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MadMen Explored In Vanity Fair

MadMen Explored In Vanity Fair
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Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 7 august 2009

Adding to the excitement mounting over the new season of the show MadMen which starts on August 16 (and maybe the Good Ideas in Advertising Salon with George Parker… who knows?), Vanity Fair has an in-depth analysis of the series and they also got Annie Leibovitz to shoot Jon Hamm and January Jones as their ad-biz alter-egoes for the latest issue. It’s a lengthy piece but there’s some insight into the inspiration that led Matthew Weiner to create the show:

Mad Men is too clear-eyed about its period to be called nostalgic—Weiner loves writing anti-Semitic wisecracks for his admen and showing pregnant women with cigarettes dangling from their lips—but at the same time there can be a yearning tug, even an ache, in the intensity of the show’s backward gaze. Maybe it’s a kind of wised-up, at times even loathing nostalgia—precisely the kind of contradiction that drives the show creatively. Weiner has said in the past that the series is in some sense a tribute to his parents, an attempt in part at reconstructing their world. They were married in 1959, right at the dawn of the Mad Men era; the ceramic chip ’n’ dip that the anxious account executive Pete Campbell (played by Vincent Kartheiser) and his wife received as a wedding present in the first season was actually given to Weiner’s parents. Another touchstone is Weiner’s late maternal grandfather, a sharp dresser who worked in New York in the fur business (where Don got his start in advertising). Weiner told me he used to wear his grandfather’s sharkskin suits in high school, and, for the pilot, made a point of dressing an extra in his grandfather’s herringbone topcoat.

One thing he quite consciously set out to do with Mad Men was to reclaim the 1950s and early 1960s from the condescension of “baby-boomer propaganda,” as he put it, the easy ironies with which the era has been caricatured in popular culture. “You know,” he continued, rattling off some cultural clichés, “Fun with Dick and Jane, the dad with the pipe, Ozzie & Harriet“—goofy and square and uptight and supposedly innocent, no one having sex, or good sex anyway, except for maybe Frank Sinatra. “We think everybody was walking around in corsets, but people are people,” Weiner said, and cited a 1968 episode of Firing Line he once saw in which a drunken Jack Kerouac was interviewed by William F. Buckley Jr. on the subject of “the hippie movement” and said to the younger generation, in essence, “You think you invented fucking?” Don Draper and his colleagues at Sterling Cooper, the women as well as the men, would seem to be asserting the same point.

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