by Adam Gasperoni Riddle
The beginning of Mad Men is a culmination of something new and something vintage. With contemporary artist RJD2’s “A Beautiful Mine” playing a juxtaposition of new millennium electro with 60s jazz in the background, a silhouetted, mod odyssey of the Man in the Gray (black) Flannel Suit begins. He stands in an already minimalist office, which as he lays down his suitcase, starts to decompose.
Looking around him and finding a place to settle, the suited man’s world immediately starts to bottom out. The corporate office, the little cubicle of capitalism, starts to bottom out. This shows what little chances for advancement working in an office in postwar America offered. When looking at today’s times, it could also represent the current recession, the failing economy, and the complete lack of stability with today’s businesses.
From the grey-washed malaise, we black out into the suited man’s coat, only to pull out and discover he’s falling. Falling down past skyscrapers with a plethora of advertisements around him. His environment is completely detached from him, and vice versa. He drops down past the towering and showy success of Madison Avenue, and it lives on, unfazed by his descent. The ability of corporate America to use a person and move on has always been seen in capitalism throughout the years, and in an advertising world where one needs to thrive on the precipice of what’s happening in the world, the need to prove oneself is that much more crucial. When one fails, the company lives on. The advertisements are like dead souls and the fall like the River Styx. Everything the man has worked on and for will exist idly with or without him, and all he can do is watch everything as it’s taken away from him.
One advertisement reads: Enjoy the Best America Has to Offer. This sentiment seems as empty as the smiles on the women’s faces that adorn the bikini, beer, and other ads in the city. It’s the fall of the American Dream. The 1960s were all about disillusionment and change, as well as the persistent desire to hold onto values of a promised life. The title sequence strips away everything the 50s built up: new business, happiness, nuclear families, American promises and aspirations. When the world breaks down its infrastructure and tries to redefine itself, what is one left to but oneself?
Thus, the suited man seated in a world of grey. All he has is a chair to rest in and a cigarette dangling between his fingertips. Whether he is happy or unfulfilled is as uncertain as the world he is looking at. Perhaps the only essence to be understood from the ending shot is freedom. Absent of positive or negative connotations – simply, freedom. The suited man is no longer confined by the cookie-cutter office life; he is no longer surrounded by towering business and pervasive American values; he is no longer falling into a cluttered abyss of everything he worked for. To quote Don Draper, “Change is neither good or bad. It just is.”
The title sequence leaves us filling in what world the suited man is in now, and entices us to see what world he will create for himself.