Thursday 22 March 2018

Why the words, not the clothes, are the secret

"Well, I gotta go learn a bunch of people's names before I fire them." Like all the funniest lines in Mad Men, this wisecrack was delivered by Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce's very own Silver Fox, Roger Sterling (John Slattery).

The gag punctured the tension in season four's penultimate episode, Blowing Smoke, in which the unfortunate recipients of Sterling's marching orders started clearing their desks, gathering in tearful huddles near the reception area of the Madison Avenue advertising firm.

It was horribly-well portrayed, and will have struck a chill note of recognition for many people in these downsizing times.

But then that's the point about Mad Men -- in all the jabber about the wonderful retro-fashions, the casual smoking and sexism, and the significance of its historical overview, one truth tends to get overlooked, and that is that Matthew Weiner has crafted a cracking workplace drama. Mad Men contains the most lifelike depiction of office life since, well, The Office, which was, of course, a sitcom.

Perhaps there is something inherently funny about the spaces where most of us spend most of our days, but one of the many reasons why I love Mad Men is that this is a serious workplace where serious work gets done by serious (well, except Roger) people. The show manages to make a pitch for Playtex or Clearasil seem -- quite rightly -- like a matter of life and death. And Don Draper isn't impressive because of his sharp suits or his prodigious secretary and whisky habits, but because he's good at his job.

There are the usual office politics, paranoia, back-stabbing, ambition and lust, of course, but Mad Men manages to make the toiling itself seem interesting.

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