Why Millennials love Mad Men

It’s a small start-up company. The office is modern, the money is becoming steadily more real, and the tension couldn’t be thicker. The business is run by those with great ideas, each one hoping to that their next big breakthrough clears a hurdle for the company. There are high expectations, and a lot of buzz surrounds the company’s every move.

Welcome to Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce – what? Did you think I was describing Facebook?

Last week, Mad Men kicked off its fourth season with a multi-faceted premiere, including interviews with the 1960s version of Ad Age, taking issue with storyline details, social interaction with fans, and enough sex, divorce and alcohol for the entire east coast.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Mad Men, set in an advertising agency, is a television drama like no other, with opportunities like no other. People of every age adore the characters, and they give the show enough brain time to conjure up some rather interesting memorabilia. It is understandable why older generations would want to see or relive some of their earlier years; nostalgia is a powerful drug. But why would Millennials be interested in a show set in a time when our parents were mere children, if they were even born at all?

I think a large draw of Mad Men for the Millennial generation is our fascination with a decade of individuals that we feel we’re the most like.

Look at the similarities.

These are people who, despite their uncertainties, landed on the moon, started the end of institutional racism, pushed the boundaries of sexual and gender relations, and still found the time to screw up their lives with all the energy they could muster while maintaining impressive careers doing what they loved. These are our doppelgangers, the people from whom we’re taking the baton.

Don Draper, the main character, played by actor Jon Hamm, is a mysterious stallion of a man. His thoughts become prose when added to the right visuals; his mind is wracked with the consequences of his pursuit of happiness. And yet he presses onward.

We’re labeled as entitled, selfish – a generation reared by parents who sought to shield us from the very indulgences that ruined their own, and as it turns out, we became almost a mirror image of the Boomers. Our quest for autonomy, for innovation, for the American dream is not at all unlike that of our predecessors. But we watch Mad Men, most of all, to realize the mistakes of the past, and to learn from them, because despite the fictional characters and plot line, the story these people portray is very real.

They want the finer things in life and pursue them with gusto. So do we. They love with passion and try to fight for what they feel is right. So do we. They are immersed in the newness of the change around them, and they must adapt to it. So must we.

Even in this latest episode, where Peggy Olson, the essence of meekness, storms ahead with her own ideas about what is best for a client, we see a growth of character that mirrors our own growing surety. We, as well as she, embrace the adage that it is better to ask for forgiveness, than permission.

That is why I feel our generation is taking so strongly to a truthful representation of the more important generation before us. We see ourselves in the characters, whom we loathe and who we would like to be. And we’re madly in love with the mad men.

Evan Roberts I am a public relations student, soon to be professional. I have an off-color sense of humor [but no, it's not because I'm black. ;)] I'm into politics, fashion, food, music, soccer and technology amongst other things. I am a middle child. All opinions expressed are solely those of Evan Roberts and not that of his employers, family, friends or MacBook. There, I said it. Tweet me: @erob1

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9 Responses to “Why Millennials love Mad Men”

  1. Howie

    Funny because I am a Gen-Xer who is starting my own Agency (mid-life career change) and I just watched my first episode the other day. I don’t watch prime time because 98.73% of the shows insult my intelligence. The reason being in the past they could pump huge sums into shows and get huge pay backs. Now its small sums with small paybacks. (Thus the reality craze)

    So I can see intelligent Gen-Y’s desperate for something good, to watch the shows that are good. Just happens to be Madmen is one of them.

    That does not mean the parallels and reasons you give are untrue. But one needs to take into consideration the lack of quality programming.

    And if your generation is going to doppleganger the baby boomers can I stop you somehow? The baby boomers have lived for today with no care about the future. In fact they are ones fighting against saving the planet because they won’t be around to enjoy it. (Used and Tossed) Remember your generation is the one who will have to pay back the trillions the baby boomers borrowed when those 30year T-Bills come due. They will be long gone.

    • Evan Roberts

      Howie – Fourth paragraph from the bottom – “But we watch Mad Men, most of all, to realize the mistakes of the past, and to learn from them”

      I agree, they’re selfishness has been thorn in all of our sides, but with that knowledge, we have a chance to repair some of their damage. I think the above sentence is really the essence of the idea I wanted to get across. I just needed to fulfill my word limit.

      Totally agree on the quality programming point though. You should watch White Collar too, it’s also a good show that pays attention to detail and has a solid storyline.

      Anything but Snooki and her band of misfits. smh

  2. Tom Miesen

    Great post! I think there are definite similarities between Boomers and Gen Y-ers, and I think we’re also fascinated by the show because we have no idea what that era was like. I think we also enjoy it because it is, at its core, a show about identity and personal rebranding (like Dick Whitman did to become Don Draper). Our generation is trying to forge an identity, despite the Boomers trying to tell us what we are. They went through the same thing in the 60′s when their generation was being labeled. Now, our generation has to deal with cultivating an online identity too, which is often much different from our “offline” identity.

    Like advertisers in the 60′s, we also lead an excess-laden lifestyle (though we prefer to do our drinking outside of work). TV is littered with so-called “reality” programs that are so over-the-top and filled with excess. It’s nice to see a slow-paced, well-written show like Mad Men get critical acclaim and love from our generation in the age of “Jersey Shore.”

    Tom Miesen

    • Evan Roberts

      Tom – Thanks for commenting, I agree about our generation trying to form an identity. We’re barely into personal branding, I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to “rebrand” (surgical operation required?).

      You’re right, tv is “littered,” and like I told Howie, good programming will always be appreciated. Except for News Radio. That was a good show ahead of it’s time.

  3. Alex Pearlman

    I agree with Tom – we love Mad Men because we have NO idea what it was like to live in the early 60s… It’s alien to us, and fascinating to see it played out on the show. My favorite thing is clothes, obvi, and the smoking :)

    But the show really does an incredible job bringing to life a time in history that Millennials have really only been exposed to in old issues of Life magazine, newsreels and black and white pictures.

  4. Raquel

    The people represented in Mad Men are Gen G.I. and Silents. The boomers were kids. Millenials are attracted to our grandparents. Not the Boomers.


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