In August of 2007 Anna McCarthy wrote a piece for The Nation titled, “Mad Men’s Retro Charm.” The author aptly describes Mad Men as the combination of a soap opera and a history lesson but does not seem to really grasp the content of the show as she delves deeper. McCarthy puzzles over the portrayal of smoking and drinking. The assertion that she makes regarding the prominence of smoking and drinking (especially among pregnant women) is that the show is about a time when “fatal, dirty habits were considered fun.” However, the characters clearly know little about the long-term health risks of smoking and drinking, and the author’s interpretation seems to be based more on her own knowledge of the substances than anything from the show.
McCarthy briefly seems to understand the show when she discusses “conformist WASP culture,” anti-Semitism, and a lack of racially diverse main characters. She posits that the representation of these issues may shed more light on the perspectives of contemporary writers than it does on the state of the advertising world in the 1960s.
Immediately after this moment of insight however, the author asserts that the part of the show that is the most telling about its “relationship to the era it claims to document is the animation accompanying the opening credits.” McCarthy concludes that this depiction of businessmen falling past the skyscrapers of Manhattan hints at a nostalgia for a time when American consumer culture was an icon of greatness and not resented by the world as a symbol of American egoism and ignorance. She unnecessarily politicizes the show by mentioning connections to propaganda in the “war on terror.” Ignoring the actual substance of the show in favor of an analysis of the opening sequence is the greatest mistake that the author makes. If not for this complete disregard for the show’s content, the reader might be able to forgive her for her mistake in repeatedly referring to one of the shows most polarizing and well-known characters, Betty Draper, as “Betsy.”
The author ultimately gets turned around and around when trying to analyze a modern show about the past. It is her modern interpretation of the show that reveals truths about the present, not necessarily the show itself.