MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

by Millicent Evans

The opening title sequence to Mad Men, probably one of the most poignant openings in the history of television, sets forth the tone and style for the entire series. The creator Matthew Weiner does not waste the first thirty-seconds to tell the viewer who Don Draper really is every week. The viewer follows a black silhouette of Don Draper as he enters his office, sets down his briefcase, and takes a few steps. After a few seconds the office crumbles at once, sending the entire contents of Don’s office, including Don himself, cascading into a downward spiral of advertisements, smiling ladies, and slogans. It ends with Don resting in a chair with a cigarette while the title to the show appears and sets off into the episode. This opening matches the visual style of the show, sets meaning in the advertisements Don travels through that coincide with Don’s life, and takes the viewer to the ultimate conclusion that Don always lands on his feet.

There is something visually stunning about the title sequence to Mad Men. The office is seen in an art deco style, with black bold lines outlining objects on Don’s desk and windows. The character of Don is represented by a black silhouette in a suit. It is highly stylized, very much like the show. It gives the viewer the same modern feel that encompassed the 1960s. The entire series is built upon perfecting every set piece, wardrobe and prop. Unsurprisingly, the opening is no exception to Weiner’s obsessive perfection, and has the look and feel of the times.

Don falls through a series of advertisements, that in some part represent the American dream: a family with kids, wedding ring, and an attractive female. Additionally there are ads of liquor and sex. Visibly noticeable is an ad for a Kentucky Bourbon called “Old Taylor 86” which comes with the tag line “Enjoy the best America has to offer.” Don specifically falls through these advertisements for a reason. His main motivation in the series involves finding that American dream. He wants a perfect family with children and a perfect smiling wife. However, Don is tempted by a darker side of booze and mistresses.

If the viewer pays close attention, one can see that when he falls over the glass of whiskey, the liquid ripples and when he falls over the woman’s naked leg it moves up and down. This could be symbolic of how he will continually give into liquor and affairs with other women, and how powerful their impact is on Don’s life.  These distractions cause his life to crumble and fall out from beneath him, just as in the first ten-seconds of the title sequence when the office falls apart.

At the very end of the sequence we have the iconic image of Don sitting in a chair with a cigarette in one hand (and what I like to imagine a drink in the other hand). This image of Don has come to represent the entire series. It depicts the buoyancy that Don is capable of and the reason viewers come back each week to watch. No matter how crazy things in Don’s life become-Betty divorcing him, the agency being bought out, the death of Anna-he continually bounces back gracefully. Even in the show’s fourth season, as everything is becoming the most intense, the viewer is still there with Don fully aware that he is capable of beating the odds.

Born and raised in Indiana, Millicent Evans comes from the heart and soul of the Midwest. An avid couch potato all her life, she dropped out of a real college after three years to pursue a degree in television writing from Columbia College. Ironically, Millicent grew up in a household where cable television was banned because her mother believed it to be impure and vulgar. As a result, she was forced to watch PBS where programs such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Are You Being Served? heavily shaped and molded the British television lover she is today. She will tell you the best television you are not watching comes from Great Britain. She thoroughly believes that beneath the scummy surface of reality television and Fox News rests a colossal land of intelligent television. The Don Drapers, Fran Fines, and David Brents of the television world make better friends than any real human could.

In her spare time she enjoys the rodeo, drinking and listening to Steely Dan records. Occasionally she reads books, but only if she suspended her Netflix account because of lack of funds. Her ultimate goal is to become the next Jack Donaghy. Or at least create and write the Night Court of her generation.

2 thoughts on “MAD MEN Opening Credit Analysis

  1. What a great description of the opening of Mad Men. What makes it especially interesting to me is that my dad worked at Leo Burnett, an advertising agency here in Chicago, for 35 years. My grandfather also worked there.

    While my dad had the Don Draper look, he wore a suit every day, as well as a tie, starched shirt, polished shoes and had his hair slicked back, his life was very different.

    The opening of my dad’s story would have tumbling images of Tony the Tiger, Colonel Sanders and lots of P & G products, like Cheer and Lava soap as well as Heinz catsup bottles and Keebler elves.

    One year for Christmas we got Jolly Green Giant chairs that were shaped like the giant’s hand. We had a Charlie the Tuna lamp and rug. These images would replace the martini glass and sexy women.

    Leo Burnett was a family man. His interest was to keep everything about the company as clean as a bar of soap. As I kid, I remember my parents talking about men at the company that had affairs and drank a lot. This was not part of the Leo Burnett program and was not rewarded in the company’s corporate culture.

    Times have changed a lot. My mom was super skinny but wore a girdle because all her friends did. When we were little, sometimes my best friend and I would try on her mom’s girdle because it was so goofy.

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