Monday, September 28, 2009

Thoughts on Mad Men




Until several weeks ago, I had not seen a single episode of Mad Men. This fact does not stem from my inherent snobishness over popularly consumed media, but rather because when the show began I did not have cable television, and by the time friends invited me over to see the series, I felt I was already too far behind to catch up.

When season three premiered, my boyfriend and I both expressed interest in watching the show from the beginning and we were delighted to discover that Netflix offered Seasons 1 and 2. And so we began to watch.

Right off the bat, I found myself depressed and disturbed at the end of each episode. Mostly because of blatant and unrelenting misogyny, that, while I've no doubt is entirely accurate of the time period, left me feeling so upset that several nights after viewing I could not sleep.

And the female characters aren't the only ones who are trapped - most of the men at Sterling Cooper waffle back and forth between rapists and o.k. guys - their complete and total lack of respect for the women in the office and in their personal lives stemming from some cycle of masculine insecurity and violence that none are willing to step outside of. I find the show, in general, tragic and extremely difficult to watch.

I have to wonder if the popularity of the series stems not from its incredible art direction: including an obscene attention to detail in costumes, setting and the characters behaviors that borders on insanity, but rather from its' audience's deep-seeded enjoyment on entering a world that is perhaps not-so-long-gone, in which women are the victims of sexual abuse practically by the minute, and men ticking alcoholic time bombs.

Being only ten episodes into Season 1 [so no spoilers, please!] I have to hope that the women (and by proxy, the men) come to have some positive agency on the show - that they can at least attempt to overcome the crimes perpetrated against them, even if they don't succeed. In the meantime, I would love to hear your thoughts on the show: why you love it, why you don't, if you're a feminist how you deal with the disgusting culture that permeates every single moment, and why you think it's the best thing on television (or not).

6 comments:

-p said...

I'm totally with you. The horrid offenses to women leave me fuming, and I often take out my frustration on the boys in my life. Mad Men has shown me how not so far we've come but how we've had to supplicate our own strength in order to get ahead. I was a huge fan of season 1 for the obsessive inside look at the 60's and ad agencies. However, now in season three, I'm becoming less and less enchanted by the art direction and more anxious about women and the wanning story lines.

unworked said...

I'm catching up on the show as well. The blatant sexism (and racism) has been shocking. I haven't yet decided whether or not the depiction is meant to be accurate or to be glorified.

Love the 60's style though. We've lost something in the time of polos and khakis.

Snobber said...

p: thanks for reading. i'm glad to know i'm not the only one who feels this way. when people talked up the show to me before they NEVER mention this stuff, and i find that troublesome.

unworked: hi! thank you for pointing out the racism as well. the treatment of the elevator attendant and the jewish characters on the show is also appalling. while i'm not sure it's the show's fault, i do think a large part of mad men's audience are men (and sadly, women) who enjoy bigotry.

love the clothes, though.

jerseylil said...

The joy of madmen is in the observance of life the way it was lived in the 60s the storyline is not highly significant other than the intrigue of Don's past.

I love all the literary and cultural references. I have to check out all the books, music and film references in the show and this just adds to its depth.

Don't forget the movitational tome given by Cooper to Don is a book written by a woman, Ayn Rand ie Atlas Shrugged. A book which suggests that work and being the best that we can be is the way to truth and fulfilment. Whilst the hero of the book is a man John Galt he is matched by the heroine Dagny Taggart.

In Madmen Don Draper is the hero but he is matched by Peggy the heroine he recognises and brings on. They both have shady pasts but value themselves and their talent.

This was a time when women were just beginning to realise their potential but equally it was time when they relied on their sexuality to catch their man rather than rely on themselves.

You are shocked by the way the men treat their women but not shocked by how the women use their men.

Ultimately the women did have a choice. If women don't value themselves then how can they expect men to value them.

Chill girls the writers don't enjoy bigotry they are just showing you how it was. We need to recognise the progress we have made. Its fairly clear that the men are made to look foolish when they are being both sexist and racist.

If you prefer total fiction try desperate housewives. This is only recent history lets not have it airbrushed because it offends us.

Snobber said...

hi jersey,

first off, i think mad men is beautifully made, well-written, well-directed ad well-acted show. it's not the show that concerns me so much as its audience.

and if ayn rand is supposed to speak for womankind, then i'd like a sex change.

further, i think the women of mad men don't know how to value themselves. this is pre-lib. they actually didn't have a choice.

Rutila said...

Has your view on the show changed since this post? I'll admit the first few episodes of the first season are harsh, but that's exactly why I love the show. It's not politically correct and doesn't hold anything back. All the characters are flawed, and the innocent will be corrupted. Everyone is three dimensional, and there's this sense of hope and progression regardless of how dirty and stuck in the muck everyone is.