Why We Like Mad Men

If you are looking for my more recent post on the Mad Men finale, click here.
Mad Men is a show about a lot of unlikable people, so why do we like the show so much”? I have said this myself, and heard other people ask it plenty of times.
When I tell people The Godfather is one of my all-time favorite movies, they are usually surprised, considering my other favorite movies are Anne of Green Gables and You’ve Got Mail. But seeing The Godfather for the first time was an eye-opening experience for me– and not because I was completely unfamiliar with the mafia, hiding dead bodies in mattresses, or how to prepare meatballs and spaghetti sauce for a large group of Italian men. No, it was because for the first time while watching a movie, I saw myself in the bad guy, because he started out good. Or at least decent. Anyway, he was the reliable one. And hey, aren’t I reliable?
Since The Godfather, I have also come to love The Brothers Karamazov, Flannery O’Connor’s short stories, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. It took a few years, but I finally realized there is a common thread woven through all of my favorite stories, and that is this: there is a “bad guy” in all of us and these stories provide us with clues to the warning signs. It is the warning signs that I find fascinating, which Mad Men is filled with.
We relate to, or at least sympathize with, the protagonist in every story if he or she has an ounce of truthfully portrayed human nature. In a lot of stories, the hero is a virtuous person, or at least someone with a little integrity. And a flawed human overcoming adversity is also a part of our humanness.  Those are good stories. But they aren’t always my favorite.
Oftentimes, equally as moving, is showing ever so subtly how a person’s decisions add up and ultimately come to something they never really planned for. The Godfather is a guidebook on how to change so slowly that even your heart of hearts won’t be able to tell the difference between good and bad, pure motives and tainted motives.
I recently saw 12 Years a Slave, in which we as an audience are forced to watch a psychopath slave owner treat fellow human beings in ways we would rather believe don’t exist in our society today, and most certainly not within ourselves. There is no sympathy for his character and naturally, as a viewer, we are on Solomon’s, the free man turned slave, side. As a viewer, we don’t know much about the wicked slave owner at all, except for what we see in the present, and it is grotesquely appalling.
But if in our humanness we share the goodness of our fellow men, we share the less flattering parts, too. It’s hard to imagine we have just as much potential to become twisted and evil as the worst person who ever lived. But the path to damnation is not quick (and thus we think we are safe). The process is slow and often undetectable. And that is part of the reason why we love Mad Men. Because Mad Men, like The Godfather, The Brothers Karamazov, Flannery O’Connor’s stories, and Breaking Bad, show the process.
Don Draper is no twisted slave owner, I’ll give him that. But when we meet him, he doesn’t exactly fit into the good guy category. Don Draper is prone to the same temptations we are all faced with, so therefore he is relatable in the kind of way that makes it easy to judge him or think better of ourselves because we aren’t cheating on our spouse. 
I like to tell myself that though I may share in his temptations as a fellow human being, I make better choices. Whether or not that is true, the seed for every repulsive quality in these flawed characters is buried deep within all of us, at risk of being watered. And that is a terrifying fact that we all must be prepared to face at a moment’s notice. And like Don, we don’t like thinking about it.
Whether or not Don Draper is redeemed in any way in the final season, the show itself presents a redeeming quality if it challenges the viewer to take a second look at their oft-undetected motives.
In Mad Men, and in other stories where the characters are not clearly moving in a better direction from where they started, human nature is captured in the subtlest of forms. Mad Men zooms into the smallest pixel, and tells the story while only rarely zooming back out (I am thinking of Don’s childhood). There is not a lot of apparent change or growth, but there isn’t always in our own lives, either. So in watching these characters that change ever so slowly, we have a chance to catch our breath and assume that because it is a story, there must be meaning. 
In our own lives, we don’t get the big picture in two hours, or even over the course of five seasons. We aren’t even promised the big picture in the end. But maybe the big picture is not always more revealing than the individual parts. Maybe we are able to recognize that in Mad Men, and that is why we like it. 
In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, Father Zossima imparts this wisdom, that, although written in the 1800s, summarizes Don Draper just about as well as any modern critique could: 
“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”  It even sounds a little bit like one of Don’s moving sales pitches, doesn’t it?
As Matthew Weiner, the creator of the show says: Don Draper may not believe he is capable of being loved. If his inability to be loyal to one woman is any indication, I believe it. And I am willing to bet that if Don does indeed believe he is incapable of being loved, that seed was planted a long time ago with a small lie to himself. As viewers, we can pick up on that from our vantage point.
In a way, Don gives us a second chance, whether he will get one or not. These people in books and films and TV shows who are not so likable, they reveal the un-likability in ourselves, if we let them. And we like ourselves. We hold out hope for Don, because we hold out hope for ourselves. We realize we are no better than he is, and that the only difference is that for us, there is still a chance. That is hopeful. And that, I think, is why we like Mad Men.

EDIT: My thoughts on the Mad Men finale here.
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Favorite Finds

Everyone is talking about this Divergent movie, but I am way more excited 
about the new Muppet movie, Muppets Most Wanted. I hope we go see that this 
weekend. It should be a slightly different feel from what we saw last week 
(12 Years a Slave). Should be.
This week was a big week for JenEric. She got quite a few new visitors when 
Jennifer L. Scott (author of Lessons from Madame Chic!) shared my style tips 
collected from the book. I realize I was giving Ms. Scott free publicity, but still. 
She said she liked my blog so, I am officially chic.
In case you needed another reason to read more: scientific studies 
on what fiction does for your brain.

I am loving this series of interviews with grandmothers on Lydia Mag. 
I especially enjoyed this one.

(My dad’s mom passed away when I was young, but this is the closest 
thing I have to an interview with her)

Do you find the day to day lives of others as interesting as I do?
A new (to us) yellow chair I found recently for a mere $20. 
I didn’t buy it when I first saw it, but then I couldn’t stop thinking about it, 
so I went back to adopt it. I can’t stop staring at it, quite frankly.
Great food for thought from an expert on why you’re not getting traction 
from your platform (blogging). But also good for anyone trying to promote anything (a business, a product, creative pursuits, etc.)

Who else is counting down the days till the final season premiere of Mad Men (April 13th!!)
This interview with the creator of the show just made me like the show even more. I have such great respect for Matthew Weiner as a writer now.


Here are a couple of my favorite quotes from the interview:
“What you’re watching with Don is a representation, to me, of American society. 
He is steeped in sin, haunted by his past, raised by animals, and there is a chance to revolt. 
And he cannot stop himself.”
“I don’t know if Ted is as great an ad man as Don is, and he certainly has a lot of character flaws—we met him a few years ago as this total trickster, a thorn in Don’s side. 
But what I liked was Don going up against this guy and trying to destroy him. 
Because he hated his virtue. And who does that, except for someone who hates himself?”
I am not much of a DIY fashion person, but this tutorial looks kind of fun. I would do a different design, but the idea opens up so many possibilities! Would you do this?

Soooo many good blogging resources all in one place.

 Have you found anything great around the internet this week? 
Include a link in your comments. I like finding favorite things.

I hope you all have a great weekend!

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Florals for spring: groundbreaking

While the promise of Spring couldn’t be coming at a more perfect time, Spring remains my least favorite season to dress for. As the season is so short and temperamental, I just don’t feel strongly committed to it, sartorially speaking. Therefore, I don’t have a lot of spring clothing I am excited to wear year after year. But even if spring is short, it does occur every year. So logically, I do have reason to be kind of committed.

I’m working on it.

While spring provides a gentle nudge for me to clean things up around the apartment, write bad poetry, and try new things, I had to scour the internet for inspiration in the clothing department. Thankfully, it would seem that most people are faithfully committed to spring dressing, and I am able to benefit from their ideas. 

Here are a few looks that are helping me get my creative juices flowing:

1. Over the past few years my love of polka dots has slowly evolved from anti, to obsession. I love the cropped pants, blue and white, and nude heels. I am all about nude heels. image source

2. This color combination is so fresh and springy. Her whole outfit reminds me of a breath mint, in the best way possible. I want to try wearing slight variations in colors in darker and lighter shades this season. image source

3. I love how French this look is! A mini skirt, classic white T, and a charming neck scarf. I’m stealing this look, if I can pull it off without looking like a flight attendant. image source

4. Stripes and an A-line skirt. I want to be more adventurous with A-line skirts. I can’t always get the look to work for me (something about a tucked in shirt with this silhouette is tricky for my body type), but I am determined to exhaust every option before I give up. image source

5. I love the look of a tucked in shirt to a flowy skirt, with a cardigan. It is so 1940s-esque. image source

6. I will always love florals, for all year round. image source

And now let us pause for a moment to reflect on one of my favorite moments from one of my favorite movies:

7. The most perfect of perfect dresses. Too bad it is sold out on etsy. But, I will be on the hunt for this style until I find it. I am imagining this with wedge sandals and a brown leather purse with a long strap, sitting on one shoulder, 1990s style. image source

Are you feeling inspired to switch things up lately? Do you like dressing for Spring? What are your tips for dressing for warmer weather so abruptly? Do you want to talk about how much you love The Devil Wear’s Prada? Okay.

From the archives:
Are you being hard on yourself today? Feeling down? Here are some reasons why you are awesome.

Lessons from Madame Chic: style notes

I had heard of the idea of a capsule-wardrobe before my mother-in-law told me about Lessons From Madame Chic. But it wasn’t until I read Jennifer Scott’s book that the idea of a ten-item wardrobe began to take hold in my mind. Even now, I am not yet down to ten items, but I have spent much less money on clothing in the past year, keeping her tips in mind. 

I wrote about my attempts to shrink my wardrobe here, and it continues to be one of my most popular posts to date! As I said in that post, the result of limiting your wardrobe means getting rid of things you don’t love. Therefore, a smaller wardrobe feels more luxurious than one that is extensive and not half as loved. We humans tend to do better with fewer choices. Did you know that has been proven?

Back to Madame Chic. I am naturally drawn to books about French lifestyle, but this one was different in that it is written by Ms. Scott, an American who lived with a Parisian family as part of a foreign exchange program. I liked that it was written from a perspective of change. Rather than, “this is how we do it”, it came across more as, “this is what I observed and how I changed my mindset”. It was the change that I enjoyed most, I think, as well as Jennifer’s conversational and easy style of writing. 

By the way, if you have not checked out her blog, I recommend you stop what you are doing (well, after you finish reading this, of course) and take a look.

In her book, Ms. Scott has three parts. The first part is devoted to Diet and Exercise, Part Two is Style and Beauty, and Part Three is How to Live Well. I honestly liked every section equally, but Part Two has made the biggest impact in my life.

Here are a few things I learned about style from Ms. Scott’s book:

1) Clothing alterations are key to loving your wardrobe. I have known this for a long time. Stacy and Clinton are big on it, as well as just about every one else who knows anything about looking stylish. So why is it so difficult for me to take that leap into having my clothes tailored? If pants are too long, I do not buy them. Do I even own pants, you ask? I do. But most of them are skinny jeans that I tuck into boots. Problem solved. Except that I own maybe one or two pairs of pants that I don’t have to conceal with boots. I need to expand my options. I don’t want to live my entire life in fear of pants that are too long. So, I am working on this. I am working on making friends with a tailor in my town.

(Side note: this girl is my hero when it comes to forcing clothing into submission. She is so inspiring!)

2) Know what colors look good on you, and stick to that color palette. Even if the ugly color is on sale. Ms. Scott shares a funny story about her host mom (Madame Chic) bluntly informing her that the sweater she is wearing does not look good on her. And, as Ms. Scott says, American girls don’t ever tell each other when something looks bad on them. To be honest, I don’t think I would take it too well if one of my friends told me something looked bad on me (unless it is still in the dressing room). But, I like honesty, and I kind of wish it was completely okay for girls to be more honest with each other about what looks good on them. If it is all toward the end of finding what makes us look our best, why is being honest toward our girl friends so uncomfortable?

My favorite colors to wear are emerald green, deep purples, bright red, navy blue, dark orange, black and white. I look bad in brown and most shades of yellow. I have a brown wrap dress in my closet right now that I have never worn. I bought it because it was BCBG, and on sale. 

3) Stick to the silhouettes that look best on you. Ms. Scott doesn’t actually say that, but it is what I took away from her chats on developing your own personal style. 

Can I just say right now….personal style is not superficial. What I love so much about fashion is that it is a life-long (and ever-changing) process of learning how you wish to present yourself to others. You absolutely cannot avoid being seen by others in a certain light. So, you might as well control it as much as you are able, and enjoy doing it. Developing personal taste separate from what the media tells you you are supposed to like, is challenging and rewarding.

Anyway, back to our topic at hand. This kind of goes back to what I have said before about freeing myself from trends. I like trends. But I don’t have to have them in order to feel good about my style. It is much more rewarding to discover what flatters you most, and to always be on the lookout for what you know will work on your body. That is a sure way to feel good about the way you look, no matter what your shape. It is also a sure way of teaching yourself to say “no” in the dressing room if it is not a perfect fit! And as Stacy and Clinton also say, you are never the problem. It’s the clothes. I like to think of honesty in dressing ourselves as a way to be grateful for what God has given each of us. God did not create everyone tall and skinny for a reason.

Have you read Lessons From Madame Chic? Do you enjoy books about French culture? What are your thoughts on a limited wardrobe? How has your style changed as you have gotten older? Are you honest about what looks good on you (and your friends…)? I would love to know!
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