Despite what many parents will tell their children, watching television can prove beneficial.
Just ask Wesley Colbath.
The Orono resident turned his fascination with the critically acclaimed AMC drama “Mad Men” into a chapter in a recently published academic volume about the series.
Colbath’s chapter “Sex, Privacy and Relations of Power: The Role of Automobiles in ‘Mad Man’ was chosen for inclusion in “Lucky Stripes and a Three Martini Lunch: Thinking About Television’s ‘Mad Men,’” by Danielle M. Stern, Jimmie Manning and Jennifer C. Dunn, which was published in September by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Colbath’s chapter highlights several episodes where cars held special significance on the show.
Early in his work, he points out the rise of automobiles during the 1960s, the setting for “Mad Men”: “The 1960s were critical years in the development of the automobile in American society. The purchasing power of the American consumer had been on a steady increase for a decade. … The spending practices of many American consumers were also undergoing a substantial transition at the time. Once conservative and focused on items of necessity, many people used their extra income to indulge on expensive, nonessential items. As corporate advertising responded to this trend and began to present attractive ways to spend money, the automobile swiftly became the most definitive financial decision for great numbers in the middle- and upper-middle-classes of American society.”
Colbath’s opportunity came from being in the right place at the right time.
Like many viewers and critics, he got hooked on the series from its beginning five seasons ago.
“I was intrigued with the quality of the storytelling, the understated approach,” he explained.
In November of 2010, Colbath, then a master’s candidate in communications at the University of Maine in Orono, and a friend prepared abstracts based on “Mad Men” and got accepted to make presentations at the National Communications Association conference in San Francisco. It was there that he met Stern.
“They had put the project pretty much together, but they still had a few missing pieces,” recalled Colbath, 28. “Automobiles were one of those.”
Colbath, who had earlier graduated from Dalhousie (Nova Scotia) University with a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy, faced two major challenges.
“I had it in a visual form, a collection of ideas from all the episodes,” he said. “I had to take the most salient points when autos impacted the plots of the shows, and convert that into a written form.”
Colbath, who was teaching three classes and had his own coursework as well, faced a time crunch, getting the assignment in early November and having to finish it by the end of the holidays.
“I figured a straightforward, accessible [writing] style would work just fine,” he said.
Colbath hasn’t had much time to enjoy the recent publication, as he’s splitting time between two jobs: an instructor of interpersonal communication at UMA-Bangor and a case manager for United Cerebral Palsy.
But he will make time for the sixth season of “Mad Men,” a show which he feels speaks to many people.
“There’s its sense of style and that kind of nostalgic look at the not-so-distant past,” he said. “There’s looking back at how far we’ve come in terms of gender relations, both in and out of the workplace. Also there’s the amount of social issues that the country was feeling at the same time. It’s an interesting blend.”
“Lucky Stripes and a Three Martini Lunch” is available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or from the publisher, Cambridge Scholars Publishing.