The Birth of American Greed

by Aug 24, 2007

To limit TV consumption in our house, we usually try to watch only the shows that we’ve deliberately recorded on the DVR. Since it’s been a bleak summer of bad reality shows (and even worse game shows), we haven’t watched a whole lot of TV.

One exception is a new cable show that’s grown on Cyndi and me this summer: Mad Men. Set in a Madison Avenue ad agency in 1960, it’s an unvarnished look at the pioneers of modern advertising. It shows how ad-men thrust themselves into a position where they could decide what success and fulfillment look like for us. As one character defines happiness, “It’s the smell of a new car. It’s freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams: Whatever you’re doing, is O.K. You are O.K.”

The show doesn’t hesitate to portray the vices of guys who held some of the flashiest jobs of their day, apart from Hollywood actors and airline pilots. The producers make sure that everyone on the show is always smoking and drinking (even in the office… especially in the office), and they wink at the constant womanizing and regular extramarital affairs (unfortunately dipping into Desperate-Housewives-style melodrama sometimes).

What’s most fascinating to me is how these merchants of materialism are themselves trying to live out the same American Dream that they’re trying to sell to us: A well-paying job with a nice office. A spotless suburban home with a new car in the driveway and the best furnishings throughout the house. A beautiful wife with a closet full of the latest styles. Well-mannered kids who have every desire fulfilled.

These guys have everything they need and want, but judging from their chronic discontent, it’s obvious that all this stuff isn’t satisfying them the way they thought it would. What a contrast to what Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

We’ve been consistently betrayed by the false promises of “Mad-Men” for 50 years. Why haven’t we learned this lesson?

Update: OK, so the latest episode devolved completely into soap-opera muck. Still, there’s so much potential here. I’m giving this show one more chance to redeem itself. Two at the most. It is a pretty bleak summer.