|Places! Don & Meagan Draper's NYC apartment, c. 1968|
|A "real" luxury NYC pad, 1957|
But in the Mad Men version of American history, the city is also a place where that American Dream is carefully constructed and sold by the slick handiwork of the cynical mad men. Mad Men's New York is a city that is claustrophobic and empty at the same time; it is lonely and crowded; heartless and hard. It is a city that exists within a country on the verge of decline, ready to implode, and certainly, by the spring and summer of 1968 (as portrayed in Season 6), in the midst of exploding.
In the Drapers, Mad Men gives us a Manhattan couple who is also on the verge of decline. They too seem ready to implode, despite having achieved "The Best of Everything."
|An Ironic Reader of Rona Jaffe's 1958 Bestseller?|
Like renderings of other New York City (fictional) apartments, the Draper pad offers a vision of Manhattan that helps shape and define the enactment of the show's larger morality tale. And it is within the Draper apartment that so much of that drama is played out.
The apartment conveys both an idea of the city, as well as a version of history. But the set design also reveals that it is very much shaped by contemporary ideas. Indeed, it is so carefully styled in an effort to appear somehow historically "authentic" that it looks like a miniature reproduction. Mad Men's set decorator extols its virtues as having been constructed by following faithfully "period" sources and using objects obtained through a variety of avenues, including Craig's List (e.g. the kitchen counter stools).
The result: cool, chic, and fashionable. It is sleek in the right places, colorful in the right places, and can be proudly described as "Mid-Century Modern (MCM)," a style that seems to be more en vogue at the moment than it might ever have been in the 1950s and 1960s.
The Draper apartment is constructed with a "split-level" aspect- so popular in the MCM era. The room's steps and ledges provide platforms from which to stand and walk, and perhaps to plan and dream? And the multi-level floors lend an amphitheater-style aspect to the set (a perfect place to play out a MCM Greek tragedy).
The apartment also has a patio; and we imagine that there must be a sweeping view of New York from there. But for the consumed and consuming Drapers, who has time to gaze out over the city? They are too busy with matters that concern themselves.
|Watch Your Step: Coming Home on Mad Men|
In the Draper's New York, much of the drama of their lives takes place in the hallways outside their apartment, in the elevators, or at the doors of the service entrances. And the world itself seems to play its drama right up to the edges of their tightly closed doors; the unsettling, shocking, and violent events of 1968 find entry into their home through televised images, broadcasting the disasters of a 1960s revolutionary America.
Despite the Drapers' carefully appointed public showplace of a Park Avenue apartment, Mad Men seems to say, the family is found to be enclosed and contained by it, enacting their own sad dramas as the America of the Vietnam War, assassinations, strikes, sit-ins and messy politics roars outside.
|All the World's a Stage at 623 East 68th Street|
Lucy and Ricky have no patio in their modest digs, but they do have a central sitting area, bedroom and kitchen. And in fact, this American family was shown to live in a place that appeared--and served-- as a stage for outright performance; their TV apartment was constructed as an open area where the characters could easily break into song and dance, perform vaudeville numbers and comic routines, and all the while they could be seen (clearly) by the audience seated in the studio as the show was filmed by the trio of cameras.
The show's lack of color, owing to the technology of the time, was unimportant in the breezy and comical "sit-com" that constituted the lives of the characters on I Love Lucy. In this version of America, there seemed to be no current events, no wars, no poverty, and the television served only as a place for Lucy to perform herself.
The Draper apartment stands in stark counterpart to the Ricardos. The characters do not perform as Lucy and Ricky did, but instead they seem merely to exist; despite the luxury and color that surround them, they seem to be but the product of their own personal struggles, deeply wounded by the larger landscape of America.
Indeed, the Draper's "modern" pad may exist in real life as a set in Los Angeles, but it also evokes a sense of a hyper-reality: it is a symbol of a city that once existed (in 1968), no longer exists, and, never did exist.
|800 Park Avenue, right down the street from Don and Meagan, 1965|
|Moving In: The American Dream|
Not coincidentally, as the 2013 sixth season of Mad Men unfolds, another tale of a New York couple, set across the park in the infamous Dakota apartment building continually crops up: Rosemary's Baby.
First, viewers see Don's daughter reading Ira Levin's 1967 book; Don and Meagan go to the movie which was released in June 1968; and later, the ad agency designs a Bayer aspirin commercial using the movie's final scene as a hook.
Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse, the Draper's fictitious neighbors, are another couple striving to make it in New York.
Their apartment lies just across Central Park from the Drapers, in the fictitious "Bramford" (Dakota). They move in with excitement and high ideals as their American Dream seems within reach. Rosemary is thrilled to make her home modern, to transform it from its 19th century Victorian self to its MCM version.
|Scene design for Roman Polanski's classic Rosemary's Baby: The dark "before" version of the Bramford Apartment|
|Free Fall: Descent on Mad Men|
Mad Men's New York is a place that is unstable. The show's recurrent use of literal descents, in elevators, staircases, and of course, the opening sequence suggests a parallel not only to the idea of the rise and fall of fortunes, but also to the horrors of 9/11. For, Mad Men may present itself as showing a version of history; but it is a direct product of the post 9/11 world.
|New York City as the Best of Everything|