Last night, as part of Kelly Writer’s House Fellows series, Mad Men creator/Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner sat down with KWH faculty director Al Filreis to talk about... well, Mad Men, mostly. But in doing so, alternating between a handful of scenes from the show on a large monitor, Weiner also found ways to talk about both the show's process as well as a lot of the basic stuff of American life — everything from local TV news gore in the mid-60s to nature of ambiguity to his experience in casting his own son to play the uber-creepy Glenn on the show: “He was horrified by how weird his character was, who was [pause] based on me.” Even that, though, got to some of what Weiner considered to be special about Mad Men: “One of the things that was new about the show is that, usually on TV, children are used as props. We had kids who could actually act.”
After a few scenes that referenced WWII, Weiner talked about the show’s (and his own) relationship with history. “I fight against the movie-ization of history,” he said, “the way things get metabolized [into the national narrative], that we're taught to think of an era one way. I used to think it was something other thing, that this was just me, but now, I think we’re seeing it all over again.” Meanwhile, citing the work of the late UPenn historian Paul Fussell, he reflected on the influence of American wars overall on our sensibilites: “Irony, black humor… everything that writers love was born in the trenches.”
As the evening wrapped up, Weiner reflected on what could be called Mad Men’s fairly adventurous sense of bleakness and ambiguity. “If the audience doesn’t know [all] what the possibilities are,” he said, referencing his former boss David Chase, “ambiguity isn’t worth it.” Nevertheless, he said, the story and message of Mad Men was for him packed in right from the beginning: “It’s in the pilot,” he said, so chipper that you might almost miss the gravity of what he was saying: “You’re born alone, you die alone."