by Joseph Riedel
Don Draper strives to live the American dream. On the surface everything looks perfect. He has the perfect wife. He has perfect kids. He has a perfect dog that lives with them in his perfect house in the suburbs. This all sounds fantastic on paper. However, when diving further into Don Draper’s mind one will find that this is all an elaborate decoration. Don has designed it to cover up the structure of his life, like the facade of a building covers up the framing. He has to balance his “American Dream” life and his other “Ad Man” life. It is a difficult balance to maintain, and it can fall apart at any moment. This brings me to the start of the Mad Men title credits.
At the top of the credits, a “Shadow Don” enters into an artist representation of his office. His office represents his perfect job, and extends to his perfect life. The way that the artist has created the office is essential to the credits. Most, or all of the lines within the drawing seem to be connected. Then suddenly, a line is tugged and everything starts to unravel. This represents the fear Don has that one tiny mess up, one tugging of the string, can unravel his entire life. Once his office falls apart, Don falls.
He falls through a jungle of advertisements. These images that Don and his team design to convince the American public to buy certain products, are also meant to convince Don to buy into the reality that he has created for himself. The adds contain a barrage of beautiful women. Don has strived to surround himself with beautiful women. I would argue that one of the points Mad Men attempts to promote is the amazing power that some women can wield. Mad Men follows the struggles of Peggy Olson. The viewer watches her start off as Don’s secretary. As the series progresses she fights her way up the ladder. She fights and manipulates. Don keeps a series of beautiful women involved in his life other than just his wife Betty. They all seem to have a certain power over him.
Other than the images of women, Don passes by a series of advertisements with words in them. The first one that can be read clearly reads “enjoy the best America has to offer”. I argue that this once again brings us back to the importance of the “American Dream”. Don wants his life to be “ best America has to offer”. The second image reads “it’s the gift that never fails”. These words belong to an advertisement for a diamond ring. This is not only a commentary about materialism, but the value of the fake over the real. The “ring” is the important part, not the shared feelings in a relationship. This returns to the point that I made earlier about Don’s family being a fake tool used to achieve his desire to have the “American Dream”.
It all concludes with Don sitting calmly on a couch with a cigarette in his hand. He is cool and collect. I believe that this is the only part of the title sequence that represents exterior forces at work, unlike the rest of the sequence which internalized all of Don’s experiences. I say that it is exterior forces because I believe that this last shot is how the rest of the world sees Don. They do not get a glimpse into Don’s head. They do not get to see his world unraveling or watch him fall. They all see Don as the cool, collect, and calm man sitting in his chair with a cigarette.