Matthew Weiner ’87 Discusses Mad Men, Wesleyan origins

So this article is a few months old, but fellow Mad Men obsessives will enjoy it.  In a book/blog entitled The Good Men Project, which has “Real Stories from the Front Lines of Manhood”, there is an interesting profile of Matthew Weiner ’87.  He discusses how women are portrayed on the show, and his study of feminism and poetry at Wesleyan:

Weiner is surprised by the idea that he, or his show, is sexist. “The treatment of women on Mad Men is the point,” he says emphatically. “The women characters are informed not only by my mother, an attorney, and two older sisters, an attorney and a doctor, but by the philosophical underpinnings of what I learned at Wesleyan. It’s right out of The Feminine Mystique. My show is saying ‘This is not right.’”

The most exciting ideas on campus involved feminism,” Weiner says. His eyes light up when he talks about the impact of his freshman poetry course taught by Professor of English Gertrude Hughes. He was one of two men in the class. “Like Emily Dickinson, I was drawn to the hormonal teenage experience of loneliness, of the reality of death, and of sexual awakening.” In the poems of women—from Dickinson to Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, and Denise Levertov—he discovered a form for his exploration of the outsider who tries to don a mask of acceptability, but often fails.

The dream sequences on Mad Men can be mystifying (Betty and the caterpillar?), but Weiner has long been interested in dreams:

At Wesleyan, Weiner became obsessed with his dreams. They were so vivid that he sometimes recalled them as real. He dreamed about walking around campus at noon only to find it deserted; he dreamed about talking to his late Grandpa Max, about talking to an amalgamation of people in a single body, about talking to the sun.

Professor of Psychology J.J. Conley took him on in an independent study course to explore the biology, psychology, and literary explanations for his sleeping visions.

Weiner also discusses how he came to Wesleyan to study poetry, but professors were unimpressed with his work.  COL professor Franklin Reeve finally took him on for an independent study.  Reeve remembers Weiner as an original and determined student:

Although Weiner wrote poetry daily at Wesleyan, he couldn’t convince faculty members that his work was good enough to get into a class. Finally, he took his poems to Professor of Letters Franklin Reeve, father of Christopher, for an independent study. Their first meeting was rocky. Reeve found much to criticize, but he was also amused by Weiner’s sense of irony.

“Matt never quite fit,” Reeve said in a phone interview. “He had a spunky original streak that meant his writing wasn’t successful the way others were. He was determined to reinvent the wheel in a wonderful way, which made him a stimulating and rewarding student to work with.”

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The profile has lots of interesting tidbits.  Apparently the scene where Glenn (played by Weiner’s son Marten) walked in on Betty in the bathroom and asked for a lock of hair actually happened to Weiner when he was young, and had a crush on his babysitter.  If you don’t already know, Mad Men airs every Sunday at 10 pm on AMC, and is in my humble opinion, the best show on television.

Profile: the Making of Mad Men

6 thoughts on “Matthew Weiner ’87 Discusses Mad Men, Wesleyan origins

  1. Liz Post author

    I thought he was doing a Weseminar during parents weekend, but I didn’t see it on the schedule when I looked…maybe he canceled?

  2. elci

    I have so much love for Matthew Weiner. Such a smart, nuanced, bold show that Mad Men is. I want him here, on campus, speaking in front of me in some capacity. How can we book him for a discussion!?!?!?!? I’m sure he’s not doing much these days…..

  3. elci

    I have so much love for Matthew Weiner. Such a smart, nuanced, bold show that Mad Men is. I want him here, on campus, speaking in front of me in some capacity. How can we book him for a discussion!?!?!?!? I’m sure he’s not doing much these days…..

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