The Wisdom of Mad Men

I’m behind the curve. I just started watching Mad Men a couple of weeks ago, and I’m into Season 5 of the seven seasons. Mad Men premiered in 2007. I was busy with a toddler in 2007 and didn’t spend a lot of time watching TV. The series ended in 2015. After watching the first two seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel recently, I was in the mood for a show set in the early 60s, and someone recommended Mad Men.

If you have never seen it but think you would like to, purchase it on Amazon Prime Video. It’s about men and women working at an advertising agency in New York in the 1960s…their professional and private lives, but it is centered around the life of Don Draper, the creative genius behind the agency’s most successful ad campaigns.

The late 1950s/early 1960s are the era when television was becoming influential, and the general public was just starting to enjoy air travel. We were beginning space exploration, and everyone was looking to the future. The cold war was in full swing…and Vietnam was real. Lots of it reminds me of my own childhood in the late 60s and early 70s.

And it is good…really good. The characters are well-written. The sets are glorious. The storylines are intriguing. And even though it is the 1960s, there are so many things happening in these people’s lives…they could be our friends, our neighbors, or even ourselves.

I love it for any number of reasons…the dashing, charismatic Don Draper, played by Jon Hamm; the storylines; the wardrobes; the incredible 1960s sets; New York City; and the wisdom…yes, the wisdom.

Since I wasn’t born until 1967, I wasn’t alive in the early 60s, but it still seems familiar. The console televisions…and when they turn them off, the screen shrinks down to a dot of light. The smoking. The beautiful ashtrays that were sometimes a freestanding piece of furniture and sometimes colorful decor. The green and orange sofa pillows. The rotary dial telephones. The wood paneling. The green kitchen appliances.  The old automobiles. The office politics. The constant day drinking. The social climbing.

But what has surprised me most is the wisdom of some of the characters. It seems Mr. Cooper, the head of the agency, is a wise, well-read and well traveled man. Many of the quotes I love can be attributed to him. Yes, I know he’s not a real person. I know the show’s writers actually write the lines I love so much, but nevertheless, I find some of them to be enriching.

And here, some of the wisdom of Mad Men:

  • “You haven’t thought this through. When you threaten someone in this manner, you should be aware of the fact that if your information is powerful enough to make them do what you want, what else can it make them do?” –Don Draper to Pete Campbell, an account executive with the agency, after Pete tried to blackmail him. I really love this one. It might just be my favorite quote from the series so far. I think this is a quote everyone should ponder…especially before they try to manipulate someone else. You want to get a reaction from me? It might not be the reaction you want. Trying to blackmail someone? They might just kill you instead of complying. I will definitely use this quote at some point in my life! I can think of some instances I should have used it in the past!
  • “Don’t waste your youth on age.” This was immediately a favorite. It is the wisdom of Mr. Cooper. One night, another partner, Mr. Sterling, has a heart attack at the office after hours, and Mr. Cooper calls in the office manager to help send telegrams to clients. She arrives at the office with an older gentleman in tow but quickly tells her companion to leave. She and Mr. Cooper send the telegrams, and as they are leaving, he imparts this bit of wisdom on her in reference to her date. I like to think he’s telling her to spend her time doing youthful things while she’s young.
  • “I know people say ‘life goes on,’ and it does, but no one tells you that’s not a good thing.”–Betty Draper, Don’s wife. This quote is from an episode in Season 1. Betty lost her mother a few months before, and her father has just introduced her to his new lady friend. Anyone who has lost someone understands this. Yes, life goes on, but there are lots of times life’s progression without our loved ones is difficult…we wish we could turn back time.
  • “One never knows how loyalty is born.” –Mr. Cooper. This is another one from the old man, and I like it. I don’t even remember to whom he was speaking or what it was about, but I liked it enough to write it down. It’s true, though. I’ve found loyal friends in the least likely places, and sometimes I’ve learned about their loyalty in the strangest ways. Sometimes we find out about a lack of loyalty in the least expected places too.
  • “The faintest ink is more powerful than the best memory.” –Paul Kinsey, quoting a Chinese Proverb to Don and Peggy in a meeting about ads for telegraphs. While memories are fantastic, proof of those memories is even better, because it solidifies them for us. It makes them permanent. I have childhood memories of being at my grandfather’s house, but when I look at pictures from the era, it backs up my memories. I have cards and letters from my mother. I can’t converse with her, but I know she wrote the messages in those cards and letters. They are permanent.
  • “People tell you who they are, but we ignore it, because we want them to be who we want them to be.”–Don Draper, in his memoirs. Oh my, this is so true. Throughout my life, as I’ve met people, they have told me their flaws early on, but often, I’ve chosen not to believe them. I’ve chosen to think those flaws don’t exist, when in reality, they do. Therefore, when I tell you I often say the wrong thing, and I’m often way too direct, believe me. And if you’re single and dating someone who tells you their flaws up front, believe them! Do not think they will be different with you.

There are also so many scenes without great quotes that communicate “wisdom.” For example, the horror on Pete Campbell’s face is obvious when a coworker says, “Harry told me you said I married for money.” Pete didn’t say it, but Harry did…and he put his words in Pete’s mouth. Any viewer could see through it, and hopefully, we all thought of ways to prevent it from happening to us in the future. The disappointment displayed by Betty Draper in Season 5 when she realized her attempt at revenge on Don and Megan…telling her daughter about Don’s previous marriage to Anna…had failed. Don and Megan taught us all a lesson about how to handle that type of thing…don’t give them the satisfaction of getting you upset. Megan was right when she reminded Don that if he called Betty, he would be playing right into her hands…she would get the satisfaction of knowing she had upset him…because sometimes, the best revenge is living well.

Oh…so much wisdom…

And these are just from the first few seasons. I’m sure I’ll garner more wisdom as I continue to watch. I am absolutely enthralled. If you can’t find me over the next week or so, it’s because I’m still watching Mad Men.

 

***Photo from the Huffington Post***

 

 

 

 

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