Mad About Mad Men

by Kathy Holmes

One of my favorite TV shows is Mad Men. In fact, we gave ourselves the full DVD set for Christmas last year and have been watching the whole show from season 1 to bide our time until season 4 starts next month. So I thought I'd post my thoughts on the show for this month's Pop Culture Divas.

Let's start with an article about why Mad Men is A Wonderful Portrayal of The Way We Weren't.

And while it's true Mad Men doesn't paint a realistic portrait of how we all were, it is how some were. But, more importantly, it's a visual lesson in page-turning writing - not a page out of the history books.

One of the things we learn about writing fiction is that you must continually up the ante, increase the stakes for your characters. Ask yourself "What's the worse thing that can happen to my character" and then make that happen. Mad Men does this so brilliantly. And that's what Mad Men is all about.

It's historically accurate, as any period piece should be, but it's about keeping the audience on the seat of their emotional pants. Do the furnishings, fashion, and setting seem realistic? Yes. Were three martini lunches in vogue and did just about everybody smoke? Oh yeah. (Three martini lunches are still officially allowed at my client site in Vegas.)

Were many women "stuck" in the suburbs, living boring lives, cleaning house, and raising kids? Uh, yeah. Were women who worked in the city repressed and reduced to secretarial roles surrounded by self-important office managers and predatory males? Absolutely. This was my mother's era, and as a little pitcher with big ears, I took it all in.

The worst part for my mother? Probably wearing the bullet bras, girdles, nylons, garters, and heels. The working wardrobe alone made a day at the office no picnic in the park. Was my mother just like these women? Yes and no. She may have dressed the part at the office, but as soon as she got home, she wore Capris and Flip Flops, when TV moms were vacuuming in their heels and pearls.

Here's more about the kind of woman she was, as I wrote in my More article, Claiming Your Expertise: 
In the spirit of Mae West, my mother once said, “I never met a machine I didn’t like.” Becoming a mother when she was still a teen, she went to business school at night and worked two jobs until she left waitressing behind to pursue a career in an office environment. As a working mother in the era of the “MadMen” TV show, she tamed the business machines of her time and had little in common with the housewives on her block. This led to her computer curiosity and savviness, allowing her to assist others with their computer skills, culminating in an opportunity to manage a fitness center when most her age were retired.
And while Mad Men may take place in Manhattan, the show depicts how people were living on the west coast, too. We lived in a suburb outside of L.A. and I saw the neighborhood parties, the "hello der" the morning after when somebody's husband danced with somebody's wife a little too closely, and how the kids laughed at the pictures taken of the dad with one leg out of his pants - great fodder for any writer and I often draw upon this era to create scenes in my own writing.

It's fun to peek into the past, but at the same time, painful. We sometimes feel the need to pour ourselves a scotch or a vodka on the rocks just to watch the show. But watch it we do - it's riveting!

Kathy Holmes, Author
Real Women Wear Red, Myths of the Fatherless


  1. Hi Kathy: enjoyed your post - In reference to the National Post link - I think shows like Mad Men have that pressure to be historically accurate but it's Matthew Weiner's creation - and at the end of the day it's a drama not a documentary. I think the press can be overly critical. That's my two cents.

    I enjoyed your article for MORE as well. ;)


  2. Thanks! Matt Weiner is brilliant, isn't he?

  3. Hi Kathy!

    As you know I'm a HUGE Mad Men fan. Love the historical accuracy and the tense drama. You're right, Weiner manages to up the ante every season. The setting is so brilliant too, I find myself caught up in the scenery. The colors are as vivid as the emotions funnelling through. Great piece, Kathy!

    LOVE your article too!!


  4. Thanks, Chiron. Even Don Draper is wooing me - I may have been the last holdout. lol!

  5. I haven't seen this series yet, but my cousin adores it. And we share very similar taste - I see a watch-the-entire-season-in-one-go in my future.


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