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Let's trace the downward trajectory of poor, old Roger Sterling

Part of the fun of watching Mad Men is getting the chance to watch people in the 1960s indulge in a lifestyle that would be wildly inappropriate for professional people working today. Throughout the series, the poster boy for that indulgence was Roger Sterling (John Slattery). He was the king of the mid-morning cocktail and always ready with a witty comment, but, as a new video from ScreenPrism notes, Roger’s storyline over the course of the series tracks the demise of his kind of lifestyle, which became increasingly out-of-place as the decade went on.

Unlike Don, Peggy, and even Pete to a certain extent, Roger never really had to work for any of his accomplishments. He inherited his position as the co-head of Sterling-Cooper and, from that point forward, was simply able to coast on his charm and pockets full of cash. But the world continued to change around him. His racism, sexism, and lack of ambition became increasingly unfashionable. He represents the Greatest Generation, but, as Pete Campbell says when Roger disrespects the Honda executives, “It’s been almost 20 years and, whether you like it or not, the world has moved on.”


Because he’s always looking backwards, Roger spends the majority of the series chasing youth. He adopts new fashions, experiments with drugs, and almost exclusively sleeps with women many years his junior. This hedonistic pursuit of youth ultimately results in a nihilistic outlook, as Roger’s privilege robs him of any chance at finding meaning in his achievements. While the majority of Mad Men is about outsiders clawing their way into a comfortable position in society, Roger Sterling represents the ultimate insider who suddenly finds himself without a place to stand.

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About the author

Dan Neilan

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Have Fun — Will Travel.