If you’re anything like me, once I start a new TV series I can make it through a few seasons in no time. Often times, I get so invested in a TV show that I overlap show with reality and pretend that somewhere in my day I’ll be interacting with the characters or I have things to do in the “show world.” Over the summer it was LOST!, in the fall it was Friday Night Lights, and this past month over Christmas I got hooked on MadMen. I heard rave reviews from my family and friends who started watching it over the past year. I’ll be honest, when I started it, it wasn’t what I expected. MadMen is full of destructive behaviors: affairs, habitual drinking and smoking, and mindless escapism, to name a few. It makes me sick – and at the same time, the show is such an illustration of the raw human condition.
For some background: Don Draper is an innovative creative director at a major advertising company. From the outside, he is fully composed, successful, and “has it all” by the worlds standards, including a wife and two children who live in the suburbs while he works hard in the city. The show is set in the 60’s, a major turning point in the culture of America. Being a post-war nation, the American dream is alive and strong as the swing of opportunity and success define the middle class. Unfortunately, as most appearances can be deceptive, Don’s family is not at all what it seems. We meet Betty (Don’s wife) and kids at the end of the very first episode… while all along we assume Don is a hard-working bachelor. As the life of the Draper family unfolds, we see such broken lives in the wake of Don’s lifestyle.
So what keeps me coming back to the show? The depth of the characters’ lives and the way they relate to one another based on their selfish motivations. Everyone acts out of hidden motives, at the expense of real relationship with one another. When I watch the show I’m confronted with all the ways that we, too, utterly cheapen our lives and compromise authentic relationships when we hide behind a facade. I yearn for God’s grace to permeate the lives in the show as they chase after meaningless goals and empty promises.
The wonderful thing about television (insert movies, music, art, etc.) is that it demonstrates our lives so clearly, without getting personal. I can watch a show and see so obviously how characters’ lives intertwine and relate to one another. But I think it takes intentionality on our part to know our own lives – to see the relationships we have with one another, and bear in mind that God’s call and God’s purpose is consistent in each of our lives. I know that by being faithful to God in my own life, I am serving and loving those around me well. But when we compromise that, it begins a snowball effect, and our lives become entangled, messy, broken, dishonest, and far short of what God intends. The irony of the show is that the characters really have gone mad by all the secrets and lies they have built their lives on. We too, will go mad, apart from the saving work of Christ in our hearts.