“Mad Men” Inspired Both My Summer Reading and My Next Published Article

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote about those reading lists that kept me busy during summer vacations from CSG. With school about to start again, it’s time to report on what I read this summer.

While CSG girls were reading Rebecca, Middlemarch and The Eyre Affair, I was embarking on an enlightening armchair tour of early 1960s America. My task was to read 20 books related to AMC’s Mad Men television series so that I could write an introductory essay and reviews of each title for an upcoming issue of Communication Booknotes Quarterly, a review journal of publications covering mass media, telecommunications, and the information industry. I turned in my literature review last week, so my mission has been accomplished!

I’m not a regular Mad Men viewer, but I’ll occasionally tune in to the show to enjoy its visual and musical style. I like the show’s opening credits, with its graphic design reminiscent of “North by Northwest” and “Vertigo” and its catchy theme, “A Beautiful Mine.” Since I’m a fan of early 1960s fashion, watching Mad Men also gives me good wardrobe ideas to emulate. I may be overdressed compared to my peers, but I just don’t feel comfortable without my pearls, twinsets, scarves, cigarette pants, vintage jewelry, sheath dresses or stylish handbags. Mad Men: Music from the Series, Vol. 1 is a great compilation of some of my favorite Eisenhower-era renditions of songs like “On the Street Where You Live,” “Manhattan,” “P.S. I Love You,” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Now, thanks to the Columbus Metropolitan Library and OhioLINK, I’ve discovered that there’s also a fascinating literary component to Mad Men. 

Don Draper’s office bookshelf probably holds some classic volumes about advertising practices and sociology that were published during the era. Some of the titles I read included: Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy; From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor: Front-Line Dispatches from the Advertising War, by Jerry Della Femina; Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized Society, by Paul Goodman; The Hidden Persuaders, by Vance Packard; The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, by Daniel J. Boorstin; The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character, by David Riesman; The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, by Sloan Wilson; and The Organization Man, by William H. Whyte. Two chapters of that last book — “The Web of Friendship” and “The Outgoing Life” — offer a thought-provoking look at life in the suburbs that’s still relevant today. For example, Whyte observed how frightening it is to see how an otherwise decent group of people can punish a deviate neighbor in a pretty cruel manner, particularly when the deviate is unfortunate enough to live in the middle of the group, rather than being somewhat isolated and out of the way (The Organization Man, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002, p. 359). Speaking from experience, gang, please be nice to the deviate!

Fiction and poetry works of the day also make appearances in the show, so I read: The Best of Everything, by Rona Jaffe; The Group, by Mary McCarthy; The Hucksters, by Frederick Wakeman; Meditations in an Emergency, by Frank O’Hara; and Revolutionary Road, by Richard Yates.

To learn more about Mad Men’s philosophy, style and cultural influence, I read: The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men, by Janie Bryant with Monica Corcoran Harel; Kings of Madison Avenue: The Unofficial Guide to Mad Men, by Jesse McLean; Mad Men: Dream Come True TV, edited by Gary R. Edgerton; Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is As It Seems, edited by Rod Carveth and James B. South; Mad Men: The Illustrated World, by Dyna Moe; Mad Men Unbuttoned: A Romp Through 1960s America, by Natasha Vargas-Cooper; and Sterling’s Gold: Wit & Wisdom of an Ad Man, by Roger Sterling, founder of the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce advertising agency. I loved the paper doll of Joan Harris, complete with an extensive wardrobe, in Mad Men: The Illustrated World.

My project was a great way to learn more not only about the show, but also about why the period it illustrates is so engrossing to today’s viewers. Along the way, I also discovered some interesting trivia. For example, Mad Men has led to a resurgence in popularity for the Gimlet, a combination of gin and Rose’s West India sweetened lime juice that’s Betty Draper’s favorite cocktail. The show has inspired lines of clothing at Banana Republic and Brooks Brothers. A branch of the New York Public Library tweets about books that have appeared or been mentioned in show episodes so that you can read classic texts from the era. Best of all is the AMC cable channel’s “Mad Men Yourself” website. Tapping my toes to the catchy retro-sounding music playing in the background, I created a stylized version of myself that would be right at home on the show. You can use your customized avatar as the background on your computer desktop or as your Twitter or Facebook profile picture.

My Mad Men-inspired summer isn’t quite over yet. During the next week, the Turner Classic Movies cable channel will be showing several vintage films whose plots feature the advertising business. I’ll be tuning in to watch “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,” “It Should Happen to You,” “A Letter to Three Wives,” and “Callaway Went Thataway” – all movies I’ve never seen before!

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