Mad Men Sociological / Semiotic Analysis

Topics: Mad Men, Peggy Olson, Sociology Pages: 7 (2819 words) Published: January 20, 2012
Every so often there is a television program that attracts a large audience because it is brilliantly written and entertaining. One of the most recent television shows to do this has been Mad Men. The show revolves around an advertising agency in the 1960’s and it’s key players in the company, more specifically Don Draper. Being set in the 1960’s, it is important to do both a sociological and semiotic analysis of the show. Society and human interactions have changed dramatically over the past fifty years and while it is a scripted television show and not a documentary, the drama prides itself on paying close attention to details and keeping everything true to the time period. It would be interesting and informative to do an analysis comparing the 1960’s shown in Mad Men to today’s society. Likewise, with the characters and their clothing, subtle symbols give away clues about who they are and what they’re going through as the show goes on. Semiotics are important to take note of in every context in order to truly understand whatever you’re trying to critically understand or analyze.

In the 1960’s society was vastly different that it is today. It was a turning point in American history and dealt with a lot of sensitive issues that are still linger around today although they aren’t as prominent as they once were. This is reflected in the society that is built in the show Mad Men, namely the Sterling Cooper society. Sterling Cooper is the advertising agency that the show revolves around; in Sterling Cooper there is anything you would find in a larger society, such as social norms and bureaucracy. Furthermore, critics realize that "Mad Men deliberately shocks its audience by presenting as reasonable and commonplace behavior we now find appalling," ("The Devil's in the Details," The Atlantic) which gives us a direct juxtaposition of the Mad Men society and today’s society. In multiple aspects of a sociological analysis, there is always a prime example in the show Mad Men which is only highlighted when trying to look at Mad Men through the lens of today’s societal norms. Durkheim’s theory said that there is a social dimension to how people construct themselves based on their surroundings. That can be seen primarily in the character Peggy Olson. At first, Peggy suffers from alienation. Peggy being from Brooklyn feels disconnected with her co workers. She feels estranged since she's so homely and lives a simple, plain lifestyle compared to the flashy, metropolitan girls around her. She isn't skinny, she wears more modest clothing and isn't throwing herself at her bosses. “The audience sees Peggy alienate herself from the rest of the girls in the office, often eating lunch alone in the office, ignoring the fashions that the other women wear and refusing the participate in the constant office gossip. As a woman, in the 1960s however, she cannot exactly be one of the boys and therefore she cannot relate to the man either” (Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Series, pg 159-160). It takes her a while to figure out where she fits in, and over time she too becomes a flashier version of herself, clearly influenced by the women around her and tries to step out of her comfort zone and into a different kind of lifestyle.

Lifestyles are also a very important part of society. Lifestyle covers a person's taste in fashion, cars , entertainment, and other leisure activities which often reflect our socioeconomic class. Peggy was a lowly girl from Brooklyn, which was very much looked down upon by the men and women of Manhattan. She was considered poor, especially when she would bring her own lunch to work instead of buying her food off of the lunch cart like the other secretaries. Her clothing also gave her away in the beginning, her skirts were longer than the other girls, she was always covering up, which won't help attract the bosses in the ways the other secretaries were trying so desperately to do. Peggy would go home and read,...

Bibliography: O 'Barr, William M. "Mad Men: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Sexuality, and Class." Advertising & Society Review 2011th ser. 11.4 (2011). Project MUSE. Web. 12 Dec. 2011. <>.
Rogers, Sara. "The Women of Mad Men." Analyzing Mad Men: Critical Essays on the Series. By Scott Frederick. Stoddart. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011. Print.
Schwartz, Benjamin. "The Devil 's in the Details" The Atlantic November (2009): 91-98. Print.
Berger, Arthur Asa. Media Analysis Techniques. London: SAGE, 2011. Print.
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