Created by Matthew Weiner (Lionsgate Television, Weiner Bros., American Movie Classics)
Starring Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, Vincent Karthieser, January Jones, Christina Hendricks, and John Slatterly.
TV series review by Donovan Richards
"The strongest principle of growth lies in the human choice." — George Eliot
Self Help. Shelves upon shelves are dedicated to this topic in libraries and bookstores across America. Daytime talk shows hosted by professionals with large personalities and larger degrees find popularity by focusing on this subject. It is the magical panacea capable of granting health, wealth, and relational success. You make the difference in the world and you are weak if you request help.
Is another offshoot of Chicken Soup for the Soul capable of curing the turpitude of humanity? The AMC original series, Mad Men, seems to think that a positive self-outlook lacks the features needed to cure an ailing individual.
Winner of four Golden Globes, Mad Men receives high praise from most critics. Best known for its dark portrayal of a 1960s advertising agency based on Madison Avenue in New York, the show's narcissistic characters smoke, drink, and sleep their way to financial success.
Such loose living over the previous three seasons, however, brings serious consequences. Broken families, lost client relationships, and poor health frame the beginning of Season 4, as does the recently created firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Grab a Martini and Take a Seat
The show's protagonist, Founding Partner and Creative Director Donald Draper (Jon Hamm), conceals a spiraling personal life. Marital strife leaves him alone in a New York City apartment; the pressures of a stressful work environment drive him to the bottle; and he seeks whatever pleasure he can find in the comfort of a woman's touch.
Inevitably, his home life influences his professional life, which creates unwanted stagnancy. Sensing the moribund direction of his life, Draper implements self rules such as a limit of three drinks a day and a steady romantic relationship. For a short period, his newly structured life decreases his depraved tendencies. Both his personal and professional lives begin to flourish.
But, as with most addictive propensities, combating them alone typically results in failure. A myriad of detrimental circumstances pushes Draper's life toward the brink.
Sometimes You Just Need a Friend
Mad Men evocatively depicts human frailty. Draper's narcissism launches him to the peaks of the advertising world, leaving colleagues strewn in a path of wreckage. But the same selfish nature humbles him as his walls tumble around him.
In light of this portrayal, our businesses can also present opportunities for gain at the expense of others, occasions for living in excess, and chances to act as lone wolves. A community of friends and colleagues who have the opportunity to speak directly and truthfully into our lives makes a big difference. Lives lived without meaningful connection — similar to Don Draper's — suffer similar solitary and deleterious results.
Don Draper's character illustrates the fact that Christians and non-Christians alike are prone to self-deceit, and in turn, self-destruction. Our weaknesses and moral failings only become amplified when we combat them alone.
Community, then, is a vital aspect of a functioning individual; it catches people when they fall, and it encourages people to act selflessly.
In a culture marked by individualistic philosophies espoused in self-help books and pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps success stories, the power of community is a valuable asset. Mad Men reminds us of the perils existing in solitude.
Much Better Than a Self-Help Book
On the whole, Mad Men is a show of subtlety, unafraid to engage in the complex dilemmas of the unsettling 1960s era. Like a dense book, the show sometimes requires time for the themes to fully digest. Yet, when viewed as a whole, Mad Men is a masterfully produced show depicting the struggles of the business world. Although slow-paced (it's worth it - I promise), I strongly recommend picking up and watching this season and previous seasons of Mad Men on DVD.
Donovan Richards earned an M.A. in Business and Applied Theology from SPU and works as a consulting analyst for See Seven. You can read more reviews on Donovan's blog.
Created by Stephen Lambert (CBS, The Learning Channel, Oprah Winfrey Network)
Americans feel deep cynicism and mistrust of corporate America. It is not surprising that this is the prevailing attitude, given the recent abuses and perceived arrogance of many corporate bosses, especially those leading commercial and investment banks. And yet...
TV series review by John Terrill
Reasons for hope
In "Inside the Great American Bubble Machine," a story it ran last year, Rolling Stone described Goldman Sachs, the most venerable of the investment banks, as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."
Strong words to express strong sentiments. And yet, corporate managers, public policy and religious leaders are working in unprecedented ways for reform. In 2008 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Bill Gates argued for a "creative capitalism," whereby big corporations would commit to serve the common good through their business operations. A book by the same name, Creative Capitalism, was published to record the ongoing conversation coming out of the Forum among senior leaders and advisors. Even the Vatican, as another case in point, has joined the conversation. In 2009 Pope Benedict XVI issued an encyclical on economic reform, Caritas in Veritate, in which he offers insightful ideas on reform without vilifying the capitalistic system.
American television and cinema have sided mostly with the negative, taking aim at corporate America, sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. When anger, cutthroat competition and disdain aren’t the prevailing themes depicted, visual media lampoon the foolishness of work life, such as in the popular television show, The Office.
This is why I was so surprised to see a refreshing new series which recently debuted: Undercover Boss. The new CBS reality series (Sunday 9/8c and available to view online) follows high-level chief executives as they anonymously enter the rank and file of their companies. Their reason for going undercover is to understand operations at a grass-roots level. As they make their journey, which consists of a week of working mostly menial jobs, they find their fair share of inefficiencies; but more importantly, they rediscover the impact their decisions have on others, as well as the everyday heroic acts of the employees who make their companies run.
Some of the chief executives who go undercover include Larry O'Donnell, President and C.O.O. of Waste Management; Joseph DePinto, President and C.E.O. of 7-Eleven; and Dave Rife, Owner/Executive Board Member of White Castle. (Hooters President and CEO Coby Brooks also goes undercover, but I thought this episode was sub-par compared to the others.) To give you a snapshot of what they learn about the impact of company policies, Larry O’Donnell, Waste Management’s boss, while riding with one of his female garbage collectors, discovers to his horror that women drivers are often forced to pee in cups due to unrealistic time and route demands.
Against a backdrop of mostly negative portrayals of work life, Undercover Boss stands out. People want to trust and believe in their leaders and are searching for reasons to do so. The bosses who go undercover in this series restore hope. They recognize that business is at its best when people are valued and jobs are designed in ways that enable creativity and personal growth. They resist "executive privilege" to work alongside employees who do much of the unglamorous "heavy lifting" of making a business run.
As a Christian, I am encouraged by the show’s portrayal of servant-oriented leadership, which finds its highest expression in the life of Jesus, who "came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (See Matthew 20:28) For a glimpse of what business and its leaders can be and the positive impact service at the top can have on corporate culture, invest an hour in this inspiring show.
John Terrill directs the Center for Integrity in Business in the School of Business & Economics at Seattle Pacific University.
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