Breathe deep as you watch the ‘Mad Men’ die
I stopped filling my lungs with cigarette smoke years ago so I suppose it was inevitable that I would retreat in horror from a television series that filled my mind with the memory of smoldering coffin nails.
I refer to the popular AMC series “Mad Men.” My wife and I checked out the series starting with initial episodes from five years ago. Unlike smokers, TV series never die.
Some of us prefer it that way. Instead of tuning in each week to a live broadcast, we wait a few years and then, if a series seems to measure up, we watch the installments in batches of two or three at a time.
Similarly, my generation cut its teeth on Saturday movie series known as “cliff hangers.” Typically, each episode would end with a heroine hanging from a cliff by her lovely manicured nails. And then the announcer urged us to return next Saturday to see whether Pauline escaped a horrible death.
Pauline never died. To this day, she is living somewhere on a reel of film – and on YouTube, of course.
“Mad Men” is like that, but with the characters sitting calmly in their ad agency chairs smoking like chimneys, hanging on not by their lovely nails, but by their sooty lungs.
The series accurately portrays office life as it was in the 1960s when everybody inside a workplace smoked. And I mean everybody, either directly with a cigarette between his lips or as an innocent victim sitting there inhaling office air dense with tobacco smoke.
Smoking was especially prevalent in newspaper offices. It went with our image of ourselves as social rebels, complete with Humphrey Bogart trench coats, a glass of hooch in one hand and a pack of smokes in our shirt pockets.
Somehow smoking was supposed to go with that image. It was like the bad guys had no respect for an investigative reporter if he didn’t smell like burning weeds.
Then one day I came home from work half sick. I realized I had polished off two packs of cigarettes in an eight-hour shift. Angry at myself, I stubbed out my last cigarette, gritted my teeth for a couple of months and slammed the door on coffin nails forever.
After a year or so, a strange thing happened: I started dreaming about smoking. And I wasn’t dreaming that I wanted a cigarette. The opposite was true.
It was a nightmare, a dream that I had fallen off the wagon and started the downside of smoking all over again – the yellow fingers, the ashtray-flavored mouth, the holes burned in polyester slacks, the lingering background fear of a smoker that he’s headed for that Big Smokehouse in the Sky where he will spend eternity sitting next to Humphrey Bogart while both hack their lungs out, pretty much ruining their gig in the celestial choir.
After two installments of “Mad Men,” Sharon and I snuffed that series because it was so depressing watching all those fictional characters smoking and especially because we feared for the present-day damage to those actors on that “Mad Men” set.
The Internet says the actors were actually smoking some kind of dried vegetable cigarettes, allegedly somewhat safer than tobacco.
The whole thing was ominous to an ex-smoker. I was once in a car crash and I don’t want to watch a television series about that. A television story on a former foolish habit is in the same ballpark. So we bailed on “Mad Men.”
I admit the show is accurate in its portrayal of office smoking half a lifetime ago. But for me, watching actors shortening their lives with corrosive vegetarian smoke is far more gruesome than it is entertaining.
Bill Hall can be contacted at email@example.com or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501