The End of an Era
Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility
by James J. O’Meara
Review: Gwendolyn Taunton
Before you read this article any further I must confess – I have never watched Mad Men. Not because I have any issues with the program, but simply because I very rarely watch television at all. In light of this, I’m reviewing The End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility from what is very much an outside perspective. That being said however, I feel that I have gained an understanding of what the program is like purely from reading James O’Meara’s book. This means that for fans of Mad Men, this book is a real treat.
The episodes O’Meara covers in the book include:
- Season 1, Episode 1 (19 Jul. 2007) “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”
- Season 1, Episode 2 (26 Jul. 2007) “Ladies Room”
- Season 1, Episode 12 (11 Oct. 2007) “Nixon vs. Kennedy”
- Season 2, Episode 3 (10 Aug. 2008) “The Benefactor”
- Season 5, Episode 11 (27 May 2012) “The Other Woman”
- Season 5, Episode 12 (3 Jun. 2012) “Commissions and Fees”
- Season 7, Episode 12 (3 May 2015) “Lost Horizon”
- Season7, Episode 13 (10 May 2015) “The Milk and Honey Route”
- Season7, Episode 14 (17 May 2015) “Person to Person”
James O’Meara’s The End of an Era: Mad Men and the Ordeal of Civility takes us far from the comfort of the bourgeois living room chair where people observe Mad Men as a passive audience. Instead he thrusts the reader into the realm of uneasy topics and political/social subtexts which tie Mad Men to the world around us, transforming the passive experience into an active one which requires the viewer/reader to think…and to observe the world around them, not just the television screen. All in all, the collection is an anthology of articles which have been published on the Counter Currents website, where James O’Meara is a long term contributor. He chose to write this series on Mad Men out of his “own fascination with the show and the phenomenon, from the pilot to the finale”.
The book is graced by O’Meara’s subtle humour, especially when it comes to creating unexpected and thoroughly intriguing parallels – my personal favourite being the correlation of Julius Evola with Mad Men, in the section appropriately entitled Mad Männerbund.
In the first couple of chapters of Men Among the Ruins, Julius Evola outlines the nature of the State as constituted by Authority from above (as opposed to from below, as in democracy or party dictatorship), as represented by an Order of men, “who differentiate themselves from the masses as the bearers of a complete and legitimate authority,” originating in the primitive Männerbünde. Thus: “The true task and necessary premise for the rebirth of the ‘nation’ . . . consists of . . . re-establishing a virile substance in the form of a political elite around which a new crystallization will occur.”
As the chapter suggests, it deals with ‘class’ in Mad Men, and O’Meara draws the conclusion that,
the immense popularity of both The Sopranos (what a sissy name!) and Mad Men is both a symptom of the vaguely felt need for an elite Order in our society, whether it be found in Mad Men or mobsters (snappy dressers, and from Evola’s Sicily!), as well as a suggestion for how to begin to proceed to reconstitute one.
Other highlights in the book include the now infamous term ‘manspreading’ which is apparently, in certain countries like America, a cause of ‘moral outrage’ for women. You may detect some sarcasm here, because most women would simply request that the ‘manspreader’ move over, instead of viewing it as some form of malign ‘sexual oppression’. The author explains the oddity of ‘manspreading’ as follows:
Mad Manspreading: The latest kerfuffle involves something called “manspreading,” and the attempts of first London, then New York, to ban same when aboard public transit.
Whether this phenomenon is some form of territorial posture, or merely a way to occupy more than one’s allocated seating space on public transport remains a mystery. However it should be noted that women outside America do not believe they are being secretly oppressed by men who occupy two seats on a bus instead of one. Manspreading is rightly targeted by O’Meara as “much ado about nothing”.
Later chapters continue on similar themes and without this being a plot spoiler for some people who may not have watched it, O’Meara’s section “Don Draper’s Last Diddle: The finale of Mad Men” is described by him here:
Having followed Mad Men from the start, with initial enthusiasm gradually tempered by the increasingly exposed triumphalist agenda, I found the series finale, pumped (or pimped) by the network as “the end of an era,” to be somewhat forced, mainly by the perceived need to top network stablemate Breaking Bad’s finale, as well as Weiner’s earlier series, The Sopranos.
As a person who hasn’t even seen the television show, I found the book quirky, delightfully eccentric, and that it offered an interesting new perspective on a popular television series. If I had watched the series I would imagine I’d enjoy it even more – so if you are fan or viewer of Mad Men, then this book is definitely recommended for your reading list.