UBC Theses and Dissertations
The circuitry of memory : time and space in Mad Men Lewis, Molly Elizabeth
Memory is central to Mad Men (Matthew Weiner 2007-15) as a period piece set in the 1960s that activates the memories of its viewers while also depicting the subjective memory processes of its protagonist Donald Draper (Jon Hamm). Narratively, as much as Don may try to move forward and forget his past, he ultimately cannot because the memories will always remain. Utilizing the philosophy of Henri Bergson, I reveal that the series effectively renders Bergson’s notion of the coexistence of past and present in sequences that journey into the past without ever leaving the present. Mad Men ushers in a new era of philosophical television that is not just perceived, but also remembered. As a long-form serial narrative that intricately layers past upon present, Mad Men is itself an evolving memory that can be revisited by the viewer who gains new insight upon each viewing. Mad Men is the ideal intersection of Bergson’s philosophy of the mind and memory and Gilles Deleuze’s cinematic philosophy of time. The first chapter simply titled “Time,” examines the series’ first flashback sequence from the episode “Babylon,” in it finding the Deleuzian time-image. The last chapter “Space,” seeks to identify the spatial structure of the series as a whole and how it relates to its slow-burning pace. Chapter two, “Memory,” highlights the viewer’s memory making processes, and appropriately bridges “Time” and “Space” together, just as it bridges spatial and temporal consciousness together for the individual. This thesis emphasizes the individualized experience of the Mad Men viewer who watches Don evolve over seven seasons. Two narrative structural aspects of the series are shown to be especially activating of the viewer’s memory: its flashback sequences and its meditative moments featuring Don in deep contemplation. With reference to literary theory that has identified the concepts of Bergson in the modernist literature movement, as well as to Bergson’s schemas that precisely illustrate his concepts, this thesis concludes that Mad Men can be understood as a carousel that takes viewers on a trip through the circuitry of memory.
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