Mar 272012
Authors: Matt Miller

I have spent the last five years trying to get my parents –– both children of the ‘60s –– to watch AMC’s “Mad Men.” I’ve sat them down and forced them to watch the first episode, I bought them the seasons on DVD and made a point to talk about the show incessantly. They weren’t sold.

They have good taste in television –– they devoured “The Sopranos,” they watched all of “Lost,” they love “Game Of Thrones,” but my parents never got into “Mad Men.”

I’ve always found this strange. My parents are the perfect market for the show. None of the show’s time sensitive cultural references would be over their heads, and they can appreciate all the nostalgia crammed into every scene.

They have resisted a TV show that was essentially made for them and at the same time, I have fallen in love with a show that is set three decades before I was even born.

Hours before Sunday’s long awaited fifth season premiere I talked to my mom on the phone, told her how excited I was to watch the show and once again, asked her if she and dad had given it a chance. She said no. So as I sat down to watch the new episode I had the question in the back of my mind: Why do I, a 22-year-old, like this show?

What is it that made a good chunk of people my age tune in on Sunday to “Mad Men’s” most watched episode ever? (3.5 million viewers)

The show has always drawn in audiences through its somewhat satirical depiction of ‘60s societal norms involving racism, sexism, smoking and drinking, etc. However, these attitudes of the time can only stay fresh for so long.

With dynamic and deeply human characters, superb filming and artistic direction along with fantastic writing, the show is executed better than anything else on television. But as with everything about “Mad Men,” there’s another layer of excellence to it.

“Mad Men” is a show about time. It’s about struggling with our personal and collective pasts, it’s about uncertainty of the future, it’s about using the 1960s to better understand 2012.

In the form of a visual time capsule, “Mad Men” painstakingly recreates the world my parents grew up in. It’s like an artistic observance of my parents as children and my grandparents as young newlyweds.

One of the most famous scenes of the show, the final episode of season one, Don Draper is pitching an ad campaign for the Kodak Carousel. While projecting memories of his own family he says, “This isn’t a spaceship. It’s a time machine.”

A time machine is exactly what “Mad Men” is. For people my age who have only heard about our parents life through images, history books and half-remembered stories, “Mad Men” is the closest thing people we have to visualizing everyday life of the 1960s.

Through the utmost detail put into every single prop, every set, every costume and the accuracy of the timeline, people my age can step into an era that shaped our parents and grandparents, and even us.

What was it like living through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the day John F. Kennedy was shot, the Vietnam War? For me “Mad Men” can help quell these curiosities, and we can better understand the anxieties and the struggles and the human conditions that transcend generations.

In the 1960s, television was a young medium, and up until now nothing on television has gone through the lengths that “Mad Men” has to portray a specific time and place.

That is what draws me into the show –– television as a means of time travel.

Technology is something unique to how my generation was raised, and it only makes sense that we would be drawn to it as a means of understanding older generations.

When you think about it in terms of nature vs. nurture, television, the Internet, cell phones, all of this technology has been the nurture side of our social development. For people my age experiencing memory, even other people’s memories or interpretation of memory, through television is ordinary.

The difference between my parents and me is this: They lived in the ‘60s and don’t need a television or any technology to provide them that familiarity. I was born in 1990 and, having been socialized through technology. It’s only natural that the television would be my source of understanding the past that made me.

I like to think that in Don’s Kodak Carousel speech he could be pitching his own show in the 21st century. He says, “Technology is a glittering lure, but there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash, if they have a sentimental bond with the product.”

We all have a sentimental bond with the past –– with nostalgia –– even if we were never there to experience it.

News Editor Matt Miller is a senior journalism major. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at or on Twitter @Official_MattM.

 Posted by at 3:25 pm

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