Mad Men – A Catholic storyline?

Some of the cast of Mad Men
Some of the cast of Mad Men

I have a confession to make: I have not seen Mad Men, the AMC drama that takes place in New York in the 1960s and follows the lives of folks who work at an advertising firm. But even though I’ve never seen the show, I have heard about it. And heard about it, and heard about it and … So, I was thinking the other day that I needed to figure out if our cable package includes AMC and then I could find out what all the hoopla is about.

Lucky for me, I have Heidi Schlumpf, a writer over at National Catholic Reporter, owner/operator of Spiritual Knitter and finder of amazing quotes. (Proof of the latter is a Peter De Vries quote on her blog today: “The value of a marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults.” How true.)

Heidi, in spite of having young children and producing more thoughtful writing in a week than normal human beings should be able to, somehow finds time to follow Mad Men. This morning at the NCR Web site, she reviews the show and analyzes particular story line that ensued after a priest was added to the plot line. And she rightly points out that the tendency of Hollywood to drop a religious figure into a screenplay to make the story Catholic does not, in fact, actually make the story “Catholic.” (I think the same could probably be said for plot lines that include a character dropped in to “represent” any particular religion.)  Here’s part of her argument:

Quite honestly, I hate this add-priest-and-stir recipe for making a show “Catholic.” As a person of faith, I’m much more interested in the myriad gender and other justice issues on “Mad Men” than what the priest wears.

For instance, why isn’t Fr. Gill concerned about all those philandering husbands (like Don Draper, Roger Sterling, Pete Campbell and pretty much every other man on the show)? Or that fiancés feel it’s OK to rape their betrothed (like office manager Joan Holloway)? Or that the holy institution of marriage is so oppressive that married women (like Don’s wife, Betty) consider abortion when a child comes at a “bad time” (like when she has just learned about her husband’s affair)? Or, to be fair, that married men feel so trapped that they drink, smoke and sleep around their way to numbness (see list above)?

And if he’s so concerned about Peggy, why doesn’t he try to alleviate the sexual harassment and put-downs she and other women at Sterling Cooper have to live with every day? Or counsel her to remember Catholic social teaching in her career that encourages people to satisfy their inner desires by buying things? Or address the spiritual discontent that has her seeking fulfillment as one of the boys at work rather than in real human relationships?

Good questions – and not just for people who watch the show. Read Heidi’s whole piece here.

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4 thoughts on “Mad Men – A Catholic storyline?

  1. I hardly think that adding father Gill was the result of an intent to make Mad Men “Catholic,” any more than the introduction of a gay character was intended to make the show “gay.”
    I love this show, in large part because I was apart of this scene in the early 60’s as a producer for the National Broadcasting Corporation. I attended more than one three martini lunch with the ad guys, after which I would put my head down on my desk for a nap.
    Mad Men has the scene exactly right.

  2. It is complete nonsense, and typical hubris, for her to claim that having a priest in the plot makes the show “Catholic”.
    I personally don’t think the show is that good (it certainly isn’t “The Wire”) but I do think that it is interesting because of its very accurate portrayal of the culture that I grew up in.
    When you see it, you realize that we actually have made quite a bit of social progress.
    And I have to say that one of the signs of progress is that we have fewer priests running around trying to police our lives.

    1. Dear Tip:
      Did you read Heidi’s entire piece? By only pulling out one section of it, I can see where you get the idea that she’s saying they did it to make the show Catholic. That’s my mistake for only snipping part of the article. I think her larger point was that if they wanted to portray a priest accurately, perhaps he should be more concerned about those other issues, not just the one of the woman giving her child up.

  3. “I think her larger point was that if they wanted to portray a priest accurately, perhaps he should be more concerned about those other issues, not just the one of the woman giving her child up.”
    I realize that was her point, and my point was that her point was totally bogus – blathering about the church and “social justice”.
    Priests aren’t concerned with that today, and certainly weren’t then. They were concerned with maintaining church control over a womans vagina – and they paid no attention to philandering males.
    The show is a very accurate cultural critique – the Ad agency wouldn’t hire a Jew ( the Jews have their own ad agencies for the Jewish stores), the Blacks run the elevator and deliver packages, and the priests are concerned with womens virginity.
    Heidi was just denying the shows accurate criticism of her church.

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