Men fans use the show to better understand. On another level, we explore the changing face of fandom and how Mad Men fans represent a kind of fan not represented by the misguided stereotype of the geeky fan who has had a mental break with reality. In fact, we explain how being a fan of compelling story makes one more discerning about reality. More on that in chapter 2.

But first, a spoiler alert: because this book is designed primarily for fans who know these stories well, our chapters will be replete with spoilers. If you haven't watched more than a few episodes of Mad Men, put this book down, fire up your Netflix account, and catch up before reading on.

The Plot

It has been said that Mad Men is a show about the American dream — whether it be won, lost, or otherwise. It is, of course, a period piece, the titular phrase referring to the men of Madison Avenue in New York City who worked in the ad game in the 1960s. This setting allowed the show's creators to shine a light on a number of issues, most notably the sexual politics and the working world of that era. Some view the show as the story of one American family, led by unlikely patriarch Don Draper, himself raised in a brothel, largely by stepparents and incidental players in his life. In that view, Don and his wife Betty represent an ideal, albeit a complicated one, of what a man and woman are supposed to be — beautiful, successful parents with money and all the finer things. On the inside there are deep cracks that surface readily, revealing what's wrong with the culture at the same time it reveals our own humanity as we struggle with identity.

Another perspective on the show is that it is about Don and Peggy, a man and a woman scratching and clawing to stay alive in the cutthroat world of advertising on Madison Avenue in the 1960s. Peggy considers Don her mentor, and she may well be his mirror. Through Don's and Peggy's missteps and forward lurches, we see how it was for a man and for a woman to pursue the American dream of high-stakes business in that era.

Scholars say that one of the reasons we love period pieces in fiction is that they allow us to feel a sort of superiority at how evolved we've become since those bygone days when folks had it much worse than we do now. It doesn't matter if we're talking about Masters of Sex, Downton Abbey, or Mad Men ... they each offer an opportunity to appreciate the progress that has been made since that time in history.

Perhaps that vantage point was the first thing audiences noticed about Mad Men. We remember the buzz surrounding the early days of the show, when friends asked each other, "Have you seen that new show, Mad Men?" This question was usually followed by wide-eyed descriptions of women's place in the work world of the 1960s, how much people smoked and drank back then, or the way men in the office unapologetically hit on the "girls."

For those of us who were not old enough to remember those days, we felt that we were witnessing them firsthand through the eyes of our favorite characters. For those of us who were there, it sparked memories from our lives at that time. And as the series moved through its 1960s timeline, we lived through history with the characters. We watched them react to the Kennedy and King assassinations and to Ali knocking out Liston. We were voyeurs as they watched the moon landing and followed the Cuban missile crisis, all from our modern vantage point, where we know how these stories end. We saw their reactions and their lives played out while history rolled by on their screens and over their airwaves.

Mad Men's Place in TV History

And speaking of history, Mad Men has its own unique place in television history. Produced as original content for American cable channel AMC, it was the first such drama to win an Emmy. This made AMC the come-from-behind dark horse of original content that other channels and streaming sources wanted to emulate. The show has been critically acclaimed from the beginning and during its seven-season run has continued to garner accolades. It's been listed as one of the best television dramas of all time by the likes of TV Guide, Rolling Stone, IMDb, and the New York Daily News. In fact, it is consistently listed as one of the best television series of all time — period. For example, the prestigious Writers' Guild of America ranked it among the ten best-written TV series ever.

In late 2014, Google counted Mad Men among the ten most talked-about shows on the Internet, and the show is listed among the top television series to watch on Netflix. Meanwhile, IMDb reports that Mad Men has been nominated for 247 major awards and has won eighty-five of them. This includes a whopping 105 Emmy nominations and fifteen Emmy wins: four for outstanding drama series, three for outstanding writing for a drama series, and one for outstanding main title design. Mad Men also earned three Golden Globe awards for best drama series. And the cast won two Screen Actors Guild Awards for outstanding performance by an ensemble in a drama series. These stats place Mad Men firmly in company with other dramatic fan favorites like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Law and Order, and The West Wing.

There is even a set of Mad Men Barbie dolls, immortalizing four of the show's main characters: Don and Betty Draper, Roger Sterling, and Joan Harris/Holloway. We can only imagine the fun that fans have playing Mad Men Barbies. In fact, some of us are wishing for these toys in our Christmas stockings. Since they are limited edition dolls, this may be a pricey holiday treat. The Joan and Betty dolls have sold on Amazon for about $200 each!

Not lucky enough to have your own official Mad Men Barbies? If you are creative enough, you can make your own. Artist Michael Williams has lovingly and painstakingly styled a troop of Barbie and Ken dolls to resemble the characters on the show. We love this delightful tableau featuring own working girl, Peggy Olson, as an at-the-office action figure. Peggy has a set of accessories including her Heinz campaign and a "wad of cash from Roger."

Our Approach

We, your authors and tour guides through this journey into Madison Avenue of the 1960s, are a team of media psychologists. We study the interactions between people and media — from smart phones to Twitter, from film and television to iPods and Apple watches. Two areas of media psychology that are at center stage in this book are: 1) the way people make sense of fictional stories and use what they learn to think about life and 2) how the interactive world of social media allows us to contribute to the conversation. We will talk more about fan psychology and fans as story contributors in chapter 2. For now, we'll simply set the stage by saying that we'll present both voices in this book: the voice of the story itself and the voice of the fans who add their experiences and interpretations to the story.

The Figures at Center Stage in Our Story

Though the show is blooming with personalities and has quite an impressive array of supporting roles, at the core are six main players. These are Don Draper (born Dick Whitman), Betty Draper (later Francis), Peggy Olson, Roger Sterling, Joan Holloway (later Harris), and Pete Campbell. Supporting characters on the home front include Sally Draper (Don and Betty's daughter), Megan Draper (Don's — technically — third wife), Henry Francis (Betty's second husband), Mona Sterling and Jane Sterling (Roger's first and second wives), Margaret Sterling (Roger's daughter), Trudy Campbell (Pete's wife), Katherine Olson and Anita Olson (Peggy's mother and sister), Dr. Greg Harris (Joan's husband), and Gail Holloway (Joan's mother).

As mentioned earlier, the icon at the center of the Mad Men phenomenon is Don Draper: successful ad man, drinker, philanderer, and questionable parent. It is Don's image we see in the opening credits of the show. Don's silhouette falls from the sky past the ad-festooned buildings of Madison Avenue, selling sex, style, and savoir faire. How can a show that's largely about Don Draper seemingly kill him off during the opening titles? We address the final story arc and series ending in the epilogue of this book.

In an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2014, show creator Matthew Weiner spoke about the inspiration for the Don Draper character. Weiner said that he saw Don as someone trying to live up to all the mixed messages from the show's era about what it means to be a man. To be a real man meant to sleep with a string of beautiful women, to drink and smoke, to be a cutthroat executive who also scored at the office, all the while being the head of a family and a good father and husband.

Actor Jon Hamm, who plays Draper, rose to fame in that role. Early in the show's run, Hamm hosted Saturday Night Live for the first time. In the opening monologue he quipped that the first thing people ask him is "What's Mad Men?" and the second thing is "What's AMC?" Hamm beat out eighty other actors who auditioned for the role of Don Draper.

Weiner felt there was a connection between Draper and Hamm because they both lost their parents when they were young. Young Don Draper (then Dick Whitman) never knew his mother, a prostitute, and his father died in front of him when he was ten. Jon Hamm's mother died when he was ten, and his father died when he was twenty. Both also faced struggles to advance in their careers. When Hamm auditioned for Mad Men, he was having trouble getting cast as an actor and hadn't gotten a single role during his first three years in LA. He'd made a deal with himself that if he reached thirty without career success, he would go back home to St. Louis. But after earning the part of Don Draper, his career took off. As we know, he hit the jackpot with Mad Men, as did Weiner and AMC.

In the world of Mad Men, as we get to know Don Draper, we gradually learn about his childhood as Dick Whitman. On the heels of his turbulent upbringing, he goes off to fight in Korea. Through a freak accident, the real Don Draper is killed, and the young man — Dick Whitman — assumes Don's name and is sent home. This is a secret that will unravel throughout the show as we play with the concept of identity and hidden secrets. Later, Dick (now Don) learns that the real Don Draper's wife, Anna Draper, is still alive. He meets her, and they become very close. In many ways Anna and her niece Stephanie are Don's real family. This family relationship spawns two of our favorite Mad Men quotes about identity and self- knowledge: In season four, episode three, Stephanie says to Don, "Nobody knows what's wrong with themselves, and everyone else can see it right away." In season four, episode eight, Don says, "People tell you who they are, but we ignore it — because we want them to be who we want them to be."

On the Home Front

Meanwhile, in the world of Mad Men, hanging out on the home front in Ossining, New York, is Don's wife, Betty. Betty, like Don, is a controversial character who elicits both scorn and affection from the fans. Since Betty's role relates to women's roles, we'll focus attention on her in the chapters where we address the fans' impressions of topics such as parenting and gender roles in Mad Men. After the demise of Don's relationship with Betty, he marries Megan, an aspiring actress who eventually discovers her autonomy from Don after making a real go of a relationship with him. Megan's is a more complex role and her character, like Peggy's, represents the evolution of women in the sixties. Megan moves from secretary to ad woman to New York actress to Hollywood bohemian and career woman, eventually growing past Don.

Given Don's seeming addiction to women, there are also a host of mistresses and one-night stands. In fact, there are a number of fan- and professionally generated lists of Don's conquests available online. For instance, the Daily Beast promises an accounting of "every woman Don Draper has hooked up with." Notables on the list include Midge Daniels (the bohemian artist), Rachel Menken (the Jewish business heiress), Bobbie Barrett (the comedian's wife), Joy (the California girl who picked Don out of a crowd), Suzanne Farrell (the schoolteacher), Allison (the naive secretary), Dr. Faye Miller (the advertising psychologist), Sylvia Rosen (his neighbor in the apartment building where he lives with Megan), and of course, Megan (originally his secretary) and Betty (a Bryn Mawr graduate whom he met while she was a New York model) ranks Don's top relationships, from most to least dysfunctional, as follows: 9) Allison, 8) Bobbie, 7) Betty, 6) Suzanne, 5) Joy, 4) Megan, 3) Midge, 2) Rachel, and 1) Dr. Faye.

Blogger Sonia Saraiya confesses:

I'm both besotted with and disgusted by Don Draper, who somehow manages to be both tenderly flawed and nakedly brutal at the same time. Don burns through women faster than some people change socks. Some of those women try to change him (and fail). Some try to redeem him (and fail). Some try to find some spark of humanity in him to connect with (and fail disastrously). Many have amazing sex with him, but so far, none have saved him.

At the Office

At Don's side beginning with the pilot episode is Peggy Olson, young, naive, and surprisingly ambitious, given the era she grew up in. Peggy starts work as Don's secretary and then rises to join the creative team at Sterling Cooper ad agency, where she eventually becomes a leader. Since Peggy's role is associated with the working world, we'll focus more on her and how the fans see her when we talk about gender and office politics later on. Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy, was also a recurring character on another critically acclaimed drama, The West Wing. In an interview Matthew Weiner confesses that Peggy is the character who most reminds him of himself. And many in the audience identify with Peggy early on as she struggles to find her place while showing that she has a good heart and good intentions.

Also in the heat of the game at the office are three additional lead characters: Joan Harris/Holloway, Roger Sterling, and Pete Campbell. A fan favorite from the beginning, we follow Joan's life as the aspiring head of the secretarial pool and sleeping with Roger Sterling to her wild ride with client Jaguar that leads to her unlikely addition to the partners' team.

At home Joan looks for a husband, finds one and leaves him, and ends up raising a son (who is actually Roger's) with her mother by her side. One of our favorite moments with Joan is when, after exercising saint-like patience with husband Greg, she is asked by him whether she knows what it's like to want something all her life, to work for it, and never get it. Her spot-on response: to smash a sizeable vase on his head. You will hear more later about Joan and how the fans followed her life at home and at work.

Back at the office, Roger Sterling is certainly a trip. (At times he's literally tripping, right? Rim shot!) Some say Mad Men is about seeking true happiness and false happiness, the difference between the surface and the soul, between swimming in the shallows and diving deeply into life. Roger takes us places both shallow and deep. In a deeper moment we see him holding hands with wife Jane during an LSD trip, coming to terms with their true feelings for each other. On the surface is the debonair silver fox, tossing out one-liners from a seemingly endless storehouse of quips. In fact, hosts a blog called the "Complete Quips of Roger Sterling." Some of our favorite lines that hint at Roger's personal philosophy of life are set out in table 1.


Excerpted from Mad Men Unzipped by Karen E. Dill-Shackleford, Cynthia Vinney, Jerri Lynn Hogg, Kristin Hopper-Losenicky. Copyright © 2015 University of Iowa Press. Excerpted by permission of University of Iowa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Contents Acknowledgments Chapter 1: The Mad Men Fan Phenomenon Chapter 2: How Their Lives Touched Ours Chapter 3: That Was Then, This Is Now Chapter 4: The (Re)Arrangements: Engaging with Mad Men Through Fan Fiction Chapter 5: The “Girls” of Mad Men Chapter 6: The Measure of a Mad Man Chapter 7: Let’s Get It On: Love and Sex on Mad Men Chapter 8: Ad Men: For Those Who Think Young Epilogue Bibliography Index
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