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Drinking Like ‘Mad Men’

by James Joyner on 16 October 2009


The ladies of Slate’s Double X run an experiment on what it would be like to drink like the cast of “Mad Men” while running a magazine.  It’s not pretty.

Apparently, these women have no previous exposure to alcohol, no understanding of how alcohol affects the human body, and no concept of elapsed time as portrayed on a one-hour drama.

The gals are completely hammered after a single morning Bloody Mary and act like a bunch of sorority girls at the ensuing meeting. This, despite the fact that they’re still drinking said beverages during the meeting. (Incidentally, I don’t recall any of the boys of Sterling Cooper drinking Bloody Marys during the workday — much less during morning staff meetings.)

The gals then have martinis at lunch. This is completely kosher: Roger Sterling did this frequently during the first two seasons of the show. But, unlike the silver haired name partner in the fictional advertising firm, the ladies of our virtual magazine are now completely unable to have coherent conversations.

Now, I tend not to drink much during the workday. On rare occasions, I’ll have a beer or two at lunch and sometimes I’ll do some more writing after a 5:00 martini on a Friday. Afterward, I function reasonably well doing intellectually demanding work. Then again, I’m not a novice drinker. And, like the more serious drinkers on “Mad Men,” I’m well over 200 pounds. It’s not polite to talk about women’s weight but I will boldly conjecture, having seen the video, that Hanna Rosen, Emily Bazelon, and the other Double Xers go considerably below that.

This, naturally, matters. Consider these charts from Virginia Tech:


Leave aside the issue of legal limits for operating a motor vehicle, which are the subject of some controversy. We see that small women are generally “significantly affected” by the first drink and even women in the 140-pound range are quite heavily intoxicated by the third drink in a relative short period. By contrast, a 200 point man doesn’t reach the .10 level until the 6th drink!  And notice that there are two charts:  There’s no gender equality in this game.

Rosen says “The Mad Men do this 40 times a day.” No. They don’t.

My wife chides me all the time for picking nits with logical inconsistencies in television shows and movies, telling me I should just suspend my disbelief because IT’S JUST A TV SHOW. So, perhaps I shouldn’t cast any stones on that front. Still, I’m fully cognizant of the fact that a one-hour television episode typically does not represent one hour in real time. Indeed, violating this convention is what made “24″ novel. A typical “Mad Men” show takes place over a week or more.

Don Draper and Roger Sterling might have six drinks over the course of a very long workday that extends deep into the evening. But they’ll have had maybe 2 or 3 in the course of a two hour lunch, be completely sober in time for the 5′oclock cocktail, and then pace themselves throughout a long evening during which they’ll have a very heavy meal rich in protein. Metabolically, there’s no reason they can’t maintain that pace indefinitely without being significantly impaired.

Overall, the show does a realistic job of portraying alcohol and its abuse. The junior staffers, apparently not having built up their tolerances, are frequently rather inebriated on the show by the end of the day. As the Double X ladies giggle about over lunch, one of the senior execs is depicted as a drunk who winds up fired after embarrassing himself because of his problem. Another major character is a recovering alcoholic who falls back off the wagon to his peril. Early in the current season, an executive is maimed and his career ruined by a stupid, alcohol-inspired act of an employee.

It’s not all fun even on a show that seems to glorify the good old days of being able to drink at work.

Story tip via Jason Kottke

About James Joyner

James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway and the managing editor of a DC think tank. He's a former Army officer, Desert Storm vet, and college professor. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama.

{ 1 comment }

1 Philtron3030 19 October 2009 at 18:45

This is a very logical argument.

It is obvious the women cannot hold their liquor. It’s downright absurd to say the average woman could drink like a man. Just on sheer size differences.

I think you laid out your point well. Than again, I prefer to pound drinks at humanly impossible rates. Which I think is a common perception of “Mad Men.” Your argument obviously disproves that…nice post.

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