Mad Men U

Anyone experiencingMad Menwithdrawal symptoms? I sure as hell am after mainlining season-4. I’m jonesing to write a wrap up post but the show’s a wrap so there’s nothing to wrap up.In lieu of that, here’s a nifty article from the San Francisco Chronicle about aMad Men course at UC Berkeley:

Mad Men” is a television series about a time in the early ’60s when sexual harassment in the workplace was the norm, and people smoked cigarettes with abandon. It’s also an unlikely source for a history lesson. But it’s exactly where dozens ofUC Berkeley students are turning to learn more about an era many of them find intriguing.

The cult hit is the subject of a new course on campus exploring the lives of the show’s cocktail-swilling, social-climbing advertising executives on New York’s Madison Avenue.

“I think we have a fascination with what we didn’t live through,” said Katie Dowd, a senior English major. “It’s particularly interesting to our generation because our parents lived through it.”

During the weekly class, theTV show is given the treatment normally reserved for works of literature. Words like “archetype” and “tragic” pop up frequently as students analyze Mad Men’s glamorous yet troubled characters. The class explores the politics and culture of the early ’60s and discusses themes such as the role of women in the workplace, class and society, marriage and family.

Like a good book

“It’s such a thought-provoking show,” said Dowd. “It asks you to engage a little more than other shows do and invites you to think about the characters’ motivations and symbolism as you would reading a good book.”

Dowd and her roommate, senior history major Annie Powers, have been watching the award-winning drama since its premiere four seasons ago, and both say they are impressed by the accurate portrayal of the aesthetics and lifestyles of the period. They wanted to find out why so many others are as passionate as they are about the show, so they proposed teaching the class.

“There is so much to talk about,” Powers said.

The class is part of UC Berkeley’s DeCal program, a student-run education undertaking that allows students to create and facilitate their own classes on a variety of often unconventional subjects. Considered a unique and “democratic” aspect of Berkeley’s undergraduate program, the program offers 150 courses each semester for up to two units of academic credit on topics that range fromHarry Potter and “Sex and the City” to numismatics and swing dance.

To Powers and Dowd’s surprise, 80 students showed up for the first “Mad Men” class even though there was space for only 30. They filled the coveted spots by asking the prospects to analyze an episode and write about why they like “Mad Men.”

‘Deeper level’

“We picked those who seemed interested in delving into the show on a deeper level,” Powers said. Powers and Dowd intend to teach the course again in the spring for applicants who were cut this semester.

Sophomore Christian Bustus, who intends to major in English, said he began watching the show because he admires the artistic creativity of the early ’60s, especially the music ofBob Dylan and the writing of Frank O’Hara.

Bustus said that discussing episodes and supplemental readings likeBetty Friedan‘s “The Feminine Mystique” with the rest of the class enhances the experience of “Mad Men.”

“It’s not predictable or formulaic,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like a show; it feels more like a long film. Yeah, there’s sexism and racism in it, but we get it because we understand that that’s the way it used to be.”

During a recent class examining the flawed relationships among the “Mad Men” characters, students agreed that family was a “burden” and a “prop” for dashing ad exec Don Draper and described Roger’s marriage to Jane as an “impulse buy.”

Senior Aaron Cullen, a rhetoric major and vocal contributor to the class, said “Mad Men” is about nothing less than the “American mythos,” with characters that evoke the cool image of pop icons likeElvis Presley.

“These are mysterious and inscrutable characters who end up hurting other people,” he said. “The show gets us to look at them and ask, ‘Is this who we really want to be?’

2 thoughts on “Mad Men U

  1. I am definitely having Mad Men withdrawal. Can’t believe it won’t be back till next summer. I have a feeling that Dr. Faye Miller will not be ignored, if you know what I mean.
    HBO still has to be kicking itself for rejecting this show. People would’ve subscribed to the service just for this, the way they did with The Sopranos. I do remember that toward the end of its run The Sopranos’ story structure was being discussed in colleges, too. If you could get The Sopranos, you could get Shakespeare. Mad Men is more like the traditional 20th-century naturalistic novel, which is up there with the great American contributions to art.

  2. Mad Men (and Breaking Bad) are the first television dramas I’ve gotten hooked on in a long, long while…
    Aside from everything else, i.e., compelling plot lines, good writing, physically attractive actors and actresses, count me as also being just old enough to recall the tail end of the 1960s, and just curious enough about the early/mid 60s, both as a kid and now.
    Is it me, or was it really a more optimistic era? It seems as if it all started going downhill once Nixon got elected…

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