Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why I Love Mad (Wo)Men

It's a good show! It's a great show.  I am totally addicted right now as I catch up on Season 5 since I finally made it to the top of the wait list at the library.  It had been quite some time since I watched it (I finished season 4 when I was still in New Orleans!)  But starting in again, I was reminded of how good it is.  I think some people have their feelings that it is trashy or just perpetuates stereotypes, etc but I kinda think they're wrong and even if they're not it's ok to like something because it's entertaining.

The basic plot backdrop is an ad agency in New York City in the early '60s.  At this time the field was mostly men who drank on the job, smoked a lot of cigarettes and cheated on their (house) wives.  This show takes a particular agency and uses it as a lens to look at a thick layer of social issues.  The most in your face issue is the rising presence of women in the work force and the glaring widespread consequences of a gender power imbalance at home.  As you can guess the agency is full of men, some dashing, some rich, some are both and some are not quite there but want to be.  The agency is also full of sexy secretaries.  So let your mind wander to the expected relations between these two groups.   Then look further and you see one secretary, Peggy, who shows talent and gets promoted and then continues to have to prove herself.  Every day.  And having to put up with overt degradation under the guise of humor because she's one-of-the-guys.  So she has to pay dearly for being good at her job and one of her losses is her sense of being a "woman," she cannot both be one of the guys and a sexual, attractive human being.  We watch her fight with this in superbly acted and written scenes.  She also proves to be the main male character (Don Draper)'s sole
confidante or at least the one person with whom we see him be most himself, often providing the only moments where we see his vulnerable side, the side that makes him human and worthy of compassion.

Another main female character is Joan, the office manager.  The girl is deep.  She's highly sexualized
(beautiful, super curvy and plays it up), she is regarded as almost untouchable or out of every man in the office's league but also has a quiet affair with one of the partners, she is the master of subtlety, highly regarded for her paramount tact in pretty much any situation and she's smart.  It almost gets buried under her sexiness but it shows itself in such subtle ways that most of the men don't realize they are being played or manipulated by her.  Not malicious manipulated but...I can't quite put my finger on it.  She also kicks her young good looking husband out after a final straw.  And she does it so calmly with no room for being bullied or sweet-talked, careful not to fall victim to the "crazy emotional woman syndrome" that makes it so easy for the men to dismiss them.

Finally, a new lead female character is Meghan.  She started out as a secretary, moves up a little to copy editor AND marries Don Draper, the handsome, charming and emotionally messed up lead character.  His story runs deep, no spoilers but his past is dark and he has done much to "make" himself into the man he is (ie. he's got some skeletons in his closet!).  Pre-Meghan, he was married with three kids and it sefl-destructed and you see his current marriage in danger of going that same way.  There is love but he is not ready for a liberated woman even if he is sorta thrilled by it.  Meghan stands up to him but also acts out (check out the Howard Johnson scene with the orange sherbet), she's young and doesn't have the same maturity of Joan so it's painful to watch the emotional disconnect between her and Don.  You (meaning me) really want it to work out!  There's a glimmer of hope that she can show Don another way to be, to learn how to share feelings and for god sakes to stop being aggressive when he gets angry/defensive.  

Just like Meghan at Feminist Current says "just because you like it doesn't make it a feminist show" and that is totally fine.  These women aren't feminist icons but they are women who could be like many women of the time trying to find their place.  Trying to find some self worth outside of the home.  And trying to figure out how to meet their husbands and children in a mutually satisfying and emotional way.

This show doesn't glorify the good old days when women were home cooking and waiting for their man while the men are out earning the money and going on jags.  This show depicts the ugly affects of patriarchy on both men and women and the difficulty breaking patterns that have been building for generation and the stress of hiding emotions and repressing it all.

1 comment:

  1. Meghan reminds me of Natalie Wood in many ways: the brunette hair; the brown eyes, the smile with turned up ends, the symmetry of the facial composition; and the subtle, but fixed gaze- a Natalie Wood trademark. The above photo of Meghan could be Natalie as she appeared in "This Property Condemned. I'll have to watch "Mad Men" and see if there are more similarities with my old heart throb from college days. Had she lived, she would be having another birthday on Saturday, July 20th.