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Tyson, A. (2014). Mad Men on the Couch. By Stephanie Newman. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2012. 224 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 83(2):520-523.
(2014). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 83(2):520-523
Mad Men on the Couch. By Stephanie Newman. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2012. 224 pp.
Review by: Amy Tyson
From the rattle of ice in whiskey glasses to well-cut suits and ties, elegant dresses, and high heels, Mad Men draws the viewer in with its stylish presentation. Then the characters burst on the scene with vivid personalities and outsized ambitions. These people pursue prestige and success in business, marriage, and sex, sometimes successfully but always at a deep personal cost. We see desire and downfall. They strive to evade their inner lives with cutthroat competitiveness at work, yet the men rebel with affairs and excessive drinking, while the women struggle to escape the confines of their 1950s prescribed roles.
Mad Men, the hugely popular television show about complex characters who work in an ad agency in New York as the '50s turn into the '60s, is a dramatically riveting soap opera about people who get themselves into tangled messes because of how they behave and who they are. Devoted viewers feel passionately about the show—they identify with and try to understand the characters, and cannot wait to see what everyone will do next.
Newman's Mad Men on the Couch capitalizes on the overwhelming popularity of the television show in order to educate a general readership about psychoanalytic theory. She uses Mad Men's characters as case examples to vividly illustrate concepts such as character, guilt and conflict versus externalization and narcissism, identification, structural theory, object relations, and—especially—defense mechanisms.
A trained psychoanalyst may find her outline of the psychoanalytic theory of character a bit simplified and didactic, but the book is entertaining and illuminating for lay readers who want to better understand themselves and others, and is a good argument for the usefulness of psychoanalytic theory in the pursuit of this understanding.
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