Mad Men is the darling of the television world these days--or at least it was in its first season. It's another show, like Sopranos that makes me wonder why I am so taken in by it.
With Sopranos, I couldn't understand why I liked a bunch of mobsters whose every other word started with an "f" and who often blew a few guys away or beat up some woman before going home to eat with the family. Maybe the Italian environment was just a "familiar" for me, since I grew up on the outskirts of North Beach in San Francisco, during the era when the city had much more clearly defined neighborhoods. Now there is spill over and you don't really have "the Italian section" and "the Chinese section" and "the Mexican section." It seems that most neighborhoods in the city are a blend now.
But in the 1940s and 50s, I lived on the outskirts of "the Italian section" and my Irish father felt himself an adopted Italian and loved all things Italian. So Sopranos played to my familiar, though my familiar didn't come with guns. (At least not that I was aware of!)
And it's the same with Mad Men, which is a fairly accurate portrayal of a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1950s. The first season I swore you could get lung cancer just from watching the show. They seem to have toned down the smoking a bit, but still all meetings, no matter what time of day, come with generous drinks poured from elaborate decanters always present in business offices and lots and lots of smoking. It was the day when the 3-martini lunch started with breakfast, and nobody ever heard of a "no smoking section."
But that isn't really my "familiar." My familiar is the reserved, restrained relationships between people in the 1950s, the unspoken word, the unshared feeling. All those thoughts and emotions bottled up because it was not considered proper to share what you were thinking, especially in the work place (which is probably why they drank and smoked so much).
Watching how people hold back because of fear of losing their jobs for doing or saying the wrong thing.
And it was the corporate mentality. The sense that every tiny detail was so important that it had to be discussed to death and given so much more importance than it really deserved.
I think I was very fortunate that I never had a real "job." I worked in several places throughout what one might laughingly call my "career," but the closest I ever came to a corporate job was when our medical office was purchased by the big medical foundation and we all had to start tiptoe-ing around and practicing corporate-think.
I never was a "corporate" type person. I find it so difficult to give importance to minutia. I've watched Ned struggle with that feeling his entire work life. He has worked for corporations and when I hear him trying to play the corporate game, I understand his frustration. I worked in places like typing services, where I could come and go as I pleased and had control over what sorts of jobs I wanted to do. I worked in a medical office where I wasn't really "staff," and came and went when I felt like it and was not (until the later years) involved in all the office politics. And I managed a medical office for a renegade who didn't play by the rules, so I never had to deal with "corporate-think."
Then I went to work for a non-profit where corporate-think was all important and I didn't last very long there at all. I always had a good work ethic, but my casual approach to the importance of things that didn't seem very important to me was what did me in.
I ran into problems in several volunteer organizations for which I wrote the newsletter. I remember one where the woman who had held the job for several years before I was asked to take it over, felt that I needed to run everything by her before it was published. She complained that my newsletters were "riddled with errors." I had her go through the 8 page newsletter with me and she found one...count 'em one... typo. But she insisted that from now on she would have to approve everything I published. I quit. This was an organization that had a membership of 100, if that. I could not understand all the fuss and all the steps that had to be gone through to put out a silly little newsletter. We were not the New York Times or even The Davis Enterprise, for Pete's sake.
But that's why I don't work well in corporate settings. Where I see "silly little newsletter," the people involved see their whole identity at stake, no matter how small their membership is or how narrow their outreach.
Mad Men drives me nuts because I know that there are lots of places where that mentality still exists, where you feel you need to watch your words because it's not proper to express what you're feeling about something that is so vitally important to the others in your group. But it's like a train wreck--there is something compelling that keeps me watching.
I'm just glad that I've essentially been self-employed, or some version of self-employment, throughout most of my life. I never would have been able to handle the stuff that Ned goes through on a daily basis.