December 21, 2009

What Mad Men Means To Me....

So, I'm in Mad Men withdrawal right now. I hate not getting a scene to dissect each weak, so, instead, I'm going to write some holistic observational analysis of the best television series of our time.

A few days ago, I was trying to explain to someone who had never before seen the show what it was about and why I liked it. Basically, I believe it chronicles an important period in the evolution of modernity. It starts in 1960, and in theory, it's meant to end with the onset of the 70s. So much changed in this decade. I mean, there was the Cold War coming to a head with the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was the assassination of Kennedy, The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the women's movement, Stonewall, and so much more. The other thing that happened was the increased commercialized and commodification of our culture. Television becoming part of the typical American life created vast new opportunities for advertising and consumption. It's interesting to see the evolution of a society through the perspectives of the people who are trying to sell stuff to that country. The big question is, "What do American people want?" It's asked over and over again when we ask what specific demographics within it want. Draper asks, "What do women want?" He asks how to sell a bank account to a white male executive, and Stirling Cooper also notices there is a burgeoning "Negro" market. Mad Men analyses a changing country through its changing demographics.

What is most compelling about Mad Men to me, however, is watching its more tragic characters, who are, not the ones who are fighting for greater freedoms or equal rights, but the ones we suspect might be left behind; the ones for whom this social change might have come too late. Joan is certainly one of these characters. She is compelling in that she is so incredibly capable. There is nothing she isn't good at, from running at very complicated and chaotic office to saving a man's life when he has an uncontrollably bleeding foot. Joan is a dynamo, but alas, unlike Peggy, who'll get to be a pioneer in her field and might one day be a creative director herself, for all we know, Joan is tragic because there were too many structural barriers to her becoming a pioneer like Peggy. The world is just starting to change as Peggy gets her start, and so it's great that she's smart, because she opportunities. Sure, she'll have to work a little harder, but at least they'll give her the work. Joan, however, was born ten years to early. She might be college-educated and the best damn secretary Stirling Cooper has ever had (so good that she gets promoted to be Office Manager), she came to early to start as something more. In fact, when she gets an opportunity to do some work for the Television department and aces it in Season two, no one thinks to promote her, unlike when Peggy did well writing copy, because Joan has carved out a niche doing grunt work and no one can see her as anything but the hot babe who has mastered business supplies and the art of getting coffee. She's a monument to those women for whom the Women's Movement came too late and whose potential was never fully realized because of it.

Another compelling and random thing I've noticed about Mad Men is how Don Draper flirts with feminism. Sure, he marries the wooden and superficial Betty, whose only real virtue is looking the part of the perfect housewife besides not even really liking the task of being a mother, but he is always attracted to progressive women who have careers and don't really prioritise getting married. There was Midge, who never made Don breakfast in the morning, worked as a graphic artist and lived as a beatnit in Greenwich Village; there was Rachel, an educated wealthy Jewish woman who refused to get married unless it was love and preferred instead to run her father's high-end department store; and finally, there is his daughter's teacher, who likes to play Civil rights speeches for her class and takes care of an epileptic brother. They're all independent and progressive, and when second wave feminism really takes off, no doubt they'll all relate to its concerns. What's so appealing about Don's attraction to feminists is how he's fascinated and drawn to them, but clearly with some trepidation. I mean, he didn't marry one, now did he? But now that his marriage to Betty has collapsed, one must wonder if her regrets that. Perhaps what he really would have liked was a wife who challenged him, as opposed to Betty, whose life once revolved around him. Perhaps the nuclear family structure, where a woman's job is to make her husband's life better, doesn't actually appeal to Don at all. He might have it, but he never really seemed to want it, cheating on his wife and avoiding coming home at every turn.

Yeah, Mad Men's great, because the sexy girls who satisfy Don are the more feminist-friendly characters, whereas his racist, anti-feminist wife is the one he comes to see as unattractive....

Well, that's all for now! I now these were random and disjointed thoughts, but I hope you enjoyed them.

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