The Mad Men are us. That was the message “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner offered from the stage at a 92d Street Y talk last night, sitting in between Don Draper’s wives — January Jones who plays Betty Draper, now Betty Francis, and Jessica Paré who plays Megan Draper. Caryn James moderated a discussion and the audience was treated to iconic clips from the show, but Weiner was the real MC, mugging and quipping for nearly two hours with the appreciative Manhattan crowd.
Weiner teased the audience with a reminder that we all have a bit of self-loathing Don Draper and slimy Pete Campbell in us, and that we watch their fictional comings and goings each Sunday night not to gape but to relate — although he suggested that the attractiveness of his cast (the actresses flanking him and lead actor Jon Hamm not least among them), certainly helps smooth the way.
But “Mad Men” has become a cultural touchstone for more than just sharp suits and retro hairstyles, he said: “It’s accidentally related to our everyday life because it’s on a human scale and has a lot of moments of privacy.” The nontraditional, slow-burning plotlines take place in homes and workplaces, and focus on characters being disappointed even when they get what they want. Just like us, apparently.
For instance, viewers’ outright hatred for Pete Campbell, the most bratty and entitled WASP of all the characters, is stirred up because “he is them,” Weiner said. Pete’s ungratefulness grates in particular, by reminding us of our own tendencies toward dissatisfaction. “He’s every bad thing you’ve ever done all at once.”