When it comes to Mad Men, people on the right of center increasingly grow leery at best. Supposedly the show knowingly yet reflexively relies on lazy liberal tropes, failing to challenge us with characters real enough to be worth caring about. I hope this bad rap has taken a big hit tonight.
In today’s corporate world — a world dominated by the emo-bureaucracy of Human Resources departments — the relationship that Don and Peggy have forged would be repulsive, cruel, unprofessional, and impossible. Nothing about that intimate relationship, which the show has patiently shown since the outset to be deeply natural, could be officially recognized or even comprehended by the HR culture that has done its best to conquer corporate life. For HR officialdom, the human resources Don and Peggy found in one another — and, I think, in themselves — must not exist in the workplace.
But we are stubbornly human and therefore stubbornly resourceful, too. Amid the worst artifices enforced under Communism, people still found a way to smuggle irony and humor back into the world. Few HR departments have the talent for enforcement of a Stalin. The mandatory happiness, the team-building exercises, the sensitivity training, the group retreats — it all becomes a charade that everyone knows is a charade, except perhaps the few people whose job it is to believe in it. Tonight Mad Men did a public service in doing its part to quietly blow up the fraudulent farce. It didn’t attack HR culture. It didn’t have to. In its absence, Don and Peggy hurt more at work. But they were also more human. And the relationships that are possible when we’re more fully human (even — perhaps especially — in the workplace) are things that some of our culture’s reigning therapists would like us to forget. But we won’t. Because we can’t. They can only pay us to pretend.