"Mad Men" and/as Teleparody

Curator's Note

Teleparody: Predicting/Preventing the TV Discourse of Tomorrow (2002), a book I co-edited a few years back with Jill Hague, explored the many ways in which television itself and the way we talk about the medium are often indistinguishable from parody, even when parody is not intended.


AMC's Mad Men (2007- ), a series which its creator has characterized as a kind of "time machine," was back then the "TV Discourse of Tomorrow," although it takes us back to the 1960s, and yet it, too, raises similar questions about the function and meaning of parody. When Saturday Night Live aired this parody of the series when Mad Men's pitchman poet Don Draper--aka Jon Hamm--guest hosted in October of 2008, Don's brilliant, moving, and ridiculous ad ode to the Hula Hoop bore an uncanny resemblance to his oration on the behalf of the Kodak Carousel in "The Wheel," the Season One finale.


Don moved me to tears with his extended metaphor on the behalf of the Carousel the first few times I watched it. Now I read the SNL parody back into the parodied. The poetry is diminished; my crying is threatened by laughter; pathos meets bathos. The "felt change of consciousness" which Owen Barfield once identified as the guiding presence of our experience of art is now harder to feel.


Would this sea-change have been possible if the parodiable wasn't there to begin with? Why is Mad Men so easily parodied?


See as well : "Don Draper's Guide to Picking Up Women" and "Meshugene Men."




Does not Mad Men say more about postmodernity than parody alone? Mad Men plunders the past and fetishizes the 1960s. Postmodernity is predicated on nostalgia - a longing for imagined times. Maybe this is why the slippage between parody and irony seems more vivid in Mad Men?

... And the poignancy of the Carousel sequence is representative of that postmodern project, and embedded right into the Mad Men text, in that it is selling dreams and visions of a time that never was but imagined to be.

I also cried during the "The Carousel" pitch.  

I agree with Janet and Kim that the show says a good deal about postmodernity, the ad agency being a perfect setting for such a project.  The show itself is glossy and slick and hyperstylized -- from the credit sequence to the mise-en-scene to the stylized speech affectations of a number of the characters -- especially Pete and Campbell .  (My favorite part of the parody here is Will Forte as Pete).  "The Carousel" scene strikes me as a perfect synedoche for the show itself for the very reasons that Janet and Kim suggest.




Janet and Kim—points well taken. My first reaction to David’s final question is that it isn’t that Mad Men is unique in its susceptibility to being parodied. Is there anything in this day and age that can’t be turned back on itself and made into fodder for parody, especially on TV or the web? The more important dynamic it seems to me might be that Mad Men is being parodied on Saturday Night Live after only one thirteen-episode season. It is an indication of just how quickly the series has become part of the zeitgeist.

 i am not sure how postmodern "mad men" the show is? are all shows set in the past, meticulously researched, postmodern? i thought jameson famously defined postmodernity as an ersatz historicity, nostalgia for a past we have never lost etc. etc.

mad men historicizes the present by looking at the world at a moment of great cultural transformation -- how is that postmodern?  sure, the shows is informed by its cultural moment -- falling me/9/11 etc -- but i do not agree that the show makes us nostalgic in a regressive way. it is very critical of a world of regressive social relations even as it shows them. at the same time, it also forces us to rethink, in the pleasure we take in the show, in our own sense that we might have overcome that world. 

i have really enjoyed reading these posts and responses - especially all the rich historical contexts that these posts have evoked as the material thickening the show. 

for me, above all, the show is about capitalism and the postmodern form it is about to take of which advertising is the most exemplary site and i really LOVE the way it allies the progressive social energies to a transformation of a mode of production, raising really interesting questions that about the commodification of affect (carousel) and difference (betty's unease, peggy's progress) unfolding now. as such it HISTORICIZES the postmodern. 

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Frank P. Tomasulo, Ph.D.

Todd Simpson Department of Communication Georgia State University

It seems that the show is very much postmodern, but in a very meta-textual way. Textually, the show is pure mythologized nostalgia. However, one level of abstraction out, it seems very Post-Modern as a reflection on the "conventions" of the day and an examination of the ideology of consumerism in quasi-monolithic culture.

As a former student of Dr. Tomasulo I may be biased towards agreement, but I must say I think he nailed it.

I agree with Todd that the show is Meta-textual in its presentation and reflects society. However, I'd add that the reflection is perhaps less  back to the early 60s as it is a reflection on our current longing for the 'simplicity' of those days, which is in fact an era most people in the demographic did not live in. Therefore, it's a longing for a mythologized time and I think that the writers are taking us to task for wanting to reinstate that time and showing us that time as this very Ango-male-centric time.

At the same time, I'll admit that there a great sense of vicarious freedom and schoolboy rebellious pleasure inwatching a show set in a time where  you could still get drunk at lunch, smoke IN your office and openly discuss the physical attributes of the female workstaff.( It reminds of the joke, "I long for the old days, when "Harass" was still two words).

I think that is a big part of the appeal; the producers' taking us on as a society for wanting to go back to that time, while 'officially' clicking our tongues at the behaviour.

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