Taking “Mad Men” to School

Berkeley is offering a class on the AMC drama. But before you laugh, there's a lot we can learn from Don Draper and Co.

In one of the most revealing moments of the recently ended season of "Mad Men," past-fleeing adman Don Draper laments that he never finished high school or went to college.

He confides this to his diary, part of his post-tearful-breakdown attempt at introspection. The commercial catchphrase master also jots down this tidbit: “I’ve never written more than 250 words in my life.”

The scene came to mind this week with a report in NBC Bay Area that UC Berkeley is offering an English class built around the show – a course that, little doubt, requires far longer reflections.

Some might scoff at a college course about a TV show. But our reaction is why limit study of "Mad Men" to the English department?

Imagine the possibilities of a "Mad Men" curriculum: There’s Sociology (The Stages of Swinging 60s Feminism from Betty Draper to Joan Holloway to Peggy Olson); Psychology (Don Draper/Dick Whitman – a Study in Split Personality); and Business (Advertising from BBDO to WWDDD – What Would Don Draper do?)

Just think about potential looks at the show through the lenses of history, fashion – and the art of mixology. Speaking of history, we’re chuckling about the class being hatched at Berkeley, the 1960s center of the counter-culture rebellion against, among other things, the shallow, gray-flannel world of hypocritical materialists like Draper.

All kidding aside, the class seems appropriate for a show that – much like “The Sopranos,” which has been analyzed in books and college courses – gets people thinking, or at least talking.

The New York Times, citing Zeta Interactive, noted this week that “Mad Men” generated more online discussion this month than in any other in its history, and that the show, on average, sparks more Internet chatter than programs with millions more viewers.

“Mad Men” has given us much to discuss until next summer, when it is expected to return for a fifth season on AMC. If Draper has given up on introspection – he ripped up the diary in the season’s penultimate episode – we’ll have to do it for him.

In the finale, he shockingly proposed to his young secretary/wannabe trophy wife on a self-deluded whim while rejecting the smart shrink who might have led him on the path to self-realization and elusive happiness.

Draper appears to be moving backwards – and he’s certainly not headed back to school anytime soon. But fans are happy to be students of the show – with or without classes.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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