Yes, Don Draper’s tie clip will be on the midterm exam.
It was only a matter of time before Mad Men seeped into academia. Now UC Berkeley offers a course on the already iconic ’60s show of sexism, opulence, and advertising.
Seniors Katie Dowd and Annie Powers teach the Mad Men course, thanks to the school’s DeCal program, a department that allows students to structure and teach courses to their fellow classmates. Outside of class, students watch the series; within class, they discuss ’60s topics ranging from class and society to women in the workplace to the firmness of Pete Campbell’s suit. As Dowd stated,
It’s such a thought-provoking show. It asks you to engage a little more than other shows do, and invites you to think about the characters’ motivations and symbolism as you would reading a good book.
Aaron Cullen, a contributor to the class, said,
These are mysterious and inscrutable characters who end up hurting other people. The show gets us to look at them and ask, “Is this who we really want to be?”
The Mad Men course follows a trend of cult programs being taught in higher education. Many schools have begun teaching the philosophy and logic of Lost, and others offer courses on the HBO crime drama The Wire. In an article in Slate written earlier this year, Drake Bennet wrote that The Wire presents “a set of case studies, remarkable for the vividness with which they embody a set of arguments about the American inner city.”
The article also features an interview with Jason Mitchell, a professor at Middlebury who teaches The Wire, who said,
You want to talk about it being fiction, call it fiction. But is shows incredible imagination and understanding about the way the world works, and for me that’s enough.
Just as Mad Men offers compelling, accessible stories of the ’60s, The Wire offers compelling, accessible stories of inner-city strife and class inequity, and Lost offers compelling, accessible stories of the most famous philosophers.
Students shouldn’t require entertainment to become motivated to study. But when entertaining programs can act as a launching pad into deep academic discussion and productive dialogues on real-world issues, professors should exploit those programs. Why not use Full Metal Jacket to begin a debate on the Vietnam War? Why not use The Sopranos to discuss the state of the modern American family? We live in a world of incessant entertainment. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn something on the way.