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Mad Men and Philosophy: Nothing Is as It Seems [Paperback]

James B. South , Rod Carveth , William Irwin
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 1 2010 The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series (Book 28)
A look at the philosophical underpinnings of the hit TV show, Mad Men

With its swirling cigarette smoke, martini lunches, skinny ties, and tight pencil skirts, Mad Men is unquestionably one of the most stylish, sexy, and irresistible shows on television. But the series becomes even more absorbing once you dig deeper into its portrayal of the changing social and political mores of 1960s America and explore the philosophical complexities of its key characters and themes. From Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand, Mad Men and Philosophy brings the thinking of some of history's most powerful minds to bear on the world of Don Draper and the Sterling Cooper ad agency. You'll gain insights into a host of compelling Mad Men questions and issues, including happiness, freedom, authenticity, feminism, Don Draper's identity, and more.

  • Takes an unprecedented look at the philosophical issues and themes behind AMC's Emmy Award-winning show, Mad Men
  • Explores issues ranging from identity to authenticity to feminism, and more
  • Offers new insights on your favorite Mad Men characters, themes, and storylines

Mad Men and Philosophy will give Mad Men fans everywhere something new to talk about around the water cooler.


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From the Back Cover

Is Don Draper a good man?

What do Peggy, Betty, and Joan teach us about gender equality?

What are the ethics of advertising—or is that a contradiction in terms?

Is Roger Sterling an existential hero?

We're better people than we were in the sixties, right?

With its swirling cigarette smoke, martini lunches, skinny ties, and tight pencil skirts, Mad Men is unquestionably one of the most stylish, sexy, and irresistible shows on television. But the series becomes even more absorbing once you dig deeper into its portrayal of the changing social and political mores of 1960s America and explore the philosophical complexities of its key characters and themes. From Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to John Kenneth Galbraith, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand, Mad Men and Philosophy brings the thinking of some of history's most powerful minds to bear on the world of Don Draper and the Sterling Cooper ad agency. You'll gain insights into a host of compelling Mad Men questions and issues, including happiness, freedom, authenticity, feminism, Don Draper's identity, and more—and have lots to talk about the next time you find yourself around the water cooler.

About the Author

ROD CARVETH is an assistant professor in the department of Communications Media at Fitchburg State College.

JAMES B. SOUTH is chair of the philosophy department at Marquette University. He edited Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy and James Bond and Philosophy.

WILLIAM IRWIN is a professor of philosophy at King's College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He originated the philosophy and popular culture genre of books as coeditor of the bestselling The Simpsons and Philosophy and has overseen recent titles including Batman and Philosophy, House and Philosophy, and Twilight and Philosophy.


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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3.0 out of 5 stars Rationalizing Desire March 6 2012
By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
This is the first effort I read from "The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series". It is a very engaging and entertaining premise with the editors also covering Alice in Wonderland, Twilight, The Daily Show and other subjects in the series. Mad Men would seem to be a natural for philosophical, if not, psychological analysis. I am confident that even if I did not work for an advertising and communications company, I would still watch Mad Men because of the childhood nostalgia for the era and it's oft-recognized authenticity (costumes, sets, historic references).

Where people's views differ about the show is in the plot lines covering infidelities, sexism, racism, and other human foibles that fuel the drama. The book examines a number of these subjects from its various contributors. The intent, I gather, is to add variety of thought but unfortunately there is so much repetition and duplication in the analysis that after the first third of the book it became the law of diminishing returns. I did enjoy the parts dealing with justification and how often we fool ourselves into believing what we are doing is right (as defined by our own moral code).

And it was great to rediscover standpoint theory or standpoint epistemology which I subscribe to because it is predicated on actual experiences. Also Socrates' "passions prevailing over scruples" is a key theme of Mad Men and is linked to the debate of how different being motivated by self-interest is from actually acting on that self-interest. Truly compelling is Plato's belief that "our emotional responses to fictional drama tend to shape how we respond to events in real life". This notion is deserving of a book dedicated to how aspects of society are now shaped by 'reality television'.
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Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Trip Down Memory Lane Aug. 10 2010
By Pining for Philosophy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
My 20-something daughter suggested I watch "Mad Men" on [...]: Like a 13-hour movie, she said. So well done. Originally, she thought I would love the depth, excellent production values and of course, the fashion. It was so much more. You see, I majored in Philosophy at a major State university from 1968 - 1972 and went on from there to law school and a wonderful career that spanned poverty and technology law from the late 70s to early 90s. This book is a marvelous survey of the existentialist presentation that permeates "Mad Men". I'm only halfway through (reading on the Kindle; absolute pleasure), and savoring every chapter. Memories of Heidegger, Camus, Sartre, Nietzsche, de Beauvoir, and company flourish through this book. If you didn't major in philosophy, it will all come alive for you in the context of this excellent TV series. And a secret be told, we've never had a TV --- I watch subscribing to iTunes and then purchasing the DVDs for the fascinating commentaries. Enjoy!
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Way We Were Sept. 5 2010
By Douglas K. Pinner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Like another reviewer I was introduced to Madmen by my daughter and immediately became hooked.I don't normally watch series with the exception of the Sopranos in which I see the same exceptional qualities of outstanding ensemble casting and realistic portrayal of quotidian life in the milieu of larger societal cultural issues.Hence,I got the book and was not disappointed.Written as a series of articles dealing with both the philosophical and social aspects of the age ,this is one fun read. The philosophical backdrop ranges from classical Greek to the existentialists with due note to Kant,Nietzche, and others,all arranged around major themes of knowledge and freedom,meaning,ethics and happiness,and social dynamics.Larger philosophic issues devolve intriguingly around the characters such as "The Existential Void of Roger Sterling","Is Don Draper a Good Man".The latter is indicative of the general tone of evenhanded non judgemental analysis and one I found particularly thoughtful.While written primarily from an Aristotelian and Platonic framework,his conclusion ,to me ,was refreshingly existential and in an eastern context,very Taoistic.On a personal note,as a newly minted M.B.A. ,I entered the business world on the shank end of this era and readily relate and identify.While on the one hand distant,change a few details and major cultural shifts and you have the offices and characters of latter day NY big bizz,be it adguys(or gals now) or Wall Street. So...Is this a "better" time ,are we "happier"? Hmmm...Before rushing to judgement I propose an interesting 'thought experiment". Produce a current version of Madmen and televise it to the characters on the show back in the 60's.What would a "Madmen and Philosophy" of 2010 read like in a similar analysis in the 60's?.. Perhaps the conclusion would similarly mirror that of "Is Don Draper a Good Man or a Bad Man". ....OR....A Taoistic "It just is". In conclusion,what a fun and interesting read.If nothing else ,it assuages any guilt in sitting around watching TV and elevating it to cultural,societal,philosophic commentary :>)
29 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scotch and philosophy. It all makes sense now. Jan. 1 2011
By Chris Gladis - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you had asked me a year ago which television show you should absolutely make time to watch, I would have immediately told you to start watching Mad Men. Deep, complicated, and made with great attention to detail, it is a show that rewards viewers. The characters reveal themselves over time, minor plot elements emerge as major turning points, and they give us 21st-century viewers a chance to look at the '60s in a whole new light. The show had had three outstanding seasons, and up until that point, I would have recommended it unreservedly.

Until they dropped my brother from the cast.

I understand that I did not really default to my rational soul in this instance. The third season was one giant setup for the surprise ending in which Sterling Cooper is bought out (again) and Don and Lane hatch a plan to break away with all the staff and clients they could carry. In this situation, they needed their strongest people, and when it came down to choosing writers, there was no question that Peggy Olsen was a better writer than Paul Kinsey. It had been shown again and again during the season, so that when Kinsey was left twisting in the wind at the end, it made sense - from a writing perspective.

That didn't mean I had to like it.

So when season four rolled around, I started to download the episodes, but I resisted watching them. I just sulked. Was I being childish? Immature? Petty? We may never know the answers to those questions, but I can tell you this - the reason I finally gave in and started watching it again was this book.

Part of the Pop Culture and Philosophy genre of books, this volume takes a deep, intellectual look at the series, examining its characters, its ethics and its messages, to see what kind of lessons we can learn from it. From Aristotle to Ayn Rand, thousands of years of human thinking are illustrated in this tv show, and the authors who have contributed to the book are able to tease fascinating concepts from whiskey and smoke. How do Betty, Joan and Peggy represent second-wave feminism? What are the responsibilities of advertisers to their target audience? How might be Peggy a Nietzschean Superwoman, and why does Pete fail so hard? Is Don Draper a good man, and would Ayn Rand have salivated over him, as Bert Cooper claimed she would? The book is full of interesting ideas, and I'll share a few of my favorites with you.

In "Pete, Peggy, Don, and the Dialectic of Remembering and Forgetting," John Fritz examines the Nietzschean virtue of willing forgetfulness and how it applies to these three characters. The way it goes is this: Nietzsche believed that the past should serve the present, that you should be able to use your memories to push yourself forward. Not all memories do this, as we all know, and to hold on to memories that simply hold us back - to live in the past - is detrimental to leading a good life. Pete Campbell, for example, perpetually lives in the past. He can't forget anything, especially if it is something he perceives as a slight against him. When Ken Cosgrove gets a story published, Pete stews over it, bitter that Ken did something worthwhile and he did not. Rather than do the adult thing - congratulate Ken and move on - Pete cannot let go. He ends up nearly forcing his wife into the arms of another man just to try and match Ken's accomplishment. Pete's inability to forget causes him almost constant distress.

Don is a little better. Don knows that you need to forget things, and tries to live that way. When his estranged brother shows up, Don tells him, "My life moves in only one direction - forward." He chooses to forget the things he has done if they will interfere with the way his life is going now. When he gets into a car accident, and Peggy has to bail him out, he doesn't remember to pay her back until she very pointedly reminds him. It's probable that he used this willing forgetfulness as part of his strategy to cheat on Betty. The only way to live both lives at once is to forget the one that will cause you trouble, and then recall it when it's time to get some nookie again.

But Don's not perfect. His memories are triggered again and again - sights and smells bring him back to his childhood, to his abusive father, and to the traumatic day in Korea when he became someone else. Don's past follows him, like a loyal dog, occasionally nipping at his heels and reminding him where he came from, no matter how much Don would like to forget it.

Peggy, on the other hand, is the champion of willing forgetfulness. The birth of the child she had with Pete is a fantastic example of this, and my favorite moment is when she finally tells Pete what had happened. She sits him down, and very calmly explains that she had his baby and then gave it away, and the tone of her voice is less exciting than someone talking about the new shoes she has bought. Peggy forgot about the baby - she chose to forget about the baby, no matter how much her family and Father Whatawaste tried to remind her. But for this one moment, she unpacked it, held it out at arm's length just long enough to tell Pete, and then she wrapped it up again and buried it in her mind. Peggy knows that there are things in her past that will hold her back if she clings to them, so she doesn't. In this way, she is the model of Nietzsche's virtue of willing forgetfulness.

In "'In on It': Honesty, Respect, and the Ethics of Advertising," Andrea Novakovic and Tyler Whitney ask about what ethical rules bind advertising, if any, and how advertisers relate to consumers. The essay centers around the season 2 episode, "A Night to Remember," wherein Don uses his wife as a demographic model for Heineken beer. During her meticulously-planned dinner party, full of international cuisine, Betty reveals that they are drinking Heineken, from Holland, which comes as a welcome surprise to Don and Duck Phillips. Betty is upset by this, and after the party accuses Don of purposefully embarrassing and humiliating her, and Don doesn't quite get what the problem is. No surprise there.

But does Betty have a legitimate beef with Don and Sterling Cooper? Well, that depends on why she bought the Heineken. If she bought it because she likes it, or because she had heard good things about it, then no. But she suspects that Don had done his research too well, and that the only reason she picked up those nice green bottles was because he knew her so well that he could make her think she wanted to buy it. From her point of view, he manipulated her, (which in fancy-pants philosophical terms might be called depriving someone of agency) and then laughed about it. Don has shown no respect for his wife and her ability to make choices on her own, and this reflects the larger issue of respect between advertisers and the consumers they target.

It is, of course, a challenging topic, even within the show. In the pilot episode, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," Don actively rejects psychological profiling in coming up with an ad for Lucky Strike, yet in that season's finale, "The Wheel," he is quite clearly using psychological manipulation to sell his idea for Kodak's Carousel. So what is the difference between profiling Betty to sell beer and using nostalgia to sell a slide projector? It's a matter of respect. It is easy for people watching the Kodak ad to understand what is going on in an ad that uses their memories to evoke an emotional response. The advertiser respects the consumer's intelligence and agency, and uses that to sell their product. In Betty's case, however, the manipulation was more subtle. Display techniques, signage, subtle and professional methods which start from the assumption that the consumer doesn't know her own mind.

Finally, in "What Fools We Were: Mad Men, Hindsight, and Justification," Landon W. Schurtz asks the question we all asked about the people in this show: how could they be so dumb? I mean, when Betty's daughter shows up with a dry-cleaning bag over her head, Betty is angrier about the possible state of her clothes than the chance her daughter could suffocate. When we first meet Sal Romano, he is so ridiculously gay that we can't believe no one notices. And Sterling-Cooper gleefully take on Richard Nixon as a candidate when we all know what the man is clearly a crook. From our perspective, these things seem completely obvious, yet the characters on Mad Men just don't seem to know any better. So why is that?

Well, it depends on what you mean by the word "know," and that's what Schurtz tries to figure out in this essay. We can know things through direct experience, for example, but Betty has probably never had a daughter asphyxiate on plastic, Don and the others have probably never met an openly gay man, and, well, historians still don't know how Nixon convinced America that he wasn't a weasel in an ill-fitting suit. We can know things through the testimony of others, but again - those bits of knowledge hadn't quite permeated the culture yet. Even if they had, whom could you trust for accurate testimony? Don rejects Doctor Guttman's suggestions for the Lucky Strike campaign because he rejects the significance of psychological research. The elders of Sterling Cooper continued to reject Pete's ideas because they didn't believe young people could know anything worth knowing.

In short, no - the people in the '60s weren't stupid. They just didn't know any better.

This book got me to give up my sulk and start watching Mad Men again. Even though it is clearly diminished with the absence of Paul Kinsey, I was reminded that the show is immensely complex and worth the time to watch. So I am recommending it to all - watch the show. And read the book. Together, they defy the common wisdom that modern entertainment has nothing to offer us. Indeed, they give us a new perspective not only on the show, but on our own lives. Pretty impressive for an hour a week.

----------------------------------------------------------------
"The basic desire to feel okay is deeply human, but if Don Draper can take this generic human longing and create a desire for a particular product, are we genuinely free?"
- Kevin Guilfoy, "Capitalism and Freedom in the Affluent Society"
----------------------------------------------------------------
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rationalizing Desire March 6 2012
By Jeffrey Swystun - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is the first effort I read from "The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series". It is a very engaging and entertaining premise with the editors also covering Alice in Wonderland, Twilight, The Daily Show and other subjects in the series. Mad Men would seem to be a natural for philosophical, if not, psychological analysis. I am confident that even if I did not work for an advertising and communications company, I would still watch Mad Men because of the childhood nostalgia for the era and it's oft-recognized authenticity (costumes, sets, historic references).

Where people's views differ about the show is in the plot lines covering infidelities, sexism, racism, and other human foibles that fuel the drama. The book examines a number of these subjects from its various contributors. The intent, I gather, is to add variety of thought but unfortunately there is so much repetition and duplication in the analysis that after the first third of the book it became the law of diminishing returns. I did enjoy the parts dealing with justification and how often we fool ourselves into believing what we are doing is right (as defined by our own moral code).

And it was great to rediscover standpoint theory or standpoint epistemology which I subscribe to because it is predicated on actual experiences. Also Socrates' "passions prevailing over scruples" is a key theme of Mad Men and is linked to the debate of how different being motivated by self-interest is from actually acting on that self-interest. Truly compelling is Plato's belief that "our emotional responses to fictional drama tend to shape how we respond to events in real life". This notion is deserving of a book dedicated to how aspects of society are now shaped by 'reality television'.

The book also ventures into the debate of just how influential or manipulative advertising is in our daily lives. I tend to favor the theory advanced by contributor Kevin Guilfoy and advanced by economist Milton Friedman who "argues that advertising is informative. not persuasive. Don Draper can't create desire, but even if he could it would not cause us to choose." The book covers the first three seasons and I expect it will become source reading for liberal arts sociology and philosophy programs who trove pop culture as a means of connecting with youthful intellectuals.
3.0 out of 5 stars Mad Men May 19 2013
By zack billings - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
its an alright book, love the show and hope to learn more about it. it had a little damage but the seller stated that it did looked better than I thought it would.
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