Mad Men fans speak via social media: What fan voices reveal about the social construction of reality via dramatic fiction | Intellect Skip to content
Volume 3, Issue 2
  • ISSN: 2046-6692
  • E-ISSN: 2046-6706



Fans of complex television dramas often watch because of eudaimonic motivations – the desire to make meaning from media, to explore their own emotions and to learn about the human experience through the exploration of novel experiences that audio-visual fiction affords. This study analyses the psychology of how fans of Mad Men (2007) construct social realities via online discussions of some of the major relationships and storylines on the show. Our primary goal was to understand how fans create reality from fantasy and our focus was on social relationships and individual character analyses. Using a social science approach, we performed both a computer-automated and an expert-driven thematic analysis on 209 fan comments harvested from social media. The automated analysis revealed common emotional expressions, such as associating hate with the character Betty Draper. The expert analysis revealed that many of fans’ social media conversations centred on evaluating Don and Betty Draper as parents, spouses and people, either condemning or defending them in each of these roles. Fans were evenly split between Betty supporters and detractors. Betty was most likely to be defended as a person and condemned as a mother. In contrast, three fourths of fans condemned Don. This condemnation was mostly directed towards him as a person and spouse, not as a father. We situate these findings in an interdisciplinary literature and explain the psychology behind why and how fans use fiction both to empathize with others and to explore their own realities. We explain from a positive psychology perspective that our analysis of fans’ social media commentary exemplifies how television fandom for complex dramas can be healthy and psychologically beneficial.


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