I hate the show “Mad Men”. I know, I know. That is like admitting you hate sunshine or apple pie or Kim Kardashian these days. But it’s true. I tried to get into the show. Hubs and I got all of season 1 from Netflix and we were committed to joining the “Mad Men Bandwagon.” But I have to say, neither of us could stand it. I could not fine one redeeming quality about any of the characters. And THAT’S saying something considering the fact that Sons of Anarchy is one of my favorite shows. But how can you not love a motorcycle gang that fights to keep meth out of their fictional town while simultaneously selling weapons? It’s kind of like a modern Robin Hood- although there is no giving of stolen items to the poor- just illegally importing guns, modifying and selling them to gangs along with protection runs for local businesses by protecting valuable truck shipments from hijacking. See? They’re good guys.
But Mad Men, on the other hand… there isn’t even a tiny bit of that “bad boy with a good heart who’s just misunderstood.” These guys are all just drinking, smoking, a-holes. They cheat on their wives, most of whom sit home basking in the depression of being a 1960’s housewife, while making a living in the advertising world. I know the show has won tons of awards and has become the embodiment of the social and cultural movements of the 60’s, but I just can’t seem to shake the feeling of needing a shower and never wanting to buy another advertised product after each episode. So, after 3/4 of season 1, we gave up. Mad Men went on the clearance shelf next to the ShamWow and Perfect Brownie pan.
But my opinion is just one small drop in the bucket- the show continues and most people I know are still watching with baited breath for weekly new episodes. And the show grows in popularity, not just onscreen but in the marketplace as well. Did you know Banana Republic has an entire line of clothing modeled after the show? Clearly this show has hit on something big. And really, my dislike of the show is just my personal opinion. I am certainly no moral barometer- gun dealing motorcycle gangs, remember?
My opinion aside, it’s clear that Mad Men has become a phenomenon that is not going away. The amount of play this show gets in the media and the variety of arenas in which it is being discussed proves this. And I can see the merits of the show- amazing acting, great writing, and a historically accurate (although embellished for commercial value) portrayal of life for Americans in the 1960’s. It’s just not appealing to me. That’s all.
One of the things that makes this show great (although not my taste) is that it calls to you to find out more. Is it really an accurate portrayal of 1960’s America? Well, do a little research and you’ll see that it is. And just so you know, there is plenty of research available with a simple Google search. What fascinated me most wasn’t the infidelity rate of the time or the impact of wife dissatisfaction on the civil rights movement. What interested me the most was the amount of smoking going on in this show. And apparently I’m not the only one. This is a topic of endless conversations occurring online. Are the actors really smoking? What are they smoking? Is this show simply an ad for smoking? Will the show undo all the progress made in anti-smoking campaigns? Smoking, smoking, smoking…
In some ways it’s funny to have smoking back in the forefront of the media. In many ways, that issue has been snuffed out- pun intended. We have ceremoniously wiped out smoking as an acceptable addiction in America. It seems caffeine is a more palatable obsession for us. We’ve herded smokers like cattle onto small patios in bars, forbade them from partaking of their pass time in any public place and made it socially acceptable to make rude gagging noises, shoot ocular daggers and blatantly attack those who go against the rules. Don’t get me started on how I feel about this issue. Ironically, I’ve never smoke a cigarette in my life. Not one. But I have strong feelings about this issue.
Anyway, one of the casualties of this ban on nicotine nibbling is the decline of the smoke break. Remember the smoke break? You may not be old enough to have worked during a time when the smoke break was actually a part of the daily grind, but you’ve at least seen it in movies, right? People step away from their desks and their work to step outside and well, quell the shakes that are inevitably vibrating through their bodies. Just kidding. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, but it was a break from the nitty gritty to imbibe in some, well, nitty gritty.
Many people looked down on the smoke break. There is actually a negative connotation associated with any type of break, to be honest. It seems to imply some sort of failure- a lack of stamina that impacts performance. Or it has a certain “the state says you must take a 15 minute break every 4 hours or else I’ll end up in litigation like WalMart” aura hanging over it. People who took smoke breaks were impeding productivity and getting unfair advantages over those who don’t smoke. They get their 15minutes consistently because the nervous knee-bouncing ensures that they don’t get bogged down in work and forget.
But with the success of the anti-smoking regime the smoke break has become obsolete. Interestingly enough, it’s just been replaced by something else. The Coffee Break. Whether a person simply goes into the office kitchen to partake of the new single serving Keurig, visits the coffee cart located in the office lobby or takes a stroll 400 meters in any direction and stops at a Starbucks, they are still taking a break.
So what’s the difference, right? Well, I think the difference is significant. Whereas the smoke break took a person away from his/her desk and allowed him/her to disengage from work- taking a break- the coffee break doesn’t work that way. Most people opt for the office kitchen or the building coffee cart to save time. We order, we accessorize (1 raw sugar, a splash of cream, 2 Splenda, a hint of cinnamon, whatever our extras of choice might be) and we return to our desks and get back to work. There really was no break. We simply Paused. We move quickly and efficiently and get back to being productive members of society yet again. Heck! I have friends who have coffee makers in their private office. They don’t even pause. They simply tuck the phone between their ear and shoulder, lean over, hit the always ready “brew” button while holding their never empty cup under the spout and continue to work. It’s almost like an Olympic sport.
Did you know the latest research is beginning to show that this lack of disengagement, this break-free workplace, can actually impede productivity? After all, products like Gmail and AdSense were formed via Google’s 20 percent “Innovation Time Off” policy, where employees are allowed to work on projects outside their job description for a fifth of the workday (or work week or work month). “Playing around” on Facebook can connect a person with an old friend who might have a connection in your industry, thereby helping you in your confidential job search. Now, I’m not saying that this means you should spend endless hours on the Internet playing on Facebook or following the Tweets of Alyssa Milano and claim it’s “for work research.” Moderation, people. But it’s not surprising that research is proving that a lack of breaks, lunches at the desk and long shifts without any time to disengage is not productive. It inevitably makes employees feel like prisoners on a chain gang- even if they are in a corner office with a spectacular view.
I’m lucky in that I work from home- in jammies or workout clothes, at my kitchen table, with the washer and dryer going and fielding calls from telemarketers and plumbers. The other upside is that because all my work is computer-based I can also have my Facebook open while I work. That means that after an hour of emails and research on LinkedIn, I can pop over to FB and see what the rest of the world is doing. Well, “the world” as my Facebook Friends List defines it. It takes a minute and a half to see what’s new and post a funny comment or two. Then it’s back to work. But that tiny little break, my technological smoke break, allows me to take a breather from the grind. It gives my eyes something new to look at, my mind something new to focus on and usually a good laugh or two thanks to my husband’s cousin who is probably one of the funniest guys on Facebook- ever. (Shout out to you Gabe!)
But what about my other job? My Mommy Job? Where’s my smoke break when I need it during the other 20 hours of my day? When do I get to disengage? When do I get to step back? When do I get to clear my head or take a breather? You see, we haven’t done a very good job of replacing smoke breaks for moms. Even the women of Mad Men stepped out on the patio or took a seat in the living room to get away from it all for the 7 minutes it took to finish off a Lucky Strike- even if they were pregnant.
We’ve tried to institute a new break for moms. We called it the Mommy Time Out. But that’s just lame and not what we’re looking for. Mommy Time Outs are usually a way for us to take a deep breath before we do or say something we really regret to one of our kids. It’s a cooling off period, not a break. There’s no disengaging or turning things off. During the Mommy Time Out we are trying to convince ourselves that it is not OK to pack one of our children in a box and ship him/her off to Africa so they can see just how good they have it. Or it’s the time we remind ourselves that the windows are open and if the neighbors ever heard us verbalize what is going through our heads and on the tip of our tongues Child Services would be on our doorstep before we could utter “Naughty Chair.”
The Mommy Time Out isn’t a break- it’s work in a different room. Physically restraining yourself from having your head spin around and muzzling yourself to prevent the verbal lashing that is about to come gushing out is not a break. That takes work.
And to be honest, I freaking hate the phrase Time Out. It’s overused and annoying. So I don’t want a time out. I want a break. Time to get refreshed and rejuvenated, just like the researchers say will happen. I want to shake off the moments of the day and return to the playing field ready for the next inning. I want to cast off the stresses of the previous hours and start fresh. I want a smoke break- minus the cigarette. I want to take a break from parenting, so I can get back to, well, parenting. Only better.
You’d be surprised what moms are willing to do to get a break- hide in the bathroom claiming Montezuma-like bowels, curl up on the floor of the closet under the guise of “putting away laundry”, faking “important” phone calls while actually listening to the dial tone or sometimes no one on the other end. You know what they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
Should we start smoking herbal cigarettes in the yard like the cast of Mad Men? Maybe we need to start running guns in town while the kids are at school like Jax from Sons of Anarchy. I don’t know. But we gotta do something. THEY say we do- the researchers, that is. If we want to be more productive, more efficient, more committed to our jobs, we need to get a break from them now and again. Maybe not through a smoke cloud on the rooftop of our office or battling meth dealers or drinking from crystal carafes of scotch in the desk drawer- although all those seem much more exciting than a time out, don’t they?
“Working” on my computer while really watching funny YouTube videos while the kids ride bikes is my smoke break. What’s yours?
That’s just my normal.