Deconstructing Mad Men's Title Sequence


Over at the Art of the Title blog, they have an extensive interview with the designers of the Mad Men TV series’ now-iconic title sequence. (How iconic? The Simpsons did a fun parody of it, with Homer as Don Draper, of course.)

As Mark Gardner of the design/production house Imaginary Forces tells Art of the Title, when the title sequence was initially conceived in 2007, “AMC had all kinds of issues with having someone falling from a skyscraper. I have seen some blog posts written about this, arguing whether or not it’s exploitative for the show to use a figure falling. Some people saw references to 9/11 and all of that, and in the beginning AMC were totally against the idea.”

And hopefully, series producer Matthew Weiner eschews conventional melodrama sufficiently so that we can assume that the series won’t end its run with Don taking a header off the top of the Seagram Building. So it functions as a metaphor for the day to day life of Don Draper himself.  At least in the show’s first three seasons, on a regular basis, Don goes from Master of the Advertising Universe (to mix metaphors with Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities) and swinging stud juggling affairs with sexy businesswomen and Greenwich Village artists to taking the 5:30 back to Ossining every night — well, almost every night. There, seated in his living room couch, Lucky Strike in hand, he has to play the role of dedicated family man. Work and home require very different identities, and Don’s entire identity (SPOILER ALERT!) is itself a put-on, so no wonder each day for him runs the risk of a sort of metaphoric suicide. Or as hard-drinking ad man Freddy Rumsen wistfully says to Don after being fired for not being hold his liquor, “If I don’t go into that office every day, who am I?,” the flip-side of Bert Cooper’s aphorism that “a man is whatever room he is in.” Don Draper is Gatsby as Everyman, but underneath it all, Dick Whitman, Don’s version of James Gatz, midwestern farm boy who escapes to the big city, is much closer to the surface.

Great shows are more than the sum of their parts, and just as Star Trek and Miami Vice would be unthinkable without their stylish title sequences, Mad Men’s title sequence, while somewhat “apart” from the show itself (an AMC executive, upon viewing the Mad Men titles for the first time, thought they had a bit of a a Twilight Zone-style surrealism to them) also opens it up — both in the sense of opening the show, and expanding upon its themes — in a way that’s truly striking.