AMC’s "Mad Men" Continues TV’s Legacy of Poorly Representing the Mentally Ill

An op-ed piece I wrote before realizing the show was actually set in the 1960s. How embarrassing.

To: AMC Exectives
Re: The oak-panelled asylum presented on your Mad Men television atrocity

Dear sirs (and I use that term lightly),

When will Hollywood’s efforts to marginalize the mentally ill ever end? For too long have we suffered through representations that veer from the cuddly (My Name is Bill) to the demonic (I Am Sam). Now we are “treated” to a weekly excursion into the laughably ill-informed depiction of those who struggle with mental illness. Rampant sexism? African-American servants? Mental institutions are government run, gentlemen. None of those activities have happened in one since George Bush Sr. was in the White House. And I’m not even going to touch the whole smoking indoors thing.

This cavalier attitude is best displayed in your choice of title: Mad Men? Do you know how long the mentally ill have fought to elude this sort of label? Anyone with a mental health issue is suddenly “mad”, like the inmates of a decrepit 18th century asylum. Is your take on this issue solely informed by Amadeus and Quills?

Have you gentlemen not learned your lesson from other films that have engaged in shameless “insanity” bashing (not to be confused with “Insanibash”, my favorite bathroom cleanser)? Or have you forgotten what you should have learned from that movie? You know what I’m talking about. You’ve clearly seen it and cribbed from it without compunction, and I think it is well past time you admitted your plagiarism, a crime almost as craven as your treatment of the insane.

Yes. I’m talking about Crazy People starring Dudley Moore and Daryl Hannah. For shame.

It was released in 1990 and clearly held sway over a young Matthew Weiner when concocting his episodic travesty. Oh, you’re going to play coy? A film about an advertising executive who has a nervous breakdown and only then starts authoring so-honest-it’s-irresistible ad copy? Come on. The only different between Dudley Moore and Jon Hamm is about three feet. Otherwise, they’re feathers from the same cuckoo bird. Which is I’m sure how you would put it.

The plot twist introduced later in the film also bears strongly on your inexplicably accolade-ridden show: Dudley Moore brings fellow inmates along with him to the advertising company and they all start writing bluntly honest copy. The only difference is that writer Mitch Markowitz and director Tony Bill thought to give each of these by-rote misfit characters their own issues; on your show, they all think they’re stuck in the 1960s. At least the film had originality going for it.

I insist that you withdraw this loathsome show from your airwaves and put on something that takes on the issue of mental illness with more intelligence and tact, like Obsessed or Two and a Half Men.

The truly “mad men” of the world will thank you.


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